Breakfast at… Klaff’s
Story and photographs by Olga Loginova
Remember that opening scene from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” in which Audrey Hepburn walks toward the jewelry store and stares dreamily inside?
When I went to Klaff’s for an interview with chairman Joseph Klaff Passero, I felt like I was that lost girl who found solace in “the quietness and the proud look” of this elegant home design center (but for the Givenchy dress and any resemblance to the great actress, unfortunately).
And it’s not that diamonds have less appeal to me than most stunning sinks, tile and kitchen hardware, but rather that the discreet luxury emanating from every item on display in the Scarsdale showroom made me feel happy and at home.
There’s much more to Klaff’s than just the polished interior and an abundance of choice. Speaking of which, when the late Andy Rooney stopped by to buy a light bulb, he reportedly got so overwhelmed with the assortment that he promised to make a radio show out of it. Among other big names that have been Klaff’s devotees are the recent Oscar winner Christopher Plummer, Bette Davis, Paul Newman, Robert Vaughn and other prominent people whose names are kept secret by the store’s personnel.
Founded in 1921 by Joe and Mary Klaff as South Norwalk Plumbing Supply Company, Klaff’s has gone a long way to become a one-stop home design center. Today there are three stores – in So. Norwalk, Danbury and Scarsdale. The store in Scarsdale – actually several showrooms in one, each with its own motif – features kitchens, tiles and stones, decorative hardware, bathrooms, and outdoor and indoor lighting fixtures. Fully integrated, as if in a real home, the artful displays provide endless patterns to sophisticated customers.
For 91 years, Klaff’s has been a family business, and this sense of family has helped the company to weather the two worst recessions in modern history.
Never once during the recent tough years has Klaff’s compromised its quality for lower prices. Instead, the company cut back on benefits and regrouped. According to Passero, launching the new design center in Scarsdale in 2009 was very risky. But looking back, he says it was an excellent business decision. Thanks to customers’ loyalty, Klaff’s is gradually returning to its pre-recession revenues.
A vibrant, charismatic man, Passero not only inherited his grandfather’s name but also his looks and business acumen. He knows Klaff’s inside out. Just like his mother, Mollie (now the store’s owner), his siblings and cousins, he started working at Klaff’s when he was a little boy. From loading and unloading trucks, to checking inventory and selling bulbs to running the operation, Passero never dreamed of a life outside the family business.
He’s also the visionary behind the Klaff’s design statements. For the last 30 years, he has traveled the world searching for new patterns and the hottest trends, such as vintage faucets, crystals and natural materials and designs inspired by a range of influences, including New England, Iceland and Asian minimalism.
But of course, it’s not only about trends. As Passero put it:
“Just as for my grandparents, my ultimate goal is to help customers envision their dreams with the paints and canvases we provide. We help people have beautiful lives in their beautiful homes.”
After a pause, he added with a smile: “Joe and Mary would be incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved through the years.”
Indeed, Klaff’s has many reasons to celebrate, and it does so in a generous manner. For several years, the three design centers have been hosting tastings prepared by local chefs and open to the customers and friends. The tradition has become so popular with the public and food lovers that Klaff’s has published a cookbook written by the chefs that’s available in its stores. Among the plans for the future is the launch of an online Klaff’s store.
Last but not least, the prices… Well, I’d better quote Ben Alliker, Klaff’s general manager in Scarsdale, who says, “You may come here for a $100 faucet, or for the faucet that costs $20,000. You chose how expensive you want it to be.”
Well, maybe one day….