Jackie Williams and Todd Wilson created Furnish Me Vintage the way a lot of dealers on Chairish do — through their personal passion for shopping for incredible finds. For the duo, it started with mid-century modern furnishings (a gateway for many!), and has since transformed into a love for ‘80s and ‘90s pieces they like to call “nineteen-laties” (more on that below). Last year, the pair — who also own their own record store, to boot — relocated from Florida to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where they seamlessly resumed their retail and online businesses just in time for the rush of furniture shopping that came with quarantine.
We spoke with Williams about her experiences founding Furnish Me Vintage with her husband, why they made the move out of Florida, and what it’s really like being a Black female business owner in the design industry. Read on for an interesting conversation and be sure to shop all of Furnish Me Vintage’s pieces on Chairish.
First and foremost, how did you launch Furnish Me Vintage? And how did you and your husband meet and become business partners?
Todd and I actually met while working together at a restaurant in New York. I think we both recognized an ambitious spark in each other because it wasn’t long after dating that we started a business together, and another business, and yet another.
Furnish Me Vintage came about after we relocated to St. Petersburg, Florida, during the peak of the recession in 2009. We purchased an adorable 1950s ranch shortly after arriving, and realized we needed furniture. We were bored with the palm tree-clad offerings at new furniture stores so we began vintage shopping. We discovered a passion for mid-century modern design, reselling the pieces that we couldn’t fit in our home. It wasn’t long before our weekends became consumed with sourcing, repairing, and selling. Before I knew it, we had opened our store.
Even though our business was new, we had instant success because we sold online at a time when very few dealers were doing so. My background as a web designer served us well! We had a full-on nationwide e-commerce operation from day one.
What’s it like being a female business owner, and a female business owner of color, in this industry?
Our business has existed in two worlds: e-commerce and in-person retail. I never notice that I’m a woman or woman of color when I’m operating in the digital world. However, being in the store… I felt it.
The most common annoyance was when someone asked to speak to the owner or manager, and I would say that I owned the place. They would literally get a look of shock on their faces. Now, I’m small and I look young… so I couldn’t tell if it was racism, sexism, or ageism that drew that response. It may have been all three. I looked like I was in my 20s, Black, and a woman — most likely not what anyone was expecting when they asked for the owner.
The other annoyance was having men talk over me or disregard me in favor of speaking to my husband. I was never straight out unacknowledged when I worked in the corporate world in New York, but in Florida… dudes wanted to talk to dudes. I don’t know if that is a cultural thing, but it is super annoying. Although, I have to admit, I use it to my advantage sometimes. If I’m not in the mood to deal with a certain situation, I take advantage of the chauvinism and pass the buck to my husband!
You had such a presence (and a fabulous building) in Tampa. What brought on such a big move to Chattanooga?
To be honest, Todd and I are easily influenced. Years ago we watched an episode of House Hunters where they visited charming Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The place is a super-adorable tourist town in the Smoky Mountains that’s modeled after an Alpine village, complete with A-frame chalets! We fell in love and bought some cabins in Gatlinburg, which ignited our romance with Tennessee. We knew we wanted to move there eventually and chose Chattanooga because it offers mountain living along with amenities of a city. The proximity to bigger metro areas like Atlanta and Nashville were important along with the central location to serve customers throughout the country. At this point, we had been in Florida for 10 years, had great success, and kind of felt like we ran our course there and wanted to chase new horizons.
When making the move, were there any pieces that you had to let go of that hit particularly hard? How did you make those decisions?
First of all, this was an insane move! Even more insane: We didn’t really get rid of much. We packed up nearly everything in our 30,000-square-foot store in St. Pete! We had about three guys on the moving team. Looking back, I have no idea how we did it. We moved in March 2020, exactly when lockdowns hit. Moving during the pandemic gave us the space we needed to get situated. Since we had always been online, business continued without a hiccup. In fact, many of our customers didn’t know we moved because they’ve never been to our store and the level of service and quality of product stayed consistent.
You have access to so much beautiful design with Furnish Me Vintage, but what’s a dream piece you’d love to have for yourself?
It really is hard not to keep everything. I jokingly tell our customers not to get too carried away with buying — that’s how I ended up with a store! While I love mid-century, we tend to gravitate to the more outlandish designs than the iconic pieces. We don’t have much Eames or Knoll in our personal collection, but you’ll find Witco and a lot of odd Brutalist pieces in our home.
I absolutely love Italian design. Gaetano Pesce is one of my favorite designers. We’ve had his Up 6 chairs but I’d really like some of his wild resin pieces. I’m also in an unrequited love affair with Maralunga sofas and Tobia Scarpa Soriana pieces. I’ve been in love with Soriana for years and suddenly that sofa is everywhere!
Tell us a little bit about your music business and your retro audio equipment. How did you get into that, and how does it figure into your work?
The record store is Todd’s brainchild, and his brother runs it. We truly are a family business! Records seemed like a natural complement to our furniture and decor. We’re excited to open our Chattanooga location, which will house both the record store and furniture store under one roof.
I’m a visual artist and spent over a month painting murals on every wall of the record shop. The design is a “Nineteen-Laties”-inspired geometric design that captures the spirit of music — the way it makes you feel, the energy, the movement. The look was inspired by roller rinks and arcades I visited as a kid. The music always seems to instantly whisk people away to their “happy place,” so I turned the entire store into their happy place. I want people to get gobsmacked when they walk through the front door. We are new to Chattanooga and first impressions are everything.
How have digital avenues like Chairish influenced the way designers and consumers shop?
When we first started, only a few dealers were selling online. Chairish was a game changer as a platform exclusively for vintage design lovers that connected them with dealers in a very democratic way.
Chairish was a bridge in bringing people to vintage who maybe never considered buying it before. This was certainly extra true once the pandemic struck and the supply chain cut people out of the new furniture market. Chairish was there to educate and inspire a whole brood of newbies.
Digital platforms like Chairish definitely do a lot to introduce us to clients all over the country. It’s a massive resource for buyers too, as it’s not easy to find these kinds of pieces, especially if you are not in a major city. There are also “dead-zones” for certain styles. For example, it is not as easy to find mid-century modern in New England as it is in Florida or the Midwest. Chairish is essentially a design library. It’s helpful to peruse the site and collect ideas. If you are stylish but not necessarily a design expert, Chairish is a great resource for educating and sourcing.
Have you noticed a difference in the types of products that are selling for you now vs in the past? What trends are you seeing these days?
One hyphenated word: “Nineteen-Laties.”
Todd and I have always loved the bold designs and monumental scale of furniture from the 1970s. Early in our business, our Danish Modern-loving dealer friends would make fun of us for buying all this ‘70s and 1980s postmodern stuff. After all, we grew up in the 80s and we like what we like. Well, it turns out… the 1970s aesthetic has owned the market for the past few years. And now the ‘80s and ‘90s are all the rage.
This newly defined design period called Nineteen-Laties essentially encompasses furniture and art from 1980 to 1999. It includes, but is not limited to, postmodern and Memphis styles. Beyond the Pierre Paulin– and Baughman-inspired interiors you would see on the set of Star Trek: The Next Generation, it is a wide net that takes in all the wild and weird things from the last two decades of the 20th century. Tessellated stone, oak, brass, Lucite, pastels, amorphic and geometric shapes and overstuffed seating. No more sharp right angles. Nineteen-Laties furniture gets a bit bigger and overwhelmingly round, or “rount.” It’s the bent-oak spindle-back sofa you sat on at Pep-Pep and Gam-Gam’s house when you watched Unsolved Mysteries or The Golden Girls. Nineteen-Laties is less pretentious, and more familiar and comfortable.
Country Modern (for lack of a better term) is hokey, oak-ee, tacky, a bit garish, and also lots of fun. There’s also the glam-modern aspect — think mauve, neon, white and black lacquer finishes. It’s Semmi’s apartment from Coming to America and Todd and Margo’s aesthetic from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It’s essentially the last period that embraced color and flair before the sad earth tones and cheap bonded leather takeover of the early 2000’s.
Are there any styles or trends you’d like to see disappear in the design world right now?
That’s an interesting question. I don’t know that I pay attention to trends enough to get annoyed by them. I kinda wish people like Kelly Wearstler would stop amping up that Tobia Scarpa Soriana sofa so that I can find one at a good price. That’s a selfish wish though! The sofa is amazing, I get it.
Where do you see Furnish Me Vintage going in the future? What types of things would you like to tackle next?
Furnish Me Vintage isn’t just a business to us. It really is our lifestyle that we’re sharing with our customers. As we grow and become turned on to different aesthetics, and as our habits change, so does the business. Covid showed us that our customers and our team are highly adaptable. Lately we’ve been focused on cultivating processes to best serve our online customers while getting our new Chattanooga retail space ready. However, it’s become pretty apparent that our e-commerce systems are working great for the business. Overall, I think the necessity to shop digitally has given confidence to buyers and sellers to say, “hey, we trust each other well enough to do this thing from a distance.”
All images courtesy of Furnish Me Vintage