For the past two decades, Smart Furniture has made and burnished its name in both the residential and office categories – indeed, the Chattanooga-based company has clients from Austin, Texas, to New York City and points between.
But as Smart Furniture marks its 20th anniversary at the same time the COVID-19 pandemic has forced millions worldwide to work from their homes, furniture for the office and home are closer than ever to being one and the same.
"We've definitely seen an increase in [orders of] office chairs and desks," says Chris Wilson, the company's CEO. "People want their home business spaces to be comfortable.
"Working from home is a trend we've seen happening pretty aggressively in the last 10 years. Now that people are being forced to do it, and seeing it can work, I think it's a trend that will continue," he says.
Another trend Wilson's eyeing as he scopes out Smart Furniture's next 20 years is a shift from an open concept to one that's more of a hybrid.
"Some people do really well in a coffee-shop environment," he says, "and some people want privacy, to be really focused.
"We're trying to find that balance. People have different styles; it's more about working with them than us coming in with a specific style," he says.
Chattanooga native Stephen Culp launched Smart Furniture while studying law at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. The business focused initially on modular shelving, then shifted more to retail over the next 15 years.
Smart Furniture's showroom is a fixture on Chattanooga's Southside, and the company recently expanded its reach and breadth by combining with Chicago-based Office Designs.
"We had very similar models in terms of having a primarily online presence but a store, as well," says Wilson, who's in his second stretch with Smart Furniture and in his third year as its chief executive. He added that Smart Furniture is retaining the Office Designs brand.
"[Smart Furniture] has always done office and residential," he says, "but the new brand gives us a stronger presence in the office market."
Wilson says he returned to Smart Furniture for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the company's ethos.
"Putting customers first," he says. "What's smart about Smart Furniture is that, whether it's a space you work or live in, the theme is understanding customer needs.
"We have designers on staff who understand what [a given client] is trying to do, and we make it work for them," Wilson says.
The design component was key for Bellhops, a Chattanooga-based business whose executive team decided last summer not just to buy new furniture, but to change its approach entirely. Britton Ware, IT manager at Bellhops, says Smart devised a design ideally suited to the 6,000-square-foot space in which the business set up its call center.
"The design was great, and included with the purchase," he says. "Now everyone has their own space, with boundaries; we invested in a lot of new chairs, too, so we have a lot less back pain going on."
River City Company has more than a decade's worth of that kind of experience with Smart Furniture, says President and CEO Kim White.
"We think of Smart Furniture as more of a partner than a vendor," she says. "We like doing business locally, and they've been great – not just for us, but for Chattanooga. [Smart Furniture] has a commitment to the city and a great Chattanooga story."
Wilson, whose company has also undertaken projects at the United Way of Chattanooga and the Edney Innovation Center, among others, says that "Chattanooga's story" is one he never expected to involve him.
"When I went away to college, I didn't think I'd come back," he says. "There wasn't a ton going on here in 2008. But I did come back, and I've seen the city explode in a way I couldn't have imagined.
"Over the last five years, Chattanooga has been doing something cool, and we've been able to be a part of that. A lot of cities are replicating the Chattanooga Innovation District model, so it's really a fun time to be here and have the whole country looking at Chattanooga and what it's doing," Wilson says.