DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Store proprietor Curtis Lee of Design Within Reach stands behind the Womb Chair and Ottoman designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen in 1948. The iconic piece, starting at $2,777, is one of the many modern pieces for sale at the first DWR location in Honolulu.
Go ahead and put your feet up
Customers are encouraged to try out the museum-quality furniture at Design Within ReachSTORY SUMMARY »
Come sit and stay awhile -- that's what the staff at the newest Design Within Reach store might tell you, and they mean that literally, not just in the welcoming sense.
Design Within Reach
» Grand opening: 6 to 8 p.m. April 10
» Location: Ala Moana Center, new third-floor wing
» Call: 941-2112 or visit www.dwr.com
» Also: 10 percent of sales made April 10-16 will benefit Honolulu Academy of Arts programs
The Honolulu store -- on the third floor of the much-ballyhooed new wing of Ala Moana Center -- has been open one full week, and store proprietor Curtis Lee and his three associates are tempting customers into test-driving their collection of sleek, modernist furniture by letting them climb into and onto such merchandise as neon-colored plastic chairs and polished steel counter stools.
Le Corbusier's LC4 Chaise Lounge, for example. An identical item can be found in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Sit in it and the museum staff won't be pleased, but at DWR feel free to get horizontal on the LC4, located at the front of the 2,100-square-foot store.
Other pieces sold here can also can be found at MoMA -- the Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Barcelona Chair and Stool. Or settle into the Womb Chair, a wool-and-steel number designed by Eero Saarinen that will enfold you into a cocoon just as if you were a baby again.
It's OK if the names behind the chairs are unrecognizable. The theme behind DWR is to bring iconic, modern pieces of furniture to the masses, and customers are encouraged to sit, touch and appreciate them -- the store's name references accessibility.
Fully licensed designs purchased from the original manufacturers make up the majority of furniture, with dimensions specified by the original designers, said Lee, a former buyer for Liberty House. A handful of designers also create lines exclusively for the store.
"These are not a copy, not a reproduction."
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DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Copper shades frame the sleeper-sofa section of the new Design Within Reach store at Ala Moana Center. Sleeper-sofas were in high demand through phone orders and Internet sales placed during the last two years from Hawaii, said Matt Wilkerson, vice president of sales and operations. The shades, $588, are part of a collection designed by Tom Dixon.
Babies grow up fast. Design Within Reach opened its first showroom in the Bay Area six years ago. A new Honolulu store, the youngest of the bunch, joins a three-week-old Toronto location as the newest additions to the DWR family.
Ten years ago, Design within Reach was strictly a catalog- and Web-based business. "But furniture is one of those things that people like to look at in books, look at online, and then they love to touch and feel the furniture before making a choice," said Matt Wilkerson, vice president of sales and operations.
DWR has 70 showrooms across North America -- 18 in California alone -- with stores springing up in Miami, Chicago, New York City, Seattle and more.
"Design within Reach is founded on the concept that good design is hard to get," said Wilkerson. "Originally you had to have an architect or a designer. ... This takes the elitism out of it."
Each store contains a revolving selection of merchandise for home and outdoor living -- in addition to couches and chairs, every store offers desks, rugs, tables and lamps stamped with the same forward-thinking feel of modernism, in a variety of finishes and colors. New catalogs are drawn up every month: March's outdoor theme will give way to April's sustainability.
HAWAII DWR employees had six days to unpack and set up furniture in preparation for the store's opening last Friday; more than 4,000 people passed through DWR's doors over opening weekend, estimated store proprietor Curtis Lee.
Events are planned to announce the store's presence: A grand-opening party April 10 will benefit the Honolulu Academy Arts; DWR joins the next ARTafterDARK on April 25, providing outdoor furniture and lounge areas.
The Honolulu location -- called the Hawaii Studio in corporate lingo -- is one of the few DWR stores found in a shopping center. The storefront of each location is unique -- the original San Francisco studio is in a former bank, with the vault used as the showroom.
Founder Rob Forbes' concept was to purchase licensed designs from original manufacturers, with the intent that everyone could bring these modern pieces of art into their homes.
At first, few furniture makers were willing to sign up with DWR, said Wilkerson. Furniture makers Herman Miller and Knoll Associates were two of the first big names willing to take a chance.
Some of the store's most famed designers are commemorated in a pictorial slung across one wall near the front of the Honolulu store: George Nelson, Edward Wormley, Eero Saarinen, Harry Bertoia, Charles Eames and Jens Risom posed for a 1961 Playboy portrait in the very chairs they designed.
Other recognizable designers include Philippe Starck, Isamu Noguchi and Arne Jacobsen; pieces found at DWR can also be found at the Museum of Modern Art.
"But these are not interpretations of the classics," said Tara Deponte, a studio account executive. "These are the original designs."
Studio sales were up 13 percent during the third quarter of 2007 for a total of $45 million, according to published reports.
The company's research showed a built-in customer base in Hawaii; orders have been routinely placed by phone and e-mail by residents since Hawaii delivery service by the company became available two years ago.
The idea of opening a store in Hawaii "became the topic of conversation" when delivery service first began, said Wilkerson. Then in January 2007, talk became a reality, with a location found in the expanding Ala Moana Center.
Just as DWR tested the waters with Toronto consumers by opening the first non-U.S. store in Canada, the Hawaii store is seen as a possible gateway to Asia. "The location can't be matched," said Lee.
"The read on Hawaii will tell us whether we should keep going East," said Wilkerson. "It will tell us, 'What does Asia look like to us?' or whether there should be stores on other islands."