Portrait: Mary Wilson, Studio A
Susan Dickenson -- Home Accents Today, October 1, 2013
Studio A has arrived - in a big way - as in a High Point showroom that's tripled in size since the spring market, and where the company this month is presenting its growing line of handcrafted, design-driven accessories, furniture, lighting, mirrors, sculptures, barware, textiles, mirrors and wall décor.
Mary Wilson, who, with husband Bill Wilson, founded the company (as Eastern Breeze Home Collection) in 2005, puts the number of new fall intros at around 250. Included in that presentation are Studio A's first rug introductions and expanded offerings in furniture and lighting - including some new uses of linen, and the addition of table lamps to the company's Roger Thomas Collection - accented here and there with artifacts, natural elements and shine.
She describes Studio A's products as textural and sophisticated, organic, sometimes quirky. "One can tell our products are handcrafted because of the complex finishes, detailed workmanship and attention to detail," she said. "We have gathered interesting and unusual artifacts to complement the line and add a layer of interest to the interiors in which they are placed."
It's a high-design look from a highly talented team, but it doesn't necessarily come at a high price, Wilson noted. "There is a big difference between high perceived value and high prices. Because our design team does such a masterful job at merchandising our beautiful showrooms, I've often wondered if potential customers are reluctant to come in, fearing sticker shock. We're very careful to offer a wide range of price points - which can start as low as $5 - for our customers."
Several years ago, the Wilsons made the decision to partner with Dallas-based Global Views, their Americasmart Atlanta showroom neighbors with whom, over the years, they had become close friends. "In 2010, we were looking for an opportunity to grow, and Global Views was a very good fit on many levels. Aesthetically, the understated, organic nature of Studio A beautifully complements the more colorful, trend-driven point of view of Global Views. It's a very good marriage."
Wilson credits the company's success to a steady flow of hundreds of product introductions, the uptick in the economy, and Studio A's design talent. "Our designer, Steven Yarbrough, really understands the Studio A aesthetic and has been instrumental in developing the magnitude of beautiful, new product which we need to continue growing." But, she noted, Studio A is still a young company in many respects, "so we still have a long way to go in market penetration and customer awareness."
What is your role in the company? I'm a principal in Studio A along with owners David Gebhart, Lois Del Negro and Frederick Rayner. A passion and joy for me is participating in product development and helping to guide the creative point of view of the company. This past year I've been focused on building the brand. I've also spent a lot of time on the road with our sales team to educate them and help build customer relationships.
How did you get into the home furnishings business? I have degrees in journalism and business administration from Valparaiso University and went to work for an international advertising agency in Chicago right out of college. Eighteen months later, I was awarded a graduate fellowship to study in Europe for a year. I had planned to come back to Chicago but, in fact, it was 15 years before I returned to the United States to live. I worked in Munich in international advertising, met my husband of 32 years - a great guy from Abilene, Texas - and eventually began working in his industry so we could be together more.
For the next 13 years, feature film production took us all over Europe, Eastern Europe, the British Isles and Africa. At that time, all of those countries were treasure troves of interesting products, so I've been sourcing for a very long time. After a move to Los Angeles, raising three children and a bout with breast cancer, I decided it was time to seriously explore this passion. Trade restrictions had just been lifted in Vietnam, so Bill and I went on a fact-finding/sourcing trip to Vietnam and Thailand. Our first temporary show in Los Angeles was extremely successful so we kept going. We joined Dillon-Wells and showed in their Los Angeles and Las Vegas showrooms and expanded to Southern Accessories Today in Atlanta and High Point, and Taylors on Ten in Dallas, before the economy crashed.
Ignorance is bliss. We probably would not have jumped into building the company had we known what a serious economic downturn was ahead of us all. Through that difficult time in our industry, we were blessed to have the design talent of Will Foster and lots of support from friends and colleagues in the industry.
How did Roger Thomas get involved with Studio A? Roger has been judiciously building his brand over the past few years in a variety of product categories. He approached David Gebhart about licensing his accessories to Studio A. When he shared with us his vision for the accessory line, we felt it would be a perfect fit.
After working with him, do you see influences of Las Vegas in Roger's aesthetic? He once told us that if you study his work - including that in Las Vegas - all of his designs are actually based on classic art and architecture which contain "a bit of irreverence." I would say that the "irreverence" could be translated with a modern twist.
Roger bases his work on classic designs which are timeless and beautiful. I believe he has completely succeeded with his designs for Studio A. He is a consummate student of the arts and it truly shows in his work. It has been a delight to collaborate with Roger, and there is much more beautiful product to come!
Who is Studio A's customer? Our customer base consists of mid- to high-end retailers, interior designers and home décor stores, as well as the hospitality industry and all of the above categories in international markets. International customers are a very important segment of our business.
Mary Wilson and Roger Thomas, in Studio A's Atlanta showroom, July 2013.
What are a couple of your hottest sellers? The Toile Linen furniture collection is classic and a top seller. Each serpentine-shaped piece is wrapped in Belgian linen then given a subtle paint glaze. Artifacts have always been an important part of Studio A's eclectic look. Our reclaimed iron bowls, which were used to carry sand and concrete on construction sites in India, have a fantastic patina and create very dramatic wall décor when hung in groupings. Each piece is different and unique.
What has been the highlight of your career thus far? After all of the ups and downs of starting a business right before the Great Recession, it is a joy to experience the company's growth and the result of everyone's hard work finally coming to fruition. We have a terrific, talented team and I have the best business partners in the world. I'm very grateful for each and every day.
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