Furniture with Flair
January 4, 2013
Text by Allegra Muzzillo
If the word oomph embodied furniture, just what would it look like? To Amy Rice, the answer is simple. “Traditional pieces with a twist,” she says, emphatically.
The story of the New Canaan-based home furnishings company Rice co-founded with Patty Hopple and Louise Brooks is more twist than traditional, however. Long, arduous meetings, where business plans are agonized over and various bumps in the road abound, usually define such inceptions. Hopple laughs, recalling the sunny afternoon in February that she, Rice and Brooks first conceived of oomph, now a wildly successful home-furnishings brand. The three women, longtime friends, were relaxing on a beach on Harbour Island in the Bahamas—cocktails in hand—when inspiration struck. They found themselves, in the wake of the country’s two-year-long economic crisis and guided by similar interests (Hopple and Rice have backgrounds in interior design; Brooks is an architect), craving some positivity. “At that time, everyone had a white sofa,” Hopple says. “We wanted to make versatile, uplifting pieces that would singlehandedly update it—pieces with oomph,” she adds, explaining the genesis of the company name.
What started with the introduction of a capsule collection of colorful throw pillows and lacquered cocktail and coffee tables has ballooned into a vast line with chairs, mirrors, lighting and more. The trio showed their first pieces at the August 2009 New York International Gift Fair, just seven months after they first decided to design furniture, and as Rice says, “oomph took off that day.”
Prominent New England-based designers like Sandra Morgan in Greenwich, Louise Hurlbutt in Kennebunkport, Maine, and the principals behind Tracker Home Decor, of Edgartown, Massachusetts, are avid buyers, while stores in Norway, England, Japan, Bermuda, the Bahamas and Mexico all carry oomph products. Such a following is a testament to the brand’s versatility and undeniable appeal: oomph’s founders, modest as they are, needn’t be.
The trio names its series after their favorite seaside destinations. The Southport tables, for example, feature detailing suggestive of the North Carolina village’s many garden gates. “Both the architecture and the feel of a place inspire us,” Rice says. “Our Harbour Island series is beach-y, island-y, so we incorporated raffia palm. And our Newport collection was inspired by a Rhode Island mansion we visited.”
Every table, mirror and lamp is a juiced up, slightly different interpretation—in scale, texture and otherwise—of a historically significant antique. The Charleston mirror, for example, is an unreserved homage to the English Chippendale style. And each item is available in one of sixteen high-gloss lacquer hues, such as Knockout Orange and the bright-coral Fireworks. “The sheen adds to the freshness,” says Brooks, “the way patent leather heels instantly update a dress you’ve had forever.”
Pillows, too, elicit personality with lively ikat, zigzag and suzani motifs in fine linen, cotton and textured-velvet fabrics by Quadrille and Schumacher.
A piece of furniture is first conceptualized via a CAD drawing, resulting in a technical sketch the team presents to its factory in Stratford, which produces a full-scale, handmade mockup. Then, Brooks explains, “We make tweaks like raising or lowering by inches or quarters, making something wider or changing a surface.”
From there, the factory gears up production, in which pieces are made to order (the company keeps no stock). “It’s kind of like designing a house,” Brooks says. “Designing is easy; building is hard.”
The most laborious phase is the lacquer process, which consists of three steps of hand sanding before the final coat of high-gloss catalyzed lacquer goes on. As for the resulting, impossibly slick finish? “It’s perfection,” says Rice. “Our lacquer is super-fine—it has no spray marks, it’s smooth to the touch and is consistent every time.”
The company’s meetings have morphed from their gimlet-fueled beginnings at kitchen islands to a huge white-lacquer conference table at 5 Elm Street, inside the company’s corner office.
Up next for the growing brand: desks, a Sanibel series (featuring mother-of-pearl inlays resembling the seashells for which the island is known), several new colors—the rich-purple Concord Grape, the metallic Gamble Gold and Dazzle, a cerulean blue—and a website revamp.
“We’re growing quickly now,” declares Rice. Echoing the sentiments of all partners, she adds, “Though it’s a crazy ride, getting to work so closely with my friends—the people I love and adore—is completely ideal.”