I don’t expect to find great design when I thumb through the mail order furniture catalogs for Pottery Barn, Room and Board, Crate and Barrel, and the like. In fact I have cancelled most of them because I don’t need anything and I don’t find them the least bit inspiring. The designs are derivative for the most part and when it comes to textiles I long ago determined it was just too depressing to even look through the offerings. Lately, however, I have noticed hopeful signs that these retail stores are making efforts to improve their image and sales by offering better fabric options.
I can’t blame them for going for the lowest common denominator most of the time. They know their customers better than anyone and what I hear from those I have spoken to is that consumers’ decisions are overwhelmingly driven by price, and most of their sales people aren’t skilled enough to sell up in this sputtering economy. This is why I was a bit surprised to see in a recent Design Within Reach catalog the offering of a high end wool felt on some of their seating. From the little I know about their management decisions this is a reach. I once tried to talk them into a similar, less expensive, product and our cost was about double what they thought they could afford, so something has changed – for the better. I would quibble about the non-existent color choices – when I know there are dozens available in the fabric range – but for the moment I am going to celebrate their decision to encourage customers to make good quality fabric decisions for this not inexpensive furniture. Thank you!
The biggest surprise however was opening the Crate and Barrel catalog to see a fabric I recognized – a very unusual textile with a large scale repeat woven in high quality yarns. I had met the owners of this mill in the spring and saw the fabric which I was told the president of a major furniture manufacturer had taken a shine to. The mill didn’t know where it was going from there, so conversation closed, until I opened the catalog. It was a triumph on several levels to see a US mill weaving artisanal fabrics being picked up by a discerning executive who then probably had a devil of a time selling it to a skeptical mass retailer who likely hadn’t had much success at this price point before. Kudos to all for having the vision, the tenacity, the chutzpah, to take this chance, bringing authentic textiles out of the hallowed halls of design centers and plopping them so emphatically into their customers’ living rooms.
Talking with a salesperson at my local Crate and Barrel and reviewing their latest fabric range I learned that this venture into quality textiles wasn’t as much of an rarity as I had suspected. Most of their fabrics are woven in the US and they do their best to support US manufacturing. Theirs is a varied and well coordinated selection of fabrics and they will even do a C.O.M. – let you use your own fabric on their upholstery. This is a royal pain for them I’m sure and probably not profitable, so a HUGE thank you Crate and Barrel for taking this on. Authentic Textiles for everyone!