When Gentry first caught up with Anna Brockway in 2013, the fledgling company she had founded with her serial entrepreneur husband Gregg (he cofounded both Hotwire and Tripit) was only six months old, but already burning on all cylinders. The ensuing six years have seen Chairish, the direct-to-consumer marketplace go from a small e-commerce site to a major player in the American interior design industry with over 20,000 sellers and over 2.5 million visitors.
We sat down with Brockway to discuss life at the intersection of technology and design.
How did Chairish begin?
It really stemmed from a need. As a young family with small children we had moved four times in just over a decade. As anyone who’s moved knows, selling things on E-Bay, Craiglist, or through a garage sale can be frustrating. I knew there had to be a better way, and someone needed to make the home design process easier; thus, Chairish was born on our dining room table. We now have offices all over the United States.
There have been a lot of changes for Chairish. You launched DECASO (short for Decorative Arts Society) for high-end designer furnishings and accessories and just purchased the design-trade favorite Derring Hall. Tell us about them.
There have been a lot of changes, but one thing that really hasn’t changed is a focus on curation—we still seek out really beautiful, one-of-a-kind pieces. What has evolved is the marketplace—it has become so much bigger. We now have professional sellers— antique stores and vintage retailers that are offering inventory through Chairish and fueling our growth. Currently we have 370,000 individual pieces on offer.
DECASO is our sister brand created to cater to very high-end dealers. I often think of DECASO as Chairish’s older, cool sister who’s gone off to New York to create a business catering to the world’s top designers.
The acquisition of Dering Hall (the membership driven high-end design discovery site) is a departure for you since it’s not marketplace.
Dering Hall is a great addition to our portfolio. It will enable us to step into the newly made furnishings side of the design business.
What prompted the major focus on interior designers?
We quickly realized that they are our biggest customers. For example the average customer may buy two dining room tables over a lifetime. Where as designers buy dozens—they are shopping all the time for their clients. Designers are really important to us. They love to bring their clients something unique. We are now an important part of their resource base. We’ve spent a lot of time developing our trade business and it’s been so much fun working with such a creative group of professionals.
When we spoke in 2013 you mentioned that you had to stop yourself from purchasing things on the site.
It’s true. I love good design. I am a big buyer and seller on Chairish. I just had a new custom white plaster coffee table made for me on Chairish. Custom pieces are in beta right now, but we see it as strong category for us. We’re working with small shops that do custom pieces but struggle to get visibility.
Art is another strong category for you.
Yes, it is. At the beginning our goal was to find a handful of artists that we thought were exceptional. We started with a small group and then selected the eight best and created the Chairish Print Shop. Many groups have tried to sell prints online but the quality and taste level is not always there. Through Chairish customers can get top quality pieces at affordable prices in a really shopable way. They can quickly narrow their search by everything from color to type to size. We even offer gallery walls. It’s solutions like that they really draw the interior designers.
What design trends are you loving now?
I’m loving the push toward maximalism—it’s a fun departure from the hypermodern look that’s been popular for several years. Maximalism is really fun and fearless decorating punctuated with colors and expressive accessories.
Discovering trends is one of the most fascinating parts of this business. In many ways Chairish is like a living focus group; we can see what’s trending in various parts of the country before anyone else in the industry. Taking that trend information and using it to work with the design and manufacturing community is exciting.