Whoooo Should Listen?

Wise Old Owl

A wise old owl sat in an oak

The more he heard, the less he spoke;

The less he spoke, the more he heard;

Why aren’t we all like that wise old bird?

                – Author Unknown

The other night I heard Garrison Keillor recite this poem on the radio show A Prairie Home Companion. As I was listening, I was thinking that it was excellent advice for someone who wanted to be a Design Associate at Room & Board.

Although listening is not a skill many proclaim on a resume, it should be. Listening to our customers is key to being able to have a meaningful engagements with them. Careful listening and asking questions should be how a Design Associate begins the process of working with a customer. Without fully understanding what the customer’s design and furniture needs are, it is not possible to provide the best solution for them.

It is important to give the customer the gift of our time and attention. Ultimately, listening allows us to deepen our connection to our customers, which is a win for everyone.

Vintage Owl


Making the Complex Simple

While Room & Board design services is nothing new for our company, I feel as though many customers I am helping these days are specifically asking for “design services.” Now that can mean myriad of things. Do you need help selecting a rug to pull everything together? Are you moving into a new apartment and need everything? Do you need help completing your home with artwork and all those finishing touches? Well, yeah, I can do all of that and sometimes that is just a regular Saturday at the showroom.

When I am helping a customer who is brand new to our location and our company, it is so exciting to share the Room & Board story and our vendors stories. But I’m careful not to overload people. I find it helps to ask questions: what are they inspired by? why did they come to Room & Board out of all the stores to shop at? And most importantly, I just listen to them. You learn, flex, and hone all types of skills here at Room & Board. This is SO not your typical retail-working environment.

I sometimes think in this big, wide world of the internet, Instagram, Facebook, blogs, etc., folks are inundated with ideas and images and need help distilling them. I get to help with all of that and that is very exciting and rewarding. These customers are trusting me with their personal story, their personal spaces. And what I discover each time is that they love our inspired, livable design and simple, solution-oriented approach to furnishing their home. In a complicated world, I treasure the fact things can be so straightforward.

A Feast for the Eyes

One of my favorite things to do while fluffing and straightening in the Room & Board showroom is to find the fine details and happy accidents that make it such a special place for customers. People are often surprised to reach out and find that our plants are real. Our selection of coffee table books would be worth coming in for itself. And so often, the way that shadows lie or the color in a magazine cover reinforce the beautiful natural characteristics of the furniture itself.

So I’m dedicating my first blog post to some of the small touches that help make the Room & Board showroom such an inspiring place to work. Some are on purpose, some just landed that way, but they all contribute to the depth of the customer’s visual journey—

Snooter-doot goes for a ride! In the background are a Bennett dresser by Spectra, a vintage French school map, and the Nest crib by El Greco:


This one happened by chance. While hanging the new Helene pendant in our Complete Your Home department, our Cleaning Associate, Jim Pontrelli, accidentally decapitated one of the orchids. For a day or two, the fugitive bloom made a great colorful accent to the department’s pink color story. It’s lying on the James end table (in this year’s new Sand finish) alongside a Callisto bowl by Tony Wurman and some appropriately tropical prop books:


One of our Design Associates is a connoisseur of fine spirits, so his bottles help show off the usefulness of the Trace shelf as a bar. The light working through an empty Bastille whiskey bottle reinforces the gleam of Bell Manufacturing’s stainless steel:


The misunderstood vulture is one of my favorite birds, so I was glad that when Sharon Montrose did an exclusive collection of animal portraits for Room & Board, she included nature’s clean-up crew alongside the more popular horse and leopard. I have to admit, this guy does look a little ominous staring off into that dark corner, but his plumage provides a great compliment to Room & Board’s rich Charcoal paint. The luxurious walnut on the sideboard looks great in this lighting, too:


This actor’s windblown locks photographed in black and white on a New York Times magazine cover are a great color and texture compliment to the Bram sofa in distressed Lagoon Smoke leather. The table top is Fawn quartz:


Here black-and-white text and natural elements on a book cover are in the shadow of a (real) plant. The book’s colors and texture reinforce the play of black and white, as well as rough and smooth, in the Marbled Quartz table top and the Arden ivory/black rug by Delos:


This new fiddle fig plant near our front entrance has already had a couple positive comments from customers, and its shape is a perfect complement to the midcentury vibe of the Murphy sofa from Precedent and this year’s new James tables. A Case Study planter and Sequence rug round out the look, which would be right at home in the illustrations of retro artist Shag:


Here the bright orange text on the cover of Dwell magazine echoes the vivid colors of our Sunbrella outdoor pillows, while the angular, steel lines of the cover photo fit right in with the Graphite powder-coated steel of Montego furniture and an Onda serving tray:


Even the clipboard I’ve been using to update our PIM inventory list looks better in the light of a Glow pendant from Hennepin Made. So with that, I’m back to work. Keep your eyes out for all the little happy interactions that make design shine in every part of your life:



Decisions, decisions . . .

At Room & Board we face a comparable fan dilemma of supporting Taylor Swift vs Kayne West. We are torn; TayTay what happened, girl? We all “knew you were trouble when you walked in:” From authentic country singer/ song writer to Victoria Secret fashion show icon… No Bad Blood here, but let’s definitely go Back to December. #shakeitoff And Yeezy when did it become acceptable to take candy away from children? I mean your talent is undeniable, but can we show some restraint? #Kayne2020 And on a side note, Kim, is this really your battle to fight? You want to love both yet certainly cannot afford to remain Switzerland. How does this relate to furniture? It does, I swear. At R & B we have a plethora of offerings, yet can only show so much in stores. Several times a year, we make new introductions and are forced to take sides, furniture sides, when we really ideally wish we could show it all. Currently, we are making space by marking down floor samples to allow room for the new introductions. We debate, analyze stats, and ultimately need to choose a side by selecting what pieces to show and what to not. Obvi we can always modify, but decisions need to be made. Challenging, I know. Just like the Batman vs Superman showdown. I mean, seriously, how can you pick a side? I love Batman, you can’t now just make him the “bad guy.” And what’s not to love about Clark Kent?! All tough decisions, but something we Design Associates choose to face everyday.🙂kanyetaylorpic

A Special Event Celebrating How Salesforce Helps Us Help Our Customer

One of the tenets at the heart of Room & Board’s Guiding Principles, and one which impacts the job of each Design Associate on a daily basis, is the commitment to recognizing the unique experiences, perspectives and talents of our team members. For some, this translates into additional responsibilities as a Business Interiors Liaison, Design Center Liaison, Marketing and Branding Liaison or liaison to virtually any aspect of the business which serves to enhance our work environment, showroom presentation or customer experience. For me personally, I’ve helped to bridge the initial gap between my prior experience in event planning and my role as a Design Associate by assisting in the execution of in-store events.

Events at Room & Board result from cross-branding opportunities and while always fun and exciting, in the midst of celebrating book publishings, trends in menswear for the fall season and local restaurateurs, it’s rare that Room & Board has the opportunity to bask in its fair share of the spotlight. Several weeks ago however, I was lucky enough to be present for just that sort of occasion.

This past May, the Atlanta market hosted a reception for customers of the Salesforce Corporation. Salesforce, in their own words, is the “innovative company behind one of the world’s leading CRM platforms and as it turns out, Room & Board is one of their best customers! As such, our own Kimberly Ruthenbeck, Director of Web Experience was invited to speak at the reception to an audience of over 75 about the success we’ve experienced working with Salesforce over the past seven or so years.

It wasn’t until I caught sight of a small AV team erecting an 80’’ monitor in our showroom that I became fully aware of how important the presentation would be to the reception program. We’re talking headlining attraction and at that point; my anticipation for the event was significantly heightened. Shortly after beginning to welcome the attendees to our showroom, I heard introductions being made over a microphone and as quickly as I could (which was not quickly at all) I made my way through the crowd towards where the presentation had begun to take place. Long story short – I missed it! Well, most of it anyways! Between pausing to speak with guests, weaving my way around other guests rendered statue-like by their attentiveness and periodically darting about the showroom to pick up and dispose of precariously placed pates and sweating cocktail glasses, I could barely make out more than four or five consecutively strewn sentences.

Luckily for me, I was able to view an exceptionally well-produced video which highlights exactly what it was that had so thoroughly captured everyone’s attention that night. My teammates and I found this video to be truly inspiring and believe that it perfectly communicates Room & Board’s philosophy on customer service which is of course, what Room & Board is all about. Hopefully this video inspires you as well!


Job Longevity, does it still exist?

In most work environments, employees come and go. In today’s job marketplace, staying with a company for a year or two has become commonplace versus 30 years ago when workers stayed with their company for decades. The many recessions that the U.S. has experienced over the past three decades, starting with the Gulf War in the early 90s, the Dot Com bust, Sept. 11th, and the Great Recession have created a corporate culture of not wanting long term employees. Employee loyalty has been eroded in part by the transition of defined pension benefits to Cash Balance and 401K plans. While employees no longer plan to stay with a company long term due to pension considerations, this has also increased flexibility for employees’ career mobility.

Room & Board, having always marched to the beat of a different drum, has altered that now common career plan of staying a couple of years and moving on. For the most part, Room & Board staff members are in it for the long term. While our pension 401K plans are inviting, with a generous match that enhances staff members’ retirement funds, the allure to stay is in the culture and respectful work environment that are highly valued and increasingly rare in corporate America.

Our flexible work schedules, holiday pay, and generous vacation time are only small enticements to make Room & Board a great place to work. For Design Associates, our passion for design, meeting new people every day and making meaningful connections and creating amazing spaces for customers is what keeps us happy where we are. The benefits package is just cream on the top.

Equality for All

“At Room & Board we believe in equality for all.” This was the leading sentence of a recent company announcement regarding our disappointment of the passage of HB2 in the North Carolina General Assembly. The HB2 law sets a statewide definition of classes of people who are protected against discrimination and it does not include sexual orientation or gender identity. We shared our public statement on the issue with the Governor of North Carolina, the members of the General Assembly as well as our North Carolina upholstery partners, mill partners and others with which we do business. Our hope is that they formulate their own statement to support the repeal of HB2. Our company does that.

At the store level, we’ve also recently changed the designation of our 4th floor bathrooms so that both are gender neutral. Our customers deserve that.


A few weekends ago, we celebrated Pride here in D.C. The annual Saturday Pride parade ends just two blocks from our store and we traditionally set up big tubs of bottled water on the front sidewalk to pass out cold water to passersby. You can’t imagine the goodwill created by giving a free bottle of cold water to someone on a usually hot and humid day. The sign on the table states: “Room & Board Shares Your PRIDE.” We want to be part of that.


That same weekend, we also heard the news of the terrible shooting in Orlando. This senseless act deeply affected our staff for many days and continues to sit with us. As with other retailers on our street, we have kept the Pride flag in our window in memory of those killed and in solidarity with our local LGBTQ community. We want to do that.

I don’t think that all retailers would take these actions, but Room & Board does. And we do it proactively because we believe in “equality for all”. It’s not a marketing plan or a PR opportunity. It’s something that we believe in from our corporate office to our store locations and I’m very proud of that.