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Genesis of a furniture line collaboration

Libby Langdon, Braxton Culler joining forcesHIGH POINT - In mid-August, Furniture/Today reported that celebrity design guru, author and TV personality Libby Langdon has partnered with Braxton Culler Inc. to produce her first licensed furniture collection, an upholstery line set to debut at this month's High Point Market.
     Recently, Furniture/Today Editor-in-chief Ray Allegrezza spoke with Langdon and Brack Culler, vice president of Braxton Culler Inc., about the genesis of the partnership, their expectations from the strategic alliance and more.

     Furniture/Today: How did the alliance come to be? Who initiated the conversations?
     Culler: Libby Langdon has been a Braxton Culler furniture customer for many years. As she gained popularity through her work as an interior designer and various TV appearances, she continued to come home to High Point to shop, choosing local area furniture pieces for her work. It seemed a natural progression of our personal and professional relationship to collaborate with her as we had been considering a celebrity-endorsed line for quite some time. The notable difference here is that while Libby is indeed a celebrity, she is an authentic, extremely talented designer, and not some media creation. These are her designs.

     F/T: Is this your first such strategic alliance and if so, why is Libby the right person?
     BC: Throughout the years that she has been a customer, we've had many opportunities to exchange ideas and discuss our vision for an alliance such as this for our company. It became apparent within the past year that she shares our vision and complements our company beautifully in terms of her customer base and what she brings to the table. We believed she was the right person for this venture when we began it, and that has been confirmed to us on many levels throughout the past months of collaboration.

     F/T: Brack, what do you look for in a strategic partner?
     Culler: Since this is a first for us, definitely someone who can broaden our customer base by diversifying the product line, yet have an ability to stay true to our company philosophy. Libby has brought fresh new ideas to Braxton Culler that will further enhance our total package of offerings.

      F/T: What does Libby bring to the table and how do you see her helping you specifically grow your business?
     Culler: Working with Libby exposes Braxton Culler to new customers and new channels of distribution. Libby is an expert. She's been featured on HGTV's "Small Space, Big Style;" she's Rachael Ray's go-to interior designer and frequently appears on "The Rachael Ray Show" and she formerly hosted and was the lead designer on the Fox TV show, "Design Invasion." She's an accomplished author with her first book, "Libby Langdon's Small Space Solutions," now sold in more than 1,600 Lowe's Home Improvement stores across the U.S. as well as in major bookstores.
     Additionally, Libby's designs have been featured on a slew of shelter magazine covers, from Hamptons Cottages and Gardens to New England Home and Decorating Spaces.
     In our business, it's important to be on the forefront of the latest styles and trends and Libby brings us insight into the latest trends, and we've incorporated those insights into a collection of sleek and stylish pieces, everything from sofas and chairs to ottomans and headboards. Because of her vast experience and national recognition, we believe this will open up an entirely new customer base and additional opportunities for media exposure.

     F/T: Will the price points on the Libby Langdon furniture be similar to those of your existing products?
     Culler: The Libby Langdon line will reflect our already established Braxton Culler value, yet with standard features such as down-blend cushioning in most of the seating, exposed wood legs and nail head trim, some of the price points will be slightly higher reflecting the higher-end design of the new collection.

     F/T: How will you promote the new line?
     Culler: We will promote the line through various national furniture publications, websites and Facebook. We are offering the "Lunch with Libby" seminars this coming market, Oct. 23 and 25 at the Braxton Culler showroom at 310 S. Elm St. The seminars will help expose designers and retailers to our product offerings and offer them an exceptional educational opportunity that will help them in their businesses at the same time. Libby is also willing to partner with our dealers to produce seminars for consumers at retail store locations.

     F/T: Libby, now it's your turn. You've made a mark as a cook, designer, actress, film producer, TV celebrity and as a best-selling author. So what prompted you to design your new line of upholstery with Braxton Culler at this point in your career?
     Langdon: It's true, I have had many "lives" and the desire to create my own line of upholstery was born out of working with various clients, doing makeover TV and seeing furniture shapes and styles that people continually gravitate to. I firmly believe that all my life experiences have prepared me to be where I am right now, and in designing furniture I think the more lifestyle information I can use the better. I feel as though I am on the "front lines" of design. There is no middle man in what I do. I literally sit down with people and we look at furniture styles and they tell me what they like and tell me what they don't like. There were enough times when I would show people things and they would say, "Can we get it like this?" I wanted to offer them exactly what they wanted and that's what made me want to design a line of upholstered furniture. Learning the desires and needs of the consumer one-on-one has been invaluable in helping me to create my designs. I know what they are looking for and I am going to give it to them!

     F/T: What do you look for in a business partner? What was it about Braxton Culler that led you to conclude your two entities would be a good fit?
     Langdon: What I look for in a business partner is someone that's a great communicator, someone that I can share ideas with, and someone that's focused on getting the work done and creating a gorgeous product. As a designer, I know the exact looks and silhouettes that I want, but I rely on other people to get the construction right, the foam, the mix of down and the frame shapes that will result in a comfy piece of furniture. The team at Braxton Culler has worked hard to bring my designs to life in the most comfortable and affordable way. I am excited to partner with them because I feel that I am bringing an entirely new style to what they currently offer. It's a sleeker, more updated look. I wouldn't want to work with a company that is already offering these shapes. The exciting thing for me is to bring something new to the party, and I'm thrilled to be doing this with Braxton Culler.

     F/T: My understanding is that you and your family have a long history with Braxton Culler. Am I right?
     Langdon: I was born and raised in High Point and the Cullers lived down the street from us. My siblings and I went to the same school that the Culler kids went to, so of course we carpooled to school together. I have had a blast working with Brack Culler on this project. We have worked so well together and he completely shares and supports my vision for this line. We did a photo shoot in the summer to get pictures of some of the furniture, and I looked at the pictures when I got back to New York and had to laugh when I saw a picture of me with Brack and thought, "Oh my gosh, we went to grade school together!"
     Working with him has been amazing and to be on the same page with someone when you are starting something new is imperative. He totally gets it and sees that the company can tap into new customers with my collection. We are both excited to see where this line can go!

Libby Langdon

We all seem to be working in the "how-fast-can-I-get-it" world and furniture made in the U.S. will show up within a certain amount of time, guaranteed. There's nothing more frustrating than having to tell a client, "The manufacturer said your pieces are on the water, and they will let us know when they arrive in the U.S."
Libby Langdon

     F/T: What do you think you and Braxton Culler will bring to the table that is unique and fresh?
     Langdon: What makes my collection unique might not be things that people will be able to see from the outside, but they are the reasons why things are designed the way I designed them. It's all about the fact that working in makeover TV I have had the chance to travel across the country, go into real people's homes and see how they really live and what they really want. The pitch of a certain chair and the arm height is just right for someone who loves to read; a bench is used at the kitchen table because staying home is the new "going out" for family entertaining and lots of kids can sit together on a bench (and they think it's fun to sit on a bench!). A headboard is higher than usual because it instantly adds a feel of luxury and makes a smaller room seem bigger. Everything is done for a reason, and I am putting everything that I have learned about people's lifestyles into this collection.

     F/T: How loudly do you think that furniture made in the U.S. resonates with consumers?
     Langdon: I think furniture that's made in the U.S. resonates with the consumer on a couple of levels. I believe that consumers can feel the difference in a piece of furniture that's made overseas versus a piece made in the U.S. The weight of it is different and the quality is very different, and they can see that. In this economy, I believe that if people are going to plunk down their hard-earned cash on a piece of furniture they need to know it will last because they are most likely counting on having it for many years. The other reason that my clients prefer something made in the U.S. is as simple as timing. We all seem to be working in the "how-fast-can-I-get-it" world and furniture made in the U.S. will show up within a certain amount of time, guaranteed. There's nothing more frustrating than having to tell a client, "The manufacturer said your pieces are on the water, and they will let us know when they arrive in the U.S." It can be anywhere from 30 days to three months and people realize they have no control on arrival time with items that are made abroad. Again, the minute the money leaves their wallet the clock is ticking for them to get their goods!

     F/T: Where will the furniture be made, how extensive will the launch be and where will it be positioned in the good/better/best pricing structure?
     Langdon: The furniture is proudly made at the Braxton Culler plant in North Carolina. We are incredibly excited about the launch at the October market in High Point. Braxton Culler has committed so much to this line and I feel that we will really make a mark with the collection. I will be doing the "Lunch with Libby" seminar series giving retailers and designers insights and information based on my experiences with private clients, as well as makeover TV. Braxton Culler will be the host, and I will also be the moderator in the showroom for the WithIt Competitive Intelligence panel where the speakers share their take on what's hot now in the industry.
     One of the most important reasons that I wanted to partner with Braxton Culler is their fantastic price point. I have used their product with clients for years and when it came to designing my own line with them, I was crystal clear that I wanted to add an updated look to their line, but all the while keep the line within their established price points. They have also reworked the construction on all of the items in my collection and upped the "comfy factor." All pieces come standard with down-blend cushions and we are also offering gorgeous fabrics and beautiful finishes so the look and feel of the furniture is incredible. It's the bang-for-the-buck that all my clients are looking for no matter their budget.

     F/T: With your visibility in so many different arenas (film, publishing, TV, etc.), what do you think this strategic partnership will do to extend the Braxton Culler brand?
     Langdon: I hope my partnership with Braxton Culler broadens their retailer and consumer base. They have a fantastic group of retailers and designers that they currently sell to, and I am excited to raise awareness about the company beyond these customers. If you haven't taken a look at Braxton Culler lately, you should stop in this market to see the new looks and styles that the Libby Langdon Line is going to offer. It's normal as a buyer or a designer to get into a rut and just continue to buy and show the same product in a new fabric. I think the High Point Market is the time to shake things up and find a new resource, with fresh shapes and great prices. I find that with all my clients, their taste evolves and changes so as retailers and designers we should learn to grow and move with the market as well.

     F/T: You will also be unveiling a new rug line in High Point. Will the two lines coordinate with each other and will you cross-brand/cross-merchandise them?
     LL: My upholstery with Braxton Culler and my rug line with Tiger Rug will definitely coordinate with each other, and I will show the rugs with all my upholstery at the Braxton Culler showroom in High Point. I hope that some of the furniture retailers will see my Tiger Rug collection and want to show the rugs with the upholstery, since they have been designed with each other in mind. It's a natural progression for both lines to work together because they have been created and designed out of the same purpose: Giving clients something special, stylish and well made at a great price. They naturally work together since I design for what people seem to want over and over again. I guess I could show a hot pink velvet chair on a bright lime green rug for wow factor at the market, but I have never sold either one to a client so I'm not going to show that. I'm excited to show what sells and to display it in the same dynamic way I would in a client's home. I'm putting all my insider information with customers to good use, and I'm looking forward to people taking a look at it this market.

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