January 1, 2012
John Edelman: No to Knockoffs, Yes to Talent
He has revived DWR by reaching out to a new generation of American design.
OCCUPATION: Retail executive, design impresario
AFFILIATION: Design Within Reach
LOCATION: Stamford, Connecticut
When John Edelman came aboard as the president and CEO of Design Within Reach in January 2010—following the sale of his family business, Edelman Leather (“we produced the highest-end material in the world for interior design,” he says), to Knoll International—he found an organization that had lost its way. “The company’s original concept was to make authentic modern design accessible—then they just stopped,” he says. “We were relying on classics from places like Herman Miller, and if we found a piece we liked, we’d reinterpret it and drop the original vendor,” a habit which brought accusations of plagiarism.
Edelman immediately adopted a no-knockoffs policy and began investing in the current generation of designers, establishing relationships with studios like BassamFellows and Roll & Hill. At the suggestion of the lighting designer David Weeks, whom he’d brought into the DWR fold, Edelman also threw a party for 35 designers, “and we all drank too much,” he recalls. “Then I stood up on a chair and said they wouldn’t have to go to Europe to get their work produced—we were the place they could come to now.” Thus far, Edelman’s invitation has yielded first-rate new products from, among others, Brad Ascalon, Nick Dine, and Nathan Yong.
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While it continues to carry enduringly popular furnishings from Knoll, Cassina, and other major firms, DWR has, under Edelman’s stewardship, revived out-of-production classics like Greta Magnusson Grossman’s 1947 Grasshopper lamp. (According to Edelman, DWR will also be launching Milo Baughman furniture, from Thayer Coggin, in the first quarter of this year.) And he’s brought back the preferred bathroom reading of design mavens everywhere—the DWR catalog—which had been discontinued. “We have to show people how to live with modern,” Edelman says, noting that most catalog photo shoots are done on location. “You can mix it up with your grandmother’s chaise—you don’t have to live in a Dwell house.”
Meanwhile, Edelman has closed 14 stores, focusing on existing studio locations that enable him to pursue a “vignette strategy” that presents tableaux of DWR-furnished rooms, not unlike a traditional department store. “We have to make the stores look as good as the catalog. We have to improve the Web site,” he says, in his rapid-fire style. “We’ve made great strides, but we’ve barely started.”