Andy Thornton keynotes Pinnacle Awards banquet

Founder of LaDiff

Andy ThorntonAndy Thornton
Andy Thornton, founder of LaDiff, will serve as keynote speaker at the 2017 Pinnacle Awards held Oct. 16 during the High Point Market.

The subject of Thornton’s address will be “Happiness By Design.”

Now in its 22nd year, the Pinnacle Awards honor design excellence across the home furnishings industry, showcasing products introduced each year in 17 categories, ranging from accessories to upholstery. Winnowed down to 64 finalists, products are judged by a jury comprised of 12 well-known industry professionals on a variety of criteria, including innovation, form and function, retailer and manufacturer benefit, and consumer benefit.

“The American Society of Furniture Designers was created more than two decades ago to advocate for outstanding design and the designers whose creativity drives the home furnishings industry’s engine,” said John Conrad, executive director. “In light of our goal to elevate the role of design in the home furnishings industry, we could not think of a more timely and relevant speaker than Andy Thornton.”

Born in Kent, England — moving to Paris at the age of 5 and Ridgewood, N.J. at the age of 11 — by his junior year of high school, Thornton was attending Escola Americana do Rio de Janeiro. President of his senior class with a 4.0 grade point average, he was politely asked to leave Brazil by the CIA for making a speech on U.S. Embassy grounds against the war in Vietnam during graduation ceremonies. He would spend a year at Bard College in New York before deciding to hitchhike across the U.S. eight times in six months (once on $4 round trip).

In what would eventually prove a lucky turn of events for the design-conscious up and down the East Coast, the peripatetic wanderer decided to settle down for the balance of the early ‘70s and start his own high-end furniture and woodworking business. Thornton’s talent and predilection for great design was obvious from the get-go, with positive reviews and coverage of his work appearing in numerous publications, including the “Washington Post,” and Interior Design Magazine. During this time, his work was sold in galleries from Florida to New England.

As successful as the young furniture maker was, he again succumbed to wanderlust in 1977 — taking a year off to travel Mexico, the U.S., Western and Eastern Europe and the Near East, an adventure he continues to recommend. A year later he settled in Port Au Prince, Haiti, where he set up a business exporting handcrafts and art sold through a U.S.-based wholesale operation.

He moved back to Virginia in 1980, changing the home furnishings landscape and shopping experience with the launch of La Difference — the East Coast’s largest selection of modern and contemporary furniture and accessories. Honored with multiple awards from Small Business of the Year to Distinguished Retailer of the Year to the ARTS Award for Best Accessories by a Furniture Store, he served as president of the trend-setting, three-story showroom in downtown Richmond until last year, when he relinquished the role to his partner in life and business, wife Sarah Paxton. He retains the dual titles founder and flunkey.

“Andy’s passion for great design and business sense are legendary in this industry, and he couples his insight with a wonderful sense of humor,” Conrad said. “I urge everyone to purchase their tickets for this event as soon as possible, because his not-to-be-missed presentation will be the talk of the Market and we expect a sell-out crowd.”

To purchase tickets for the 2017 Pinnacle Award Banquet, please visit

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HAT PBM Newsdesk videos

Join HAT's editors for PBM News Desk, an on-site content creation hub in the lobby of the Centers at High Point during the 2017 Fall High Point Market. (Sponsored by Klarna.)

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