For the past four decades, Room & Board has set itself apart in the furniture industry with contemporary, yet timeless designs produced with a strong dedication to craft and made-in-America ethos. Founded in 1980 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the company has grown to include 16 stores around the country, with a Pasadena, California, location slated to open later this year. As part of GRAY’s Virtual Design EXPO, we chatted with Nancy Stancati and Jenon Bailie, both of whom work on Room & Board’s creative team. Stancati, the Photo Creative Director, has been working at the company for 25 years (she started on the visual marketing team in Chicago) and is responsible for all photography from marketing collateral to catalog looks to website images. Bailie, now in her seventeenth year at Room & Board, is the Merchandising and Design Director, and her role includes all design, development, and merchandising of accessories. The nature of their jobs means that Stancati and Bailie work very close together, and that camaraderie came through on our call. Below, the duo talk about spring trends, working from home, and the importance of collaboration.
With so many furniture companies out there in the market, what drew each of you to Room & Board?
Nancy Stancati: The first time I walked into a Room & Board store was in my mid-20s, and I had no idea what it was. A friend of mine was shopping for a rug and I agreed to meet her there after work one day and I was so blown away because it had a look that I hadn’t seen before. The furniture had a modern aesthetic, but it was different from what you were seeing from competitors. I was immediately drawn to it. About a year later I answered a job ad for Room & Board and once I started working there, I learned about how closely they work with manufacturers and the close-knit ties to American makers. That human element and the stories about who made what product were just so compelling.
Jenon Bailie: I was working in womenswear as a clothing designer and at the time that world was changing from an authentically customer-first department store model to something that was being pushed by the bottom line. A friend of mine was working at Room & Board and I had learned about their authentic, natural materials, the true connection with partners and makers, the longevity of the projects… in fashion things were so disposable and I was working on a new line every six weeks. Here, we are asking, ‘How do you make something perfectly beautiful be timeless?’ The passion and pride of the makers and the contribution to small American communities is something we’re proud of.
How have things changed for you over the past month in quarantine? Do you have any tips for designers who are trying to push forward with their business in such a hands-on industry when they can’t actually be as hands-on right now?
NS: We’re both very physical in our work—wanting to touch materials, move furniture around, pull things together in an instant—so my whole world has been turned upside down. One of the things I’ve been trying to do is catch up on design blogs daily and dig into things that I don’t normally have as much time for. I do a lot of daydreaming, actually. Since I’m not able to work with the product I’m thinking of the future whether it’s dreaming up clients or finding that one cool product that I want to build a whole room around. I’ve got a lot of concept boards with pins in them—it’s coming down to research for me.
JB: While everyone’s at home I’ve been giving my team design research challenges, encouraging mood boards—just doing things to keep them inspired. It inspires me also because they all have a totally different perspective than I do.
For those who find themselves working from home right now, what are your tips for creating a space conducive to work, especially if someone doesn’t have, say an office or extra room in their space?
NS: I’m fortunate enough to have a little space carved out in my hallway, but I know there are many people who don’t have a dedicated home office. I’ve always needed something to put my laptop, folders, papers, and pencils in. I typically use things around the house and have repurposed a portable woven birch laundry basket for my supplies. You can also use a tote or a big straw market bag. It’s nice to have something that you can throw everything in and tuck it away at the end of the day.
JB: We just launched our April goods, which include baskets and bins. There are so many options from leathers, cork, and felts. Something portable is nice because you can always reuse it for another purpose once you’re back in the office. I also always need good lighting and charging solutions.
Let’s talk about design trends… What are we seeing for spring and summer?
JB: We’ve pushed the palette to warm it up—we went through a gray phase for so long. Blues are still really critical from navy to hazy turquoises, but now it’s about using a whole range, not just one tone. We have also added a new variety of materials and texture as well as softened things up with more feminine shapes. What it really comes down to is the push and pull of how we bring elements together.
My Mom has always told me to invest in good shoes and handbags and follow trends sparingly… what is the furniture equivalent? If I were to ask what the top three pieces that you recommend investing in for your home, what would they be?
NB: I would start with a great accent chair for the living room or family room. Something that’s got some personality, whether it’s the shape or color. Then a well-made piece of furniture that is the star of the room like a dresser or credenza. Finally, a really good lamp. I feel like I’ve done a decent job of investing in good quality lamps. It’s a balance between being utilitarian—where will it sit, is it going to give off good light—and a little piece of sculpture that pulls the room together.
JB: A good hand-knotted rug. The first time I visited our rugmakers in India was when I realized the depth of that process. Talk about durable design! Then well-made wood case pieces and everyday bedding.
Working with independent makers, small designers, and artists is a strong tenent of Room & Board’s business approach. Can you talk about the importance of collaboration?
JB: Since week one of when I started at Room & Board, I knew that everyone was there for the right reasons. There’s an authenticity—we know the owners of all the companies we work with. We know their families, their kids, their employees. It really comes back to that human connection.
NS: Obviously we can’t be experts in everything! They are the makers and bring such a high level of expertise to the table. Learning from other people is so important.
All images courtesy Room & Board.