Rest Easy

On any given day at a Room & Board showroom, you’re likely to witness a customer testing the Goldilocks approach to finding the perfect mattress. And, since mattress shopping is – without a doubt – the most personal of decisions at Room & Board, Goldilocks is encouraged.

For over a decade now, Room & Board’s exclusive mattress partner has been Restwell. Located in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, family-owned Restwell has been making mattresses since 1945.

In the marketing driven world of mattresses, Restwell stands out for the marketing it doesn’t do. The dollars saved on marketing and advertising campaigns allows the partnership with Room & Board to focus on high-quality materials, which means added value to our customers. The six mattress types that Restwell makes for Room & Board represent the best of what’s available across the industry.

Restwell employees take the directive “Make your bed!” to heart – every day. Just ten long-tenured employees – which include two father-and-sons pairings – work on the Restwell production floor. A behind the scenes tour of Restwell stands out in its quiet– just the faint, comforting hum of the sewing machines quilting mattress covers in the background and the occasional crisp clip of scissors. The floors are so clean and glossy reflections bounce up off of from them.

For those customers who can’t get to a showroom, the task of selecting a mattress might seem impossible. The Room & Board online mattress finder is a great resource. From there, enter the fellow sleepers on the Shop From Home team, whose Design Associates can speak from first hand knowledge – err rest – about the differences between our mattresses.

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New Assortment Behind-the-Scenes

Each January, our Room & Board catalog is unveiled and with it the official introduction to a new Room & Board collection. Not unlike that movie premiering next weekend that you’ve been hearing about for the last few years, odds are that the team behind the scenes at Room & Board has been working on any new piece for over a year or longer.

I chatted with Michael Brotman, a Merchandise Manager on the Room & Board Product team for the past eight years, to get some of his behind-the-scenes perspective on our 2015 assortment.

How would your describe your design philosophy?

I believe that the best results come from sharing great ideas and staying true to our roots. Our assortment’s foundation has influences ranging from Shaker, Asian, Arts & Crafts, Danish, and Modern design movements. If we focus on these timeless periods, we can’t go wrong. The ultimate goal is for our customers to buy a piece of Room & Board of furniture and love it forever. We focus on creating lasting pieces with great design and great quality that that will get passed down to the next generation.

How does a new piece get its start?

Inspiration is everywhere. I keep a folder of images and quick sketches to pull from when the time is right. We’re constantly seeking out ideas from blogs, design and shelter magazines that help us identify needs and keep us abreast of trends and potential new materials. New pieces are often inspired by feedback from customers, stores, vendor partners, and certainly our analysis of our sales trends.

Take us into the design process.

No one individual designs a piece. Maybe it starts with feedback from one of our stores, for example. From there, we’ll sketch something up. I’ll share the design idea with [CEO] John Gabbert who will provide his input. Nancy, our Photo Creative Director might see it and weigh in – “What if…?” It will be refined further. Next, we’ll share the idea with our vendors so that a sample can be made. But the changes are not done yet! The vendors will often add even more great input. All of this collaboration inevitably makes a design better than if it was done by only one individual.

It’s a beautiful evolution. And throughout the process, each one of us is thinking — How will our customers live with it? Will they love it? How can we make it even better? We’re trying to elevate American design and craftsmanship and bring it back to the way it was.

When does the process for new additions to the assortment start?

It’s a never-ending cycle at this point. The creative process and timeline is ongoing.

When do you finish?

Our deadline is the photo shoot deadline for the catalog. All final photo samples need to be in around September 1.

Do you have a favorite new piece in the 2015 collection?

This is a really tough question! We all work so hard to bring new collections to life that we get a bit attached to each and every one of them. Some a bit more than others, but just like a parent, how could you ever choose your favorite? We love them all!

If I have to choose a favorite for 2015, our new Parks accent tables are really special. The collection is named after the company that makes them for us. The M.H. Parks Company is a seventh generation woodworking company based in Massachusetts. They began making bobbins for the garment industry well over 100 years ago and they have many of the old machines from that era. They still use some of these old industrial machines – that were used to make these specialized bobbins – to make our Parks Tables. There are very few of these machines left and even fewer are in use today. I love that we are able to partner with people like Todd Parks and his amazing craftsmen to help us bring our ideas to life. This is one of the very best parts of my job.

Parks Table working drawings

How does it feel when you think about the number of homes a piece you’ve help design ends up in?

There’s nothing better than seeing all of the hard work that we put into something new really resonate with our customers. We put our heart and soul into these pieces. When someone chooses to make an investment and purchase something for their home that we’ve created, it’s such an honor. Knowing that they’re going to live with that Room & Board piece and love it for years and years…that’s what it’s all about.

Behind the Scenes at Shell Lake Woodcrafters

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“The character of a company is based on the top,” said Dan Ringwelski, co-owner of Shell Lake Woodcrafters. Shell Lake has been a Room & Board vendor since 1992 and makes our longstanding Linear collection of cabinets, in addition to Delano storage, Fisher kitchen islands, Graham media consoles and accent tables, and Whitney cabinets.

Dan was referring to his company’s longtime partnership with Room & Board. Heads from each of Shell Lake’s various departments, from the front office to the production floor, had stopped to meet us – four Shop From Home Design Associates who had made the two-hour trip up north to the town of Shell Lake, Wisconsin.

Of course, at Room & Board, we knew what Dan said to be true. We’d seen firsthand our own leaders’ involvement, commitment and passion for great design and quality furniture. “One of the biggest thrills in working for Room & Board is the consistency; the beauty of working with the same people through the years,” said Craig Hanson, Plant Manager. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. “

Hanson has been with Shell Lake Woodcrafters since its beginning in 1991. “I’ve done everything. There’s nothing I can’t do. I feel most comfortable out here in the plant.”

At every point, from the mill room to assembly, to sanding, finishing and inspection, we were awed by the human component that went into each and every Room & Board piece. We saw Scott, who gave us a quiet nod as he milled the lumber, his skilled eyes hand-selecting boards with special attention to color and grain. We saw the beautiful curved corners of the Whitney collection being hand-sanded. Each Room & Board piece was being made one at a time.

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We met Mark, the Production Supervisor, another veteran employee, whose daughter Emily works in the drawer department. Emily is married to Andy in the building department, the son of Lori, who has worked there since the 1990s. Another family had three generations currently working at Shell Lake.

“It’s about the people, not a piece of machinery,” Craig told us. By the end of the tour, where the finished pieces were being packed up for the journey to Room & Board, our pride over these cabinets and accent tables was amplified tenfold because of just that – the people at Shell Lake Woodcrafters.

Dusk was just setting in when we left Shell Lake in the late afternoon. When we arrived, we liked these pieces of furniture. We admired the beauty and had great trust in the quality. We left with deep respect for the craftsmanship that goes into each piece, for the artisans – the people – behind the scenes in quiet Shell Lake. Seemingly small, meeting and getting to know makers like these has a profound, lasting impact.

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Photos courtesy of Zachary Herbst, Shop From Home Design Associate

Please Press 1

Customers who dial Room & Board’s 800 phone number are prompted to Press 1 for customer service or design help. With that selection on an average day, they’ll be connected with one of ten or so Design Associates working within the Shop From Home department.
While we all share a passion for design, a knack for interacting with strangers, and the business sense to manage the multitude of tasks that come across our desks, no two of us Shop From Home Design Associates are alike. We don’t fit any mold in terms of our education or background. Among us there are art school graduates and degrees in English and Education and Interior Design. We have been small business owners and school teachers. We have managed retail stores and corporate departments. We have designed jewelry, ceramics and baskets. We have worked in art museums and we have sold real estate. We have veteran staffers with over two decades of experience here at Room & Board and new employees still in the midst of training who won’t answer a call for quite a few months yet.
From our diverse backgrounds we come together as one cohesive group, a group in which individually any one of us can pick up where someone else left off. We share with one another: The parents and the pet owners among the group are always vocal about the most durable fabrics and tabletop materials. We know which sofa and chairs our shorter and taller peers prefer in terms of comfort and fit. And it goes on. We complement one another, each of us a unique piece of the bigger puzzle, the team behind Press 1.

Working From Home

Day in and day out, five days a week, most employees drudge through the same routine: a commute to the office where they spend the next eight hours or so getting through the day’s tasks. Then it’s back into the car for the long, sometimes stressful drive back home through rush hour. And repeat. Depending on the time of year, this gets prolonged, complicated by things like freezing rain or snow and fellow commuters. The daily miles on vehicles bring added expenses in terms of auto insurance, maintenance and gas money. There’s just no hiding the fact that an eight-hour work day and any commute makes maintaining balance among the minutiae of our lives tricky.

Room & Board’s Shop From Home Design Associates live a different life these days, thanks in part to the department’s Work From Home program. Three days a week, tenured staff members work from offices conveniently located within our own homes. To Room & Board customers, the experience feels no different. For us staff members, the change has had a surprising and resoundingly positive impact on our lives.

My commute now consists of a walk down the hall. In the comfort of bare feet and a ponytail, I fire up my computer and log into a remote system that looks and feels exactly like the one in our Central offices. While that’s happening, I’ll pad downstairs to start my favorite coffee brewing, hug my littles, braid their hair and maybe scramble an egg for breakfast. At my designated start time, I’ll be ready to work with little to no effort and all the comforts of home. During lunch break, I can throw in a load of laundry, fold another load, start dinner preparations or go for a run around my own neighborhood.

And then there are the pleasant surprises, the unexpected calming and restorative boosts that each of us has found through the smallest of things like the sound of birds chirping or the breeze that rolls in through the screen windows on an early summer morning. The other day was busy and in the midst of the juggle I spotted the neighbor’s yellow Labrador, Daisy, from my second story home office window. She was rolling on her back in the green grass, her tail wagging and a silly dog grin plastered across her face, looking up at the clouds. Moments like these somehow manage to help me maintain my energy, a positive attitude and get through tasks more efficiently and with less effort.

When my shift is up, I log off, power down and step a few feet back into my home life. I have a few less to-dos. The balancing act has gotten easier.

House Rules

I take for granted how confident I am with home design. About the design rules that are important for me to follow in my own home and the ones I can break. About mixing and matching finishes, textures, and colors and finding that balance in terms of scale and proportion. On the best of days, from the right angle, after I quick grab that herd of My Little Ponies off the floor, yes, I think, yes, my family’s little cottage could be in Domino or Lonny. Or at least this particular six square feet might pass the test.

But I’ve worked here for nine years. I’m immersed in beautiful products, surrounded by creative people. Inspiration is everywhere here at Room & Board, from gallery walls to paint colors, from house plants to coffee table books and everything above, below and in between. I don’t see, nor do I feel any impact of design rules. It’s my job to instill confidence into the customers who might be uneasy or might not enjoy this process.

As a Design Associate, I frequently get asked about “the rules.” And so, along with my advice, I frequently give my permission to our customer: it’s your house, you make the rules. Relax. What do you like? What makes the most sense in the space, in your life? Pause a moment before assuming that the sofa you love in the showroom at 101” will work in your home. Masking tape or painters tape works wonders: A rectangle table might not work the best in a square room, but tape it out on the floor. How do you feel? Same with that area rug size, tape it out if you’re on the fence. For that pendant height in the hallway, tell the electrician to be flexible, holding it for you at various lengths before committing. Order as many fabric swatches, rug, wood and stone samples as you need. Find your instincts and trust them. Don’t worry about what anyone else says, if it works for you.

For my own home, it’s all about comfort and classic design, careful balance and proportions within 1926 rooms. It’s a careful blend of family heirlooms mixed with modern classics. And, it’s about fun. Hence the My Little Ponies. The biggest rule in my home – if there is any – probably has to do with budget. And putting away your toys.

It’s Worth Noting

I’m a door holder. If you have a baby on your hip or a coffee in one hand, I wait. I hold the door open for you. Just you and me in the room, in the hall, stranger or not, I say “hello.” I talk to my grocery store clerks. I tell most everyone to have a great day and I really mean it and I’m not even obnoxiously cheerful. It just seems right, feels right, for me.

Kindness, sympathy, openness, the ability to listen and then relate to complete strangers, to hone in on the sensitivity or the significance of a piece of furniture beyond the practicality – I think these traits and skills are crucial in our jobs as Design Associates. If a customer notes that this bed is for her daughter’s birthday, I give myself a cue to remember that. A move to a new house, or a much anticipated remodel that is taking forever, I make a note. An order for a glider and a Moda crib is a signal that there’s a new arrival heading this family’s way and we chat about that. A new living room sofa before someone’s high school graduation party; a new dining room table needed before Thanksgiving, I’m jotting down notes. A magazine or blog coming for a photo shoot in seventeen days: noted. A new accent chair for an aging mother’s transition to a nursing home, this is a wonderful choice.

Wide in range, each of these scenarios, they’re all important to my customers. There is always anticipation and excitement built up around a Room & Board delivery. That piece of furniture might represent a transition, might be symbolic of a gathering or celebration, it might be an achievement, or it might simply be a comfortable sofa for the family to hang out on on Friday nights and watch movies. Room & Board is lucky to be a part of our customers’ lives in this very small way.

So to these strangers who flit in and out of my life on the phone, I say “congrats on the baby! Enjoy the long nights in the glider; it goes so fast.” “I’m glad your mom got settled in smoothly.” “I’m relieved the table and the sofa made it in time, and the parties and photo shoots went off without a hitch.” “Enjoy your furniture; enjoy your life. And thank you.”