Keeping in Step from the Showroom to Santiago

In previous posts, I’ve espoused the importance that teamwork plays in the day-to-day showroom experiences of a Design Associate. With its own tenet in the organization’s Guiding Principles, Room & Board is a strong proponent of teamwork, encouraging employees to “build relationships based upon mutual respect and collaboration” with customers, vendor partners and peers. Teamwork is especially pivotal to the success of the Atlanta market given its relatively small size. With a staff of 12, we rely on one another constantly. I ask my colleagues for their opinion when creating intricate design schemes for customers, when I’m posed a question that I can’t answer, and when I can’t figure out why I’m not able to complete my order in SAP. In our market, where multi-way switching is not an option, it’s a team effort to simply turn on and off every one of the hundreds of lamps decorating our showroom at the beginning and end of each day!

As such, it should come as no surprise that when one of my colleagues is away from the showroom for an extended period of time, the impact of that absence is especially impactful. Faced with the imminent departure of our own Sandra Pawliger on a two-week backpacking adventure along the Camino de Santiago (commonly referred to as the Road to Santiago) in Spain, we decided to join her in spirit.

What resulted was a market-wide ‘Step Challenge’ in which we electronically tracked the number of steps taken during our work day. Because Sandra’s journey involved an amount of walking considered obscene to most of my teammates, we cheated a bit at the onset and tallied the total number of steps taken by each staff member as we progressed down the trail. Only in this manner were we able to keep up with Sandra. At each stop on her itinerary, we celebrated by sharing a bit of knowledge about the sights, people and cuisine she was encountering at the moment!

This effort not only raised our collective consciousness surrounding our level of fitness in the showroom, it increased our knowledge of a historically and culturally significant pilgrimage, embarked on by hundreds of thousands of travelers each year. For an idea of the sort of experience that our market was able to partake in, both firsthand and vicariously, see below for a sample of some of the gorgeous photos that Sandra shared with us upon her return.


Edina Showroom Hosts Guthrie Theater Season Kick-Off

Minnesotans are proud of any “firsts” or “mosts” that take us out of the flyover category. Keith Ellison was the nation’s first Muslim Representative in Congress. Minneapolis vies to be the nation’s most fit city. The Minnesota Arboretum has developed some of the best-known apple varieties. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts has one of the best encyclopedic collections in the country, and the Walker is nationally known for its modern art. The Twin Cities’ park systems consistently take top honors at the national level. Lakeview Chapel has the finest Byzantine-style mosaics in the country. Every few years, we build a new stadium. And, until recently, we had Prince.

Of course, Minnesota is also the home base of Room & Board. Recently Room & Board hosted an exciting event celebrating its continued partnership with another Minnesota “most.” The Guthrie Theater was founded in 1963 as a regional alternative to the monopoly of Broadway. Broadway at that time increasingly relied on immediate successes of splashy musicals at high ticket prices in order to cover huge production costs. The Guthrie’s goal from the beginning was a not-for-profit environment showing “classics in rotating repertory with the highest professional standards.”

In 2006, the Guthrie opened its new space right on the Mississippi River, designed by architect Jean Nouvel. In 2016, the Guthrie redesigned their VIP reception room in this space, with help from Aaron Dahl, Room & Board Design Associate. The redesigned VIP reception room has played host to paintings by another Room & Board staff member, Customer Support Associate Josh Meillier.

The latest collaboration with the Guthrie was an event to kick off their 2016-2017 season. Singers from The Parchman Hour performed during a two-hour event which also included small bites and drinks. The Parchman Hour is a variety showcase of songs and stories from the dawn of the Civil Rights Movement. In 1961, brave souls known as Freedom Riders boarded buses and headed into areas of discrimination to stand up against segregation. Some were imprisoned in Mississippi’s notorious Parchman Farm Penitentiary, where they developed the songs and stories that make up The Parchman Hour.

Our event to celebrate The Parchman Hour was planned by Design Associate Aaron Dahl. Retail Market Manager Elise Nicpon took an hour out of her day to pick up the audio equipment, which had been routed to an outer suburb by the rental company. Caterer Cynthia Olson expanded her usual repertory to include southern classics like ambrosia salad and shrimp and grits. Guthrie reps placed flyers around the showroom. Singers Cat Brindisi, David Darrow and Nathan Barlow performed with passion and style. And event-goers lingered longer than usual, exploring everything from the baby section for their grandkids to the Callan chair for a new apartment.

We’ve already received a thank-you note from the Guthrie reps who teamed with us on the event, noting how enthusiastic the response was. Hopefully this will be part of a growing collaboration between two great Minnesota “mosts.”






Sharing Fall Wellness Tips With My Team

One of the outstanding ways that Room & Board takes care of staff members is by encouraging us to make wellness a priority in our lives. To me this goes above and beyond health benefits. Each of us is supported in our lives outside of work. Along side working for Room & Board, I went back to school and became a Certified Holistic Health Coach. To give back, I enjoy sharing my knowledge with my Room & Board team.

Last Sunday I did a slide presentation on a Fall Reset. We went over all of the small things we can do to make sure we are caring for ourselves and our overall well-being with the upcoming cold and flu and holiday season. Besides talking about adding in a good probiotic and a vitamin D supplement, exercise, getting good quality sleep, and eating healthy foods, we explored some of the less obvious. Making sure we are taking time for self-care like resting with a good book and a cup of green tea, walking in nature, relaxing in a hot bath with Epsom salts and essential oils and taking a nap when possible.

After the talk, so many people on my team shared with me the ways they were going to embrace these simple tips to create healthy habits in their lives.



Voting, Pets and Other Life Essentials


Voting is an important civic duty and we encourage all staff members to exercise this right. Although we hope our staff members can find the time before and/or after work to vote, we certainly can make reasonable schedule accommodations for a staff member if they let us know of this scheduling need in advance. Should this be the case, the staff member should reach out to their leadership team.

This is one of the topics under Guidelines and Policies on our intercompany website. It’s listed along with such topics as Bereavement, Jury Duty, and even Relocation Guidelines and Social Media Guidelines.

In writing this blog, I was all set to talk about how ALL U.S. employers are required to allow an employee time to vote and that I appreciate how Room & Board very clearly states it as part of our policy. But with a little bit of Google research, it didn’t take me long to see that that’s not the case at all. A person’s right to take time from work to vote is really decided on a state-by-state basis. Depending on where you live, the answer may be: “of course!” “nope” or “well, it depends” – even during a presidential election.

There are currently 30 states with varying laws regarding employee voting rights and 20 other states with no laws at all. Of the 30 states with laws, 18 of those states have no penalties at all if your employer chooses to deny you time off to vote. Even with laws, some employers may choose to mark any time off needed for voting as unpaid.

With this new understanding, I’m even more thankful for our company policy, no matter what state in which you work. Room & Board believes that “each staff member is afforded the flexibility to balance his or her personal obligations with equal priority to the needs of the business.” Equal priority; I like that.

It’s a relationship that takes responsible commitment from both sides for it to work. Whether it be a sick child or a sick pet, car trouble or a long line at the polls – Room & Board works through each with trust and understanding and prefers to pay individuals for missed time and not reduce one’s pay or request the use of vacation time.

In the coming presidential election I don’t foresee needing to change my schedule in order to cast my very important vote, but if I did, I would trust that my leadership team and my company would be ok with it. It’s a thought that leaves me hopeful for the future – mine and my country’s.

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

Image from vintage graphics

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: