What Do You Do With Your Heirloom Furniture? - 2014.7.4
The days of heirloom furniture are over. For buyers and inheritors. No more. That train left the station and there were few passengers on board.
Well, for an uplifting, Happy July 4th chit-chatty newsblast from WILLEM SMITH, might it make sense to aim for a more patriotic, feel-good theme? No one needs a Debbie-downer ponitificating on a day when garland-adorned antqiue firetrucks crawl through Main Street USA dousing kids with Smarties, Tootsie Rolls and Starbursts. And who doesn't look forward to the night sky awash in a multi-sensory extravaganza of noise and color (well, for one, the family dog, no matter their nationaility, would rather be in Canada on the Fourth: every canine I know spends 364 days a years staking out a sofa to hide behind when the angry bursts of aerial gunfire inflict their annual tormentt).
Well, here's the good news(!). Furniture buying - and then furniture owning - is about you, today. Let's call a spade a spade: when Grandma Violet left you the Baker Sheraton-inspired dining table, the matching hutch and 10 chairs, you were conflicted. Sure, it reminded you of the musty-meet-cinnamon smell of Grandma's house, of those expansive after-church Sunday lunches (when you couldn't wait to ride your bike outside) and the way Grandma assigned seating by putting pink plastic on the granddaughter chairs and blue for the grandsons. But do you really want the furniture? And now that you have it, what will you do with it? Can you sell it? Can you donate it? Should you store it for a few years at $229 per month, then give it away?
Not only is there nothing wrong with Grandma Vi's stuff - and to the right person, there's a ton right with it - since it is inherently beautiful, well-built and timeless. But it was her. Granted, part - perhaps a significant part - of her motivation for stretching her budget and committing to what must have been an enormous purchase was that she (and Grandpa) looked froward to the day their set could be passed on. They may, bless them, have chosen this set not because they loved it more that the other options, but because they felt this style was a enduring look that their heirs would appreciate.
Our message: buy furniture for you. Perhaps, for some, one could think of furniture more like a car. First, you know what attributes you appreciate and how much you are willing to pay for those features. You also have a relatively accurate sense of the all-in cost of ownership (you know roughly what you'll get for it when you're finished). Fine art is a different beast: while you will derive benefit from looking at it and how it contributes to a space, a significant consideration in your purchase decision algorithm (you have one of those, don't you?) includes the future value of your investment even if you never intend to sell it.
But don't jump to the wrong conclusion:
(1) We are not advocating for inexpensive, disposable furniture. As designers and makers of better furniture, we think you should choose furniture that delivers a consistent level of satisfaction throughout the (long) ownership experience. If you buy a poorly made (but great-looking) sofa, it will be ideally-suited for the location that never gets used. If you intend to sit on it, the promotionally-priced sofa will perform poorly, every time and will deteriorate visually as its upholstery, tailoring and substructure quickly succumb to wear. Unfortunately all of the elements are interdependent: there are some decent, inexpensive frames that sit surprisingly well but with sub-standard cushions or lousy leather your piece only delivers to the least of theose ingredients.
(2) We don't believe in over-priced furniture. There's plenty of very average furniture marketed as high end. In most cases you can get a terrific look but the level of the material in uneven and the actual ususage experience (the quality of the sit, the ergonomics of the table, the praticality of the configuration, etc...) can vary tremendously (from tremendous to less-than-tremendous).
We are suggesting that you be a tad selfish: find the furniture that has the inherent characteristics that resonate with your life. If you're going to sit on it, sit at it, open and close it, or simply gaze at it, don't compromise: if you appreciate the difference, you've made a great choice. Happy 4th.
Leather Trade Fair, Bologna, Italy - 2014.4.29
Twice a year the world’s leather superpowers gather in Italy, most recently in Bologna, for the industry’s most important trade fair. So I brushed up on the subtle (yet critical) differences between the parmesans, purged my wardrobe of all things non-black, drove my Fiat to the airport and braced myself for Delta’s customer service (is that an oxymoron?) with an overpriced Terminal C chianti. Frankly, had they been serving tagliatelle Ravenna with tiramisu, my pre-flight cultural immersion would have been more authentic in composition and caloric count. Then again, I wouldn’t have had an appetite for the umpteen rounds of salatinos (pretzels) that would rain down over the next 12 hours.
Given the time and expense of this little jaunt, I had some commensurately lofty objectives to achieve, among them to have a Bologna sandwich in Bologna. I don’t want to spoil the conclusion, but let’s just say that at the Bologna version of Dean & DeLuca quick work with Google translate isn’t sufficient for a guy to get his processed luncheon meat on Wonderbread. How awkward – in Bologna they thought I was full of baloney. While we’re on the subject, I sampled three pastas Bolognese during my 2-1/2 days in northeast Tuscany and, sorry to shatter your preconceptions, nary a tomato was seen. So the next time you’re hunting around the pantry for a wayward can of Hunt’s paste to complete your culinary masterpiece, stop: don’t put pomodori in vostra salsa Bolognese.
I’ve just noticed that two paragraphs are behind us and the material seems a little thin on leather content. Well here’s the 30,000 ft report. Most notably, leather is for shoes. If I had to estimate, 85% of the leather square footage draped on displays was wooing Manolo Blahnik and Phil Knight (of Nike fame). Tanneries don’t like to produce leather for furniture because (1) it requires large, clean hides, and (2) furniture manufacturers moan and complain too much about price. With respect to the size and consistency of a hide, how much leather do you really need to build a pair of Christian Louboutins? 2 or 3 square feet maybe? WILLEM SMITH’s space-parsimonious Francisco Metro needs 120 without too many marks (tick bites, healed wounds, brands, etc…). But wait, it only takes 2½ Louboutins to buy a Francisco – see where I’m going with this?
My two key takeaways from the fair are price and quality. On the price front, things are not going our way. Leather is continuing on its resurgent popularity path as part of a growing worldwide appreciation of natural products. On the supply side, because of declining beef consumption, the raw material stock is commensurately decreasing (remember, most leather is a byproduct of the meat industry). So take the prospect of higher prices sitting down, preferable in one of our chairs. Second, I had hoped that through advances in vegetable tanning I might come across some suitable furniture grade articles produced with this more ecofriendly-sounding process. Unfortunately the quality of the hand and the generally limited malleability of these leathers continue to fall short of standards we set at WILLEM SMITH. Unlike the smartphone functionality world, the technology-development curve in leather isn’t particularly steep.
Ultimately I arrived back at WILLEM SMITH’s World Headquarters in Merrifield more confident than ever that our carefully-selected leather offering is truly second-to-none, particularly on a price/quality grid when measured against the better leathers in both the domestic and international markets. A self-serving conclusion to be sure, but I’m gratified we’re on the right track.
Leather Care Tips - 2014.2.28
At WILLEM SMITH, our co-mantras are "Thought through" and "Comfort-obsessed." We love using leather on our chairs because it is so consistent with our ethos. Nothing sits like a well-designed and carefully-buily chair swaddled in a great leather. And you can sit a long time: properly maintained leather will last - and look terrific - four times as long as fabric.
Caring for leather is straightforward:
Rules 1-10 are to avoid prolonged exposure to direct sunlight and to direct heat.
Leather furniture & dust don't mix. Regular vacuuming (yes, vacuuming) with a non-abrasic attachment is a simple and effective methof to keep the surface clean.
For most leathers it is safe to occasionally wipe your leather with a clean, dmapl cloth followed by a dry cloth.
Blot (don't rup or scrub) any spills immediately.
For many leathers we recommend using a gentle widely available leather conditioner such as Lexol but not more frequently than once a year. It is easily applied with a sponge followed by wiping any excess with a dry cloth a few minutes later. For a full aniline or nubuck leather only use cleaners and conditioners specifically formulated for those leathers - enquire at your favorite leather furniture company for recommended brands. Note that some conditioners may slightly darken a leather's appearance so please test any conditioner on an inconspicuous area first. Again, many people don't use any products on their leather: if it isn't drying out, it's happy.
And finally, bear in mind that over time and with use your leather will develop a unique and welcoming patina, giving it a distinctive appearance and further softening as it ages. Much like all of us.