In the years since Cori and Roy Estrow opened Country Willow in a 1,000-square-foot storefront in Katonah, they have upgraded the furniture store significantly. Celebrating its 25-year anniversary, Country Willow spans more than 30,000 square feet of space over multiple showrooms in Bedford Hills, opening it up to new generations of buyers.
And while the store started out selling country furniture, customers these days will be greeted with a range of styles for every need and taste, curated from several providers, mainly domestic.
“We kept true to the original country and country French stuff,” says Michael Leibowitz, who became CEO after Roy passed away in 2018. “And then when we had more space, we added a lot of different styles and more transitional styles. Now we have a pretty good mix of everything. There is some country (furniture) still left in the store. The name Country Willow sort of makes people sometimes think that we only do country furniture, but as a percentage of what we actually have on our floor, it’s the smallest percentage. We have so much transitional contemporary furniture and newer styles that are popular now — Mid-century modern, Scandinavian, all of that stuff now, is all represented on our floor.”
What remains of the original Country Willow — along with Cori’s continued involvement in the store’s leadership — is a dedication to quality and service that Leibowitz says gives it an edge over the big furniture stores. Country Willow also differs from its competitors in terms of shopping experience and the way it’s run. (Country Willow is managed under an employee stock ownership program, in which employees technically own the company.)
The experience of shopping at Country Willow is one that seems all but extinct in the age of online orders and mass production. Leibowitz describes the kind of care customers receive as giving them a feeling of family.
While the store’s designers and salespeople assist customers with finding pieces that they’re excited to take home, their specialty is getting to know each customer, their likes and dislikes, and even helping to bring a customer’s vision to life from scratch, with special custom furniture offerings and complete, complimentary design services.
“The specialty has always been custom,” Leibowitz says, “you know, the idea of having lots of fabrics to choose from, different sizes of the pieces, the ability to choose the firmness of the cushions that you want and the pillows. Everything is geared towards that custom experience, so we can kind of give a little bit of a value-added service to the customer that really wants to pull everything together.”
The store’s host of complimentary design services can be beneficial to customers looking for not just pieces of furniture but an end-to-end layout and design scheme for a whole room, house or apartment.
After clients come into the store or access it virtually and confirm which pieces and styles they want, Country Willow can complete a home visit, measure the space and create a 3D rendering of it so that the buyers can more clearly envision the furniture and the way it will fit into their home. Customers can also bring in their own measurements and photos to help the designer get a better idea of the space.
They can then choose whether they’d like a designer to help them bring the whole space together, adding rugs, lighting, window treatments, chandeliers, mirrors and artwork from Country Willow’s wide variety of accessories.
Since its founding, the store has catered to the traditional home, but its expansion and the launch a few years ago of The Loft at CW has opened it up more to a younger clientele that may be living in smaller spaces and whose tastes skew a bit less country.
“Our tagline is furniture for life, right?” Leibowitz says. “So we want to provide high-quality, design-level furniture, and we do have prices of products that span from all over. We do have some apartment-size stuff, apartment prices to get people started. But then there’s also the other stuff. I think the ability to do custom designs for pieces … gives us a little bit of an appeal to a different customer, but we try to be for everybody. I mean, we’re not a discount store. It’s definitely higher quality furniture. But I think our appeal is pretty broad, as far as there’s a lot of people coming up from the city to this area, and I think we have a broad-enough appeal that we go from people who are budget-conscious to the customer who knows what they want.”
While the main showroom of Country Willow is meeting all these needs, its Loft showroom specializes in industrial, urban, mid-century modern and Nordic styles.
“Mid-century modern is very popular right now,” Leibowitz says. “Contemporary and a little bit of the sleeker modern, I think, is definitely something that we’re seeing more of. Then the other side is that we are seeing a lot and have a lot of performance fabrics that are coming into the market, for the people who have normal lives with families and kids and pets and all of that stuff to be able to buy a nice, high-quality piece of furniture and then not be concerned if something spills on it or there’s an accident.”
Despite supply-chain jams from Covid and even natural disasters over the past year, despite customers who are increasingly becoming used to shopping at home and receiving their purchase in two days’ time and despite competing with companies that can cut costs by compromising quality, Leibowitz is confident in the niche that Country Willow fills in the furniture market locally.
“When you come in, you definitely feel something about this store that you don’t get from any other home furniture buying experience.”
For more, visit countrywillow.com.