A most comfortable fit

The Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams idea of modern sophistication includes 
extensive attention to detail, from the perfect taupe leather on the sofa to the right shade of emerald on the velvet chairs to the artwork that brings it all together.
The Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams idea of modern sophistication includes extensive attention to detail, from the perfect taupe leather on the sofa to the right shade of emerald on the velvet chairs to the artwork that brings it all together.

Photographs courtesy Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams

It’s impressive to have a room filled with stylish furnishings that look amazing.

It’s even more impressive to have a room filled with stylish furnishings that not only look amazing but are also incredibly comfortable.

Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams’ furnishings have been making the latter possible for a quarter century.

As the North Carolina-based company marks its silver anniversary this year, it is celebrating what the company likes to call a “journey to make the world a more comfortable place for everyone.”

The festivities include a commemorative book, a silver-anniversary collection and a tour that has the namesake founders making personal appearances at their Signature Stores across the country.

The yearlong victory lap just under way has brought Gold and Williams to Greenwich late on a recent afternoon, where they have settled into the super-stylish surroundings to reflect on the milestone.

It’s been quite the ride for the two, who met in 1980s New York and would go on to create a company that has not only grown with the times but also managed to thrive in today’s competitive, design-oriented climate.

It’s never been, it seems, about following the pack.

“The kind of trends we follow are more the way people live,” Gold says, with Williams adding that lately, it’s “a little more sophisticated, not so much country casual.”

And, as has been noted throughout the industry, the Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams reputation has been built on concepts that complement the designs that are favorites of not only savvy homeowners but also interior and set designers and shelter magazine editors. Let’s not forget, as well, that Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams furniture was tapped as part of the 2008 redecoration of the Obama White House.

EARLY DAYS

Back in 1989, the plan – after the pair decided to go into furniture rather than operating a Christmas tree farm – was to introduce a line of dining chairs and tables. A $60,000 investment and a goal of cultivating a customer list of 25 would allow both a profit and a four-day workweek.

Then reality hit. Pre-sales of more than 5,000 pieces, before the factory was even opened, were swiftly followed by a rapidly expanding collection that had the company reaching $1 million in sales in its first full year.

Clearly, what they were offering had struck a chord.

“In 1989, a furniture company did not use the word ‘comfort,’” Gold says.

As Williams adds, “Comfort doesn’t always represent style.”

Comfort needed to combine with stellar design and craftsmanship for Gold and Williams to make the venture reflect their concept.

Williams, a Texan raised across the country thanks to his father’s military career, had graduated from Parsons School of Design in 1985. While working as promotions art director for Seventeen magazine, he met Gold, a New Jersey native already in the furniture business. The pair would be a couple for some 14 years before separating but remain business partners to this day.

“Bob heads up design, and I head up most of the other things,” Gold says.

From 23 employees to a roster now topping 600, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams has made its mark selling upholstered furniture, case goods (storage and tables), lighting, rugs, wall art, pillows, bedding and accessories.

The $100-million international brand is carried in a growing chain of 18 Signature Stores and boutique shops within other stores around the world, while also serving private-label customers ranging from Pottery Barn to Restoration Hardware. Its hospitality division works with clients as varied as the Ritz-Carlton hotels and Starbucks coffee bars.

But, as Gold says, “We want to be more than just a company making money.”

That is clearly reflected in the company’s commitment to eco-friendly practices, social causes and its employees and their work environment. The corporate culture respects diversity, supports education and is all about being environmentally responsible.

A sustaining member of the Sustainable Furnishings Council, Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams operates out of a 600,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art factory in Taylorsville, N.C.

There, the company hosts the Lulu’s Childhood Enrichment Center, an award-winning nonprofit on-site day care center named after Gold and Williams’ late English bull dog, the company mascot. Other perks include an on-call nurse and health fairs, a café offering healthy gourmet fare, a concierge service and a scholarship program for employees’ children.

The company was also ahead of the curve with its advertising, which has often featured same-sex couples, alternative families and provocative models, efforts that earned the Public Visibility Award at the inaugural GLAAD Media Awards in Advertising in 2009.

Lauded for both style and business practices, the company has been featured in publications such as Elle Décor, Time and Health.

The furniture has also been spotted on such TV shows as “Friends,” “Sex and the City” and “Two and A Half Men.” But the most celebrated collaboration is with “The Good Wife,” the CBS series that has filmed in Westchester. The last credit sparked the design of a collection with set decorator Beth Kushnick, said to be the first furniture license in TV history.

THE DESIGNS

The Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams customers, the founders share, run the gamut from mature downsizers to those just starting out.

“We also have a lot of customers who are collecting,” Gold says.

Everyone, it seems, finds something to like in the range that showcases a decidedly glamorous edge.

Catching the eye might be the mid-century modern sensibility of the Major chair, the iconic polished stainless steel base now upholstered with silver metallic leather. Or perhaps it’s the flair of the Lawson bar, a white lacquered wood case with bronze-mirrored doors and hand-cut white wood fretwork. The Greenwich showroom is dotted with an array of textures and finishes, materials and silhouettes. Open a random dresser drawer and the company’s signature red interior offers a touch of flair and whimsy.

Upholstered bookcases – how unique – are accented with nailheads, a look both industrial and chic.

This year’s direction, the founders say, is a nod to 1970s pop culture combined with that signature, classic comfort.

You can settle into a comfortably chic sectional – a study in sleek gray accented with white-fur and black throw pillows – beneath a vintage photograph of Mick Jagger in concert.

As the afternoon wanes and the celebration is about to get under way on East Putnam Avenue, Gold and Williams share that this Greenwich stop is near the start of a blockbuster year.

“Through our research we know there are 60 to 70 really great markets to be in,” Gold says. Plans are under way to add Signature Stores in cities ranging from Miami to Beverly Hills.

Touring the country, seeing the progress has been rewarding already, again on more than one front.

Charitable efforts are entwined with the company’s anniversary plans.

The stop in Greenwich, for example, would not only draw style fans but also serve as a benefit for The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. Actor-philanthropist Paul Newman founded the Fairfield County-based nonprofit organization dedicated to serving children with serious medical conditions and their families in 1988.

THE ROAD AHEAD

Keeping on top of advances in the field and staying committed to a meticulous production method have been keys to the move ever forward, the founders agree.

“Part of our model is we don’t have high returns,” Gold says. “We have a lot of inspections.”

In addition, a single piece of each style is taken completely through the process before mass production begins.

An early misstep led to realizing the importance of that, Williams says, noting an early creation of a “big, beautiful” collection.

“Big would be a good way to describe it, because they couldn’t fit through doors,” he says with a laugh.

Equal to their satisfaction with their careers, the founders say, is the ability to contribute to social causes, especially those that affect the LGBT community. Gold started Faith in America, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating people about religious-based bigotry and how it is used to justify discrimination against LGBT Americans.

“Unfortunately, it still continues to be a struggle,” says Gold, who edited “Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America.”

Gold and Williams’ anniversary book, “Who We Are,” published by Assouline and the duo’s third title, offers a true celebration of the founders, what they stand for, what they have created – and is even part playful handbook on how to entertain with understated charm. (Who’s up for pan-roasted monkfish with spring peas?)

Taking a virtual journey through the company’s “Who We Are” statement, which also appears in each of the Signature Stores, the book gives a true sense of the duo’s approach and includes: “We love to laugh.” “We obsess over minutiae.” “We are actively in pursuit of equality.” And “We never miss a meal. Ever.”

Having their career (and lives) so eloquently summed up gives Gold and Williams a moment to reflect on the partnership – and they do credit their personal synergy as a source of the company’s success.

Former lovers don’t often make the best business partners, but in this case, they seem to have struck a fine balance.

As Williams says with a laugh, glancing over at Gold, “The only thing that we really ever fight about is his driving.”

For more, visit Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams at 45 E. Putnam Ave. in Greenwich or at mgbwhome.com. 

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