The CultureMap Interview
Iconic design duo looks back on 25 years of changing America's living rooms
Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams faced a monumental decision almost 30 years ago: Would their joint venture be a Christmas tree farm? Perhaps a vineyard? Maybe even a furniture design house?
"Those really were the options we discussed," Gold, then a Bloomingdale furniture buyer and marketeer, says of that conversation long ago with Williams, a talented graphic designer and promotions director. "We knew then we wanted to go into business together. So we opted to pursue what we knew about most."
Gold and Williams were in town on the eve of the dynamic duo's 25th anniversary party, held recently at their Highland Village store in Houston, as part of their celebratory year traveling from fête to fête at each of their 20-plus signature stores in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Inspired by the quarter-century milestone, Gold and Williams are also showcasing a fall collection filled with romantic glam, from couches and chairs in lush velvets and fluffy Tibetan wool to a shiny bar cart with mirrored surfaces to every accessory imaginable in — what else — silver tones.
We sat down with them to talk more about beginnings, highlights and goals for Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams.
CultureMap: You have so many wonderful collections now. Do you remember your first pieces and what they were like?
Gold: We actually started just with dining tables and chairs. Our first chair was Lucy, a fully upholstered piece with a scroll back ... "
(He looks to Williams, who helps jog Gold's memory.)
Gold: And then there was Rhoada, another fully upholstered piece but with a curved back. Joan is very similar to the Sorrel we now offer. We have one chair, the Gloria, that we still sell today.
Although we focused mainly on dining chairs, what we did, too, was offer 36 different fabrics, rather than 11 shades of beige that other manufacturers were offering. We had solids, florals and stripes. Now we have about 350 fabrics, plus 50 leather options.
CM: When did you realize that you were on your way to becoming successful?
Gold: We first knew that we were doing something right as we sent out invitations to our showroom in High Point to editors of various magazines. For a while, the only people who were attending were the junior editors. Then one year, the editors from House Beautiful, Southern Living, Metropolitan Home and others came to our showroom.
They all wanted to see what it was we were doing. This was about five years into our business, and we were 40 to 50 percent ahead in sales of where we were the previous year.
CM: Tell us more about your fall 2014 line showcasing your 25th anniversary collection.
Williams: We've adopted silver as our theme, adding more pieces in this tone. Our bar cart is one, and it's all about celebrating with its art deco styling. We have bars, but we wanted to created an environment for our bar cart, using Lucite and reflective materials to give it that glam factor. It's all about romance.
Also, we wanted to develop a deep purple in velvet that would stand as a neutral. After 12 months of lab dips, we finally achieved that color. The purple couch we had in our showroom at High Point this spring caught a lot of attention.
CM: Even though styles change, has there been a constant, a look that you have kept throughout your business?
Gold: We're doing the same thing with velvets, just with more sophistication. We've always carried velvets.
CM: Another constant has been your relationship as business partners. Any special or humorous memories you'd like to share?
Gold: I'll never forget the time we were driving in California, looking at stores, and Bob becomes a bit fussy, saying he's hungry. Evidently, he really, really wanted and needed to eat. And that's when I learned my lesson about Bob: If he tells me he's hungry, we eat. And we never miss a meal. Ever.
CM: What do you consider your greatest accomplishments or achievements?
Gold: We have two, actually. For one, we have a strong commitment to environmental sustainability. We got on the "green" kick when few in the furniture business were calling it green. We found an alternative kind of cushion foam, which prompted us to think about other things, from the wood we used in our furniture to our packaging materials. For us now, it's common sense.
Our headquarters in North Carolina is a regular stop on the school bus route. Our Lulu's Child Enrichment Center is the first onsite, education-based nonprofit day care center of its kind in our business. More than 275 children have graduated from this program, and we personally hand a diploma to each child, who joins us onstage wearing a miniature white cap and gown. We also offer a college scholarship program for our employees' children. And we love our employees.
CM: I loved Lulu, your precious English bulldog who was your company mascot for years. Are you commemorating her in any way this silver anniversary?
Gold: Yes, we once had a photographer take hundreds and hundreds of photos of her. We picked our favorite from that photo shoot, and now that image is a decoupage on a round tray available in three colors. She's our one and only mascot.