Johnson Sokol


Manufacturing Furniture in Baltimore


The David Edward Company, a local furniture manufacturer, started in 1963 when founder Edward Pitts traveled to Baltimore during his sophomore year at Harvard. Now a 300-strong, two-facility (one in Baltimore, the other in York, PA) manufacturer, the company uses “old-world methods” to create the David Edward product line as well as products, under license, for other furniture lines. Such as?  Robert A.M. Stern, Michael Graves, Sheeply Bullfinch to namedrop just a few. Pitts now resides part-time in Fells Point and Key West, Florida, handing off ownership to his sons, David, Gregory and Kevin, three of his six children. 

“The single most important thing about David Edward,” says Pitts, “you will see it when you walk into the factories, behind the reception desk in big brass letters, it says, ‘Unconditional positive regard for the Individual.’ So if you join the company, we guarantee you, that you individually will be treated unconditionally with regard. Sometimes four letter words like love are less appropriate for business. But that is love. Unconditional positive regard.” 

We sat down to talk to Edward Pitts about being one of very few furniture manufacturing companies in Baltimore and what he thinks has kept him alive and well in a very competitive design market.

Q: What about Baltimore made you believe you could have a successful furniture manufacturing business here?

A: Baltimore has the materials. We have cherry, ash, oak, maple, which all come from western Maryland and western Pennsylvania. So within 90 miles we have our main source of material. And in Baltimore we have a talented, skilled work force. Because of its many mom and pop operations, the people in Baltimore are individually skilled. They don’t just assemble something like they do, for example, in Detroit. Also, a good deal of furniture companies went belly up over the years, and we were able to hire the cream of the crop of their skilled workers. 

Baltimore’s cost of living is another reason. At the time when we started in 1963 Baltimore’s cost of living was the lowest. 

Lastly, Baltimore has an unusually talented group of interior designers and architects, more so than most cities. I am always amazed when a local business or homeowner hire a designer from out of town. We have so much talent in this town as far as the A&D (architecture and design) community is concerned. 

Q: What do you think is critical to having a successful design company?

A: The art of small business is the art of niche-manship. Every company must have a niche — a specific area in which they can compete.

We make EVERYTHING in house . We make all of our own frames, all of our own metal products, we have our own metal shops, we ship our own trucks.

There have been certain specific principles that we have followed doggedly. One is total vertical integration. Total control. When a bank is going to open or a home is going to need to be ready for a party, we don’t have to call up to say that our frame maker is on vacation or that our cushion company had a fire. [If we did that] we would have no control. But because we make everything, absolutely everything in-house — we don’t import a thing — we have complete control over the product. We do this because if you have control over the product and the delivery of the product, you have control over the quality of the product and you have control over the cost of the product. 

Another principle that we adhere to is that we are in a number of different markets; we manufacture for about 12 other manufacturers. We are the exclusive manufacturer for Robert A.M. Stern. He is one of the top  architects in the world. Ads for Robert A.M, Stern will always have David Edward in the bottom left corner. We make one hundred percent of his furniture. We make all of Michael Graves’s furniture – the father of post-modernism.  Also, we manufacture a residential line. You know of Jack Lenore Larsen? Considered the father of American design. He eventually sold his business and since we used to manufacture all of his furniture, we bought the Larsen name. It is now our Larsen Collection. If you wanted a Billy Baldwin sofa that goes back to the 20’s we can make you a Billy Baldwin sofa. 

We manufacture our own product for healthcare and we got the award last year for best design in healthcare furniture. And we manufacture courtroom furniture and library furniture…we are very flexible.

Q: What is the style within your own home?

A: It is Edwardian. 

Q: What do you look for when you hire your designers?

A: Promise. We have young designers from all different backgrounds, have them with our company for a year. You just don’t know what you can expect. We have a fairly sized in-house design team that can turn out amazing pieces and products. 

Q: Because you have minimal marketing and advertising would you say you depend on word-of-mouth and returning customers?

The A&D community know who we are. Anywhere in the country. Not so much in Baltimore. You are never a hero in your own hometown, believe me. We do business in Baltimore but it is very little. We do more in San Francisco, than we do in Baltimore. We do more in Seattle and Portland. 

Architects and designers know that we are dependable, we are good listeners, we are not a big deal company, we think very primitively.  The end user may not know who we are, but we have had the same accounts and have had our furniture at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and in the same hospitals and institutions for years, because the stuff lasts. 

Our stuff is not trendy, if you are looking for trendy interior we may not be for you. We are classic. It just looks fine forever. It is all classic design. 

Q: What was it like when you first started noticing your furniture in prominent places like the IMF and World Bank?

A: I’ve never been able to take it in. I’m always worried about the next order. The minute you get too happy with what you are doing you are in trouble. You really have to keep earning it day after day.

Q: How do you feel about overseas competition and being undercut by prices? 

A:  We have competition because other companies will come back to the client with a lower price because they will do production in China. We won’t do that. So yes we have competition. Because we will not compromise our quality. 

Q: I didn’t realize that the furniture manufacturing company was more of a business endeavor than a passion for furniture…

A: It was a passion for trying out my management style, which is “the unconditional positive regard for the individual.” Is that effective? There have been a lot of management styles over the years. I was interested in using this company as a laboratory for this management style and after almost 50 years it has worked and it still works. And we continue to grow. 

Q: What has been the key to David Edwards staying in business so long?

The furniture manufacturing industry is a highly cyclical industry. I have taught my sons one thing that they have listened carefully to. It is a cyclical industry. If you want to last, you go into the down cycle with no debt. We do not believe in leveraging, borrowing money, we borrow as little, and least often, as possible.  Then, if you go into a recession with no debt there’s a pretty good chance you are going to come out. David Edward will be 50 years old in one year. 

We have the same philosophy and it has not changed. What we are selling is value. When you are selling to Johns Hopkins, a hospital, or some big university, or courtroom these facility people know what they are talking about. They are looking for value. They want to know, “What are we going to get for this $300 chair? Why is that worth $300?”  If you are vertically integrated, you make everything yourself, you can really sell value. Our stuff is not inexpensive, but we are dirt cheap compared to anything comparable. That is the niche we are filling. 


Q: What was the first client you had when you knew you had made it?

A: Chase Manhattan bank. I basically demanded myself a meeting with the head of purchasing for the bank. Spoke to the head furniture buyer, nearly getting thrown out of the bank, got an appointment for them to come down to Baltimore to see the plant. Well, since then we have major business from them every year. From David Rockefeller’s office on down, we were supplying the furniture. That is what got us over the hump. If it weren’t for Chase Manhattan bank we never would have made it. 

Getting Ready to Put Your House on the Market? Stage It


HGTV Design Star finalist Cathy Hobbs, who was booted off the reality show last week, was in town earlier this month to teach a class on home staging in Columbia. The designer took morning classes at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology while she was an Emmy-award winning local TV reporter, to fulfill her dream of becoming an interior designer. We caught up with the Sandy Springs, Maryland, native to ask her about preparing a house for sale (which is what home staging is) and asked her to give us her tips for DIY staging.

She returns January 13-15 to teach another home staging course in Columbia.  For more information, see her blog.

What’s the first thing to do when staging a house? 

It is important, if not critical, that each space define function, how a space should be used. De-cluttering. Neutralizing and de-personalizing are also important steps in staging a home. 

What do you do about all the new items that need to be purchased for staging? Return them? Share with friends?

No, they become the property of the homeowner/home seller. In instances where items need to be purchased/rented. I inform clients in advance that a small/nominal purchase package is necessary and that as the stager we will be responsible for their selection and will have sole discretion and that the items will become the property of the home seller. 

How do you incorporate your LEED background into your design? Whether it is for a home staging or an interior design project?

I always try to select sustainable choices whether it involves finishes, fabric choices or furniture choices.

What is a good online source for DIY staging (to buy accessories and furniture)? 

Ikea is a great source for attractive yet inexpensive furniture as far as accessories, I love Target, Pier 1 and cb2!

How do you mix different periods when staging? 

I tend to always always stage based on the product that I am marketing. The staging needs to reflect the property I am trying to sell. In its essence this tends to not involve mixing periods..for example a property is either modern or its not. 

How much should one expect to gain from staging?

On average it is a 189-percent return and a 463 percent return on landscaping according to Certified Staging Professionals which certifies and trains stagers throughout Canada and the United States.

Is there a cost benefit analysis you do?

Absolutely. We tell home sellers everyday and they seem to clearly understand this…the cost of staging is not only less than the cost of your first price reduction it is also considerably less than the cost of maintaining the home until it sells! Imagine! Even looking at the cost for one is clear that the cost of a mortgage and to maintain a property would be considerably less than the cost of staging!

Fabulous Faux


From furniture to floors to ceilings to walls, decorative painting creates an impact and evokes something otherworldly. Think what Michelangelo did for the Sistine Chapel or what the Medici family did for Florence and the rest of Europe (think Italian Renaissance). Decorative painting or faux finishing has been around for centuries and, much like other century old practices, can still be seen in design of today. 

Take a mid-century credenza (not a signed piece, please) from drab to fab! A great way to give an old piece a brand new look: decorative painting. Local artisan Janet Pope has taught us that a new coat of paint, a little gilding and a lot of lacquer gets the job done beautifully.

Janet has been a decorative painter in Baltimore for over 30 years.  She has clients in Chicago, Florida, New York and Boston, and has stenciled floors, plastered walls, gilded screens, and applied faux-tortoise to ceilings.  It is true that only a few possess the talent of decorative painting or faux finishing, but it really can transform furniture, a room, a house.  

The famous set designer and decorator, Tony Duquette, used the iconic pattern of malachite (think green swirly stone pattern) and had a decorative painter apply it to walls to transform his foyer. This decorative process taken from the true “stone” malachite was then reproduced into wallpaper (thank you Cole & Sons) and decorative fabric. 

So whether you are stippling, stenciling, sanding or shellacking, enjoy the transformative power of decorative paint.


Lamps to Light Up Your Life


We were in search of the perfect lamp. It had to be a showstopper. Don’t ask why–we’re professional decorators. It had to be both inviting and cutting-edge chic, the kind of lamp that can carry the weight of the entrance hall. With an unlimited budget the answer is easy: a lamp by Christopher Spitzmiller, the master ceramic craftsman who creates the most gorgeous array of glazed ceramic lamps, mounted on 24k gilt wood bases or slick black lacquer. His elegant design, extensive color library and custom colors make his lamps the first choice in fine interiors. Chris’s lamps are instantly recognizable and add that essential splash every interior needs. The most interesting houses featured in Elle DécorHouse Beautiful or Lonny always have at least one Spitzmiller lamp. Every fine home needs one. They range from $650 – $2,250 and are sold shops (although none in Maryland) or through interior decorators. Another out-of-this-world alternative: Swank Lighting, a shop specializing in both vintage and new Murano glass lamps, is a go-to. Those guys have cornered the market on brilliantly colored Murano lamps mounted on thick Lucite. 

But we didn’t have an unlimited budget, only the ambition, so finding the perfect lamp was a much more difficult task. Vintage or antique lamps usually require a lot of restoration, which can add up quickly. Online stores like West Elm, Z Gallery, Restoration Hardware, Ikea and CB2 have affordable, great looking lamps, but are they life-changing? Am I being lamp-dramatic? Maybe. I love lamps. Anyway, those aforementioned affordable lamps are totally great for kids’ bedrooms and family rooms. The same goes for William Sonoma Home, Jardin en Fleur, and even Jonathan Adler. All three carry gorgeous lamps that are fairly well-priced (but by no means cheap). But, back to the lamp fetish: Do they leave us breathless? No.

After weeks of searching, it dawned on us: Buy the Spitzmiller lamp, or that perfect Murano glass beauty, and sacrifice something else. The chest of drawers, the console table, even the entrance hall rug can wait. Yes, it’s that important and you won’t be sorry. Er, we won’t be sorry. A high-quality, jaw-dropping stunner of a lamp immediately transforms a space into high-style luxury, even if it’s sitting on an Ikea table. Problem solved! Thanks, Chris–you light up our life.

Mid-Century Modern’s Moment

Mid-century modern is having a moment. “Mid-century modern” means everything decorative from the mid-20th century, including furniture, decorative objects, fabric and even interior designers from that period. (Think Billy Baldwin, Dorothy Draper, Sister Parrish, David Hicks, Tony Duquette.) You know those guys were good when you see spaces they did in 1962, and you have trouble deciphering whether it’s David Hicks or David Easton. Their impact is unmatched in interior design.
Mid-century is an obsession we’ve had for the past five years, even before the “Mad Men” hysteria. But Don Draper has gotten under our skin and obsession has been upgraded to addiction. We scour the market for anything that looks like it belongs to Betty. When we decorate a room, we find it looks naked without at least a 1950’s Murano glass lamp or a black lacquered Paul McCobb chest of drawers. We spend hours on 1st Dibs salivating over Paul Laszlo light fixtures that resemble those in Roger Sterling’s office, or geometric screens that look hauntingly like the one in Pete Campbell’s apartment.
The allure and glamour of Betty and Don has re-ignited the mid-century modern movement, but many are still shy about incorporating the retro look into their home. We suggest starting small, maybe a lamp or small Danish chair. But beware! Once you add one piece, you WILL want more…and then you will discover 1st Dibs and Center 44, both amazing online sources for mid-century everything. Then you’ll watch “Mad Men” with a whole new perspective. It’s really just a weekly fix for those of us with the shameful addiction.  

Chinoiserie Chic


Confession: We’ve gone cuckoo for Chinoiserie. (You know Chinoiserie, it’s an art style reflecting Chinese influence–embracing elaborate decoration and intricate patterns.) Chinoiserie accessories include wall art, lamps, rugs, fabric and furniture. Our biggest obsession: hand-painted Chinese wall panels. DeGournay and Gracie offer the loveliest. (Pictured, De Gournay in Portobello.)

Chinoiserie wall scenes depict trees, flowers and birds in garden landscapes, classic Chinese village life, mythical settings and images reminiscent of 18th century France.

Dating back to the 19th century, the wallpaper has been used by royal families and European aristocrats for decoration of their palaces and castles. But you don’t have to be a crowned head (or a newly crowned princess) to afford these luscious panels. Online resources offer single framed panels that don’t require a note on your home as deposit. Our disclaimer: “Buy the best and you will only cry once.” (Good advice from the iconic Miles Redd.)

Designers and fashion superstars who have used Gracie and De Gournay: Baltimore’s Billy Baldwin, Dorothy Draper,Tony Duquette, Bunny Williams, Katie Ridder, Victoria Hagan, Aerin Lauder, Gloria Vanderbilt and Anna Sui, to name-drop a few…

Let’s Get it Arted


Art at home inspires us.  It doesn’t have to be a Picasso or a Warhol. A well-framed child’s drawing or a memorable family photograph can be just as inspiring as those works deemed “correct” by art snobs. In our view, interior design should always start with art. It is so much easier to decorate a room around a bold, meaningful painting, than to find a matchy painting to respond to a carefully furnished room (cue the disappointing results).

Case in point: The contemporary painting above features large brush strokes of indigo and other striking colors. It feels modern. The rest of the room mixes mid-century furniture, a custom George Smith sofa and sporting paintings of foxes and horses. The furnishings are traditional, the art is not, but together they work it out. There is no algorithm to pairing art and interior design. The only equation is to make them a pair and make sure you personally care about the details, that you feel comforted or excited or challenged by them, whichever you’re going for.