I walked into the Kreiss Furniture showroom in West Hollywood on a perfect Los Angeles Winter day: bright, sunny, and with temperatures in the high 70s. Known for being one of the most hospitable showrooms in California, I was greeted as soon as I entered by Loren, a third generation member the Kreiss family business. As we sat down for an interview, his wife brought me an excellent coffee and some chocolate. Our topics ranged from the history of Kreiss furniture, to how to tell the difference between a good, and a shady Interior Designer.
Eric: Can you tell me a little bit about Kreiss, and why its furniture is so unique in the design world?
Loren: My Great-Grandfather started our family business in the late 30s by selling small objects and accessories from overseas. The business shifted into furniture in the 1970s, and the furniture was based on my grandparents’ travels around the world. The first iteration of the furniture business was actually near Barney's Beanery in Santa Monica. It was similar to an early version of Pier One. In the early eighties, we moved to where the Pacific Design Center is now, and were in that location for over thirty years. The company expanded throughout the world from there, and became known for the California look or the Kreiss look. The look is casually elegant; a mix of natural materials, neutral colors and generously scaled furnishings. It works perfectly with the California lifestyle. The look became very popular in the late 80s and we were the primary retail source for consumers. Our line is a natural extension of that era today. It’s more relevant now than ever. Everything is designed and manufactured in California as well.
E: What is it about California itself that really inspires you?
L: I was born in LA, my father was born in LA, even my grandfather was born in LA. We're long-term Californians, and I think that when you live in California, as opposed to New York or Miami where I've also lived, you become accustomed to the lifestyle. The weather is beautiful and the city is glamorous and inspiring. There's a certain casualness to the city as well- not sweatpants casual, more of a sophisticated casual style. And this style just works for our clients.
E: What would your dream entryway to a house look like?
L: I don't like wasting space, so I'm not a big fan of formal living rooms and dining rooms. So, for me, you'd walk in and you'd be a part of the space immediately. In my house, you just walk into an environment. I love Koi Ponds, I like flowers, and I like a lot of landscaping. I love to set a tone immediately. So the concept of an “ideal entryway,” isn’t really my thing. My thing is to have an environment, a vibe. In my Los Angeles home we added a gate and hedges. We have an entry with flowers and trees. I love having a sanctuary within the city.
E: Are you a big fan of open-floor-plan designs?
L: Absolutely, especially on a ground floor.
E: What do you see as the trend in the Design World right now?
L: We continue to see large open floor plans with great rooms as the focal point. Great rooms with televisions have become the central place of the home. We are seeing open kitchens, casual dining and a large comfortable seating space that opens and flows into the yard. We’ve been selling a record amount of swivel chairs both as barstools and lounge chairs. The swivels allow people to engage more naturally in an open space. Color wise, we are seeing a move away from cream and into white for upholstery. We are seeing gray become less popular in upholstery with pale grey and warmer walnut like Nogal being the most popular directions for our wood pieces.
E: Very cool. So Kreiss itself is obviously a trend leader. In the 80s, everyone came to you. The Kreiss look was the look, and still to this day you keep leading the pack.
L: Yes, we do an evolution of the Kreiss look today. It remains our focus and I think it’s more relevant than ever today. I always tell our designers that it's about evolution, not revolution with our line. Our biggest inspiration is our archive and we tend to use that as a starting point.
Another trend we see, is in colors. So, we started off white in the eighties, then things went cream, and tan, and warm, and then it's been gray for a while - and now we're seeing white again. So you'll see a lot of our sofas are upholstered here in ivory and creams, and there's a few new ones that are upholstered in white, and we actually mill the fabrics as well, here in LA. And we do bleached cotton and rayon in our heavy duty chenille, and they're as white as they've ever been and that's what's moving most for us.
E: So everything is made here in California?
L: Yes, everything is made in California, even the wood is sourced here.
E: What would you say to somebody who is not really sure what they want, or what they're looking for when come in, but they know they want to make some changes in their home?
L: I would recommend looking at value over expense. I sometimes get a funny look when I first tell someone that we represent a fantastic value in the industry. I’m quite adamant about this - just because something is expensive, doesn't mean it's not a value. I love it when someone comes in and says, “Wow that's expensive” because it gives us an opportunity for us to explain the value, quality and our level of service. We offer full customization. Our lead times are the quickest in town. The quality of our furnishings are the best you’ll find at our price point and we are making it locally. We offer complimentary interior design services that are competitive with the best design firms in the city. We have several degreed interior designers on staff with decades of experience. We’ve done some amazing projects that I’m so proud of. I also think it’s unusual to work directly with the owner of a business- I'm here all the time as opposed to in some background or office. I would caution consumers to be analyze the value of furnishings. Just because a company has a less expensive sofa, doesn't mean that it's a better value. You could be getting something that's made in China on a production line. Catalog furniture just isn’t that same as true custom furniture designed by a company with our level of experience and expertise. I would rather have a piece that's going to last for over twenty or thirty years, like our sofas do. I ask people to tell me how much it costs them by the day, because our sofas are going to cost you less by the day than lower priced offerings and you’re going to be a whole lot happier with a Kreiss piece.
E: What's something else that the average person can know to watch out for with a shady Interior Designer?
L: I think that the most important thing is that the best interior designers are people who do everything above board. We work with amazing Interior Designers that we love, and that are clients of ours. The best Interior Designers will give you a copy of their invoices. They buy something from us and negotiate the best price they possibly can for their client. The client knows what they paid and the designer gets a well earned percentage. That’s how it should be done.
E: So you want to make sure that they're transparent.
L: Transparency is essential. We don’t charge for design services and we try to make the process as clean and simple as possible.
E: I think a lot of Interior Designers kind of get into this mode, where they want to impose their own tastes on you, instead of really listening to the client and what they want. And that kind of goes along with non-transparency.
L: I think that can be the case, but the most talented Interior Designers, if you look at Mary McDonald, Martin Lawrence, Michael Smith; I mean, these people are charging top dollar, but you're getting a really beautiful, realized vision. It's not someone who's doing it as a hobby. So if you're going into their vision, and you're willing to pay for it, that's something I would sign off on, because they don't need to make a dollar here, or a dollar there. They're going to charge you, rightfully so, a good amount to develop the design, and they're going to give you an amazing finished product.
It's really the people that are on the lower-end that don't deliver that true Interior Design artistic experience - a fully realized vision. That’s what I would watch out for.
E: What kind of clients do you attract?