Barking sounds can be heard coming from both ends of the telephone line prompting laughter followed by bubbly conversation about beloved four-legged friends. Thus, my introduction to Renate Ruby and Bridgette Kingsbury of Adorn delightfully begins. I can’t help but smile as Renate describes “Rocco the Wonder Dog”, her Papillon Chihuahua, in the arms of busy interior decorators reviewing projects in the showroom, a therapy dog of sorts. The women of Adorn are immediately likeable. Passion and knowledge at once overflow and I am drawn into their world of linen bedding, rugs, wallpapers and other luxe home furnishings.
Adorn | In Real Life, a boutique and showroom of curated home furnishings located in the Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle, is fast approaching its third anniversary. The concept was born out of frustrations about the torrent of low price, low quality furnishings Renate saw flooding the market, almost in a contest of ‘who can build the cheapest furniture possible.’ She noticed many items had a modernist look to them, yet the fabrics weren’t great and construction worse yet. While both low cost and very high cost luxury products both readily available, pieces in the middle were more difficult to find locally. After extensive research visiting factories and collaborating with other designers, they were able to source manufacturers who, in their opinion, were doing it right. Adorn was created to feature these manufacturers. Both interior designers, Renate and Bridgette each bring a rare combination of talent to the mix. Adorn works primarily, though not exclusively, with interior designers. They are solution-based and, work with people by appointment only.
A huge part of the mission behind Adorn | In Real Life is to be a source of inspiration and education for both designers and end users about what goes into interior design. “Even those with degrees in interior design can deepen their understanding about what’s underneath the fabric,” Ruby suggests. A self-described ‘geek’ who loves to learn, Renate believes “the more a person understands about how something is made, the more they are able to perceive value.” Interior design is a complex profession where it’s impossible to be an expert about everything. Renate’s vision for Adorn is a gathering and community building space for designers to bring their clients to deepen their understanding about how quality furniture is made.
Renate’s respect for quality and integrity were sparked while studying costume design during college. No matter the garments would be worn only a few times on stage, they had to be made correctly. She vividly remembers this instructor saying, “Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter.” The concept really struck her, initiating what became a lifetime commitment to quality. “Design is about integrity, not just about a look,” says Ruby. Take Verellen (one of the furniture lines available at Adorn | In Real Life); every single item in the line is made in High Point, NC sustainably, which means there are young people working alongside older ones on the factory floor. The employees receive benefits. It’s a creative, tight knit, pleasant and collaborative building process galaxies away from the shipping containers filled with box after box of “disposable” furniture, produced with the least expensive materials possible.
The same level of integrity is readily visible in the Libeco Belgian linen line at Adorn. Libeco is the number one linen producer in the world. Renate discovered Libeco through a mentor while searching for higher quality sheets for her design clients. From there, Libeco led her to the some of the top furniture makers in the country – since all the very best use Libeco fabrics. The process of growing and harvesting the flax plant in Belgium is perhaps deserving of its own blog post. From the “retting” process, to the climate-controlled production facility, they are a truly compelling company with standards not often seen today. Libeco’s factory is carbon neutral and even filters their waste water in such a way that the water leaving the factory is cleaner than when it came in.
The name, Adorn | In Real Life is purposeful: they are the antithesis of on-line shopping, and wholly dedicated to the creative community. As I sit comfortably hugged within the sumptuous Belgian linen of the private label sofa sample in their showroom, the authentic-ness of what they are doing here envelops and surrounds me and I deeply understand. Adorn stands for quality yes, and so much more than that. They are one spoke in the ever-turning wheel of capitalism. Adorn is standing tall against the approaching tsunami of throw-away consumer products. They understand the importance of the process: designers, showrooms, reps, and the value each add to the overall process and difference they make to the end product. “These people are your neighbors and friends”, says Renate, “lowest price does not always equal best price.” When furniture makers are living in squalor, factories are risking the global environment, and we have removed every job function except for web developer, manufacturer and shipper it is perhaps time to look in the mirror. Adorn desires people know, think about and truly consider this. Compelling.
On that note by the way; Adorn is excited to announce that they will begin offering their very own private label furniture line, Real Life by Adorn on March 15th. The line is moderate, transitional, reliably comfortable and made with impeccable technique in a small NC factory.
Renate stops here to bring us back around to the some of the main principles of early modernism, adding that a shared admiration for material quality and integrity is one reason she appreciates 360modern. She cites Rick’s fondness for the Japanese ‘Shou Sugi Ban’ Charred Wood technique as an example. Japanese aesthetics of simplicity and celebrating materials are embedded within modernism. The modern movement was inspired by the opening up of Japan. The concept of using the shape of the natural world, revealing the hand of the maker and the natural structure of the materials – these concepts paved the way for the Pacific Northwest modernism we love and live today. “Modernism needn’t be stuck in the past, recycling the same iconic pieces – by understanding the spirit behind Mid-Century Modernism you can make it your own and make it relevant for a new century” Ruby affirms. Agreed. A similar belief inspired Next Century Modern, the construction company 360modern’s Rick Ward founded. The term refers also to the aliveness and continually evolving spirit of modernism: the very same spirit visible in the furnishings and philosophy at Adorn.