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Interview >> Emily Sissons of Domaine on Quality Furniture

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We sat down with Emily Sissons of Domaine to talk quality in furnishings. After ten years in the Calgary market, Domaine has built a niche for fine quality furnishings with a modern feel. We asked Emily about how she and her team assess quality and make decisions about what product to bring in. This is our interview.

Can you give me a little bit of background on you and how you became a store owner. What calls you to this work?

I think deep down there is furniture and design in my blood. I do because this is definitely a family affair. From when I was little, I remember always asking my dad, “Dad, can you come into my room? I want you to move my furniture around.” I’d have a design in mind.

I love being a store owner. Doing the buying, leading a team creatively and thinking about ways to merchandise and market our product and just develop really great client relationships with designers and with walk-in retail clients as well and just furniture design.

What are you seeing these days in terms of quality furnishings at the shows that you go to? Are you noticing trends there?

Yeah, that’s a good question. The last show we went to is the High Point Market.

You really have to look hard for good quality at a good price, because there’s lots of products that are over-priced for what you’re getting. It also goes hand-in-hand with our climate here because there are so many products that do not stand up in our dry climate.

I try to keep an eye out for really good details because those are the things that we spot, like welding for example: is it clean? The details are where you can tell when things are overlooked.

We avoid anything with particle board, but veneers we’re not afraid of at all. Veneer is something that we specialize in. It just has to be done in the right way.

We want things that are going to last. That also again comes to the price points because most of them, they’re a little bit of a step up. And when you think about paying for a coffee table for example, and then stretching that over a span of someone’s lifetime owning a piece for 20 years or whatever, it makes sense versus something that’s under $500 and then they’re replacing it three or four times over their span.

I did want to ask you about some of the specialty materials out there. We are seeing lots of shagreen showing up and inlays. What is your experience with those kinds of details and identifying what’s going to hold up and what’s not?

It’s about where the material is being used in the home and who’s using it. It’s critical. The shagreen, for example, it is more of a fragile finish. It’s doable, they make it, but I think it’s up to a designer to educate the client, “This is what you’re getting, this is how it has to be used.”

It’s not about a piece being perfect, there’s a human aspect to it. Nothing’s indestructible. Your iPad isn’t perfect per se because it could break or it could scratch. I think people need to realize that they have to treat things with TLC.

How are you assessing materials to know what application you might recommend or if it meet the quality standards that your brand represents?

We always try to show product on the floor that’s going to be livable. It’s not going to be something that you can’t touch it, you can’t interact with it. It has to be approachable, I think.

What distracts people when they’re making purchases? Are there common assumptions or misunderstandings when you’re educating clients about quality in furnishings?

I find in the studio when we are showing clients fabrics and those set palettes that we’ve worked hard to narrow down. Clients get very much drawn by something that’s in the vicinity and are like, “Well, what about this?” when you’re trying to narrow it down and they’re expanding.

I would say another thing too would be after you’ve maybe explained the product and you’ve narrowed everything down and you get to price point.

We do talk about price as we go through a project, but at the end we’re talking about quotes. I think clients get distracted on spending – they’ll be kind of sticker shocked at the price of something that they really, really loved and then they’ll want us to go back to the drawing board and look for other options. But they end up coming back to the piece that they loved.

What’s the most unusual piece you’ve ever brought into the showroom?

The most unusual piece we’ve ever brought in…we’ve brought in a few scary things. But I mean the thing is is that everyone has their own taste. I always have to remind myself of that. It’s more special order things I think when clients are ordering and we see these orders come in.

We’ve had one bright lime green $20,000 sectional and spending that kind of money on a really permanent colour is a shock because people don’t do that. Not very many do.

Probably some of our wood sculptures that we bring in would be really unique, unusual pieces. Definitely more for an acquired taste, something that it’s just – it’s an emotional thing that only maybe a few people would really get and understand.

Is there a particular line of furniture or piece that’s on your wish list right now?

Oh my gosh, that’s a loaded question. I love Thayer Coggin. They make these chairs, a line we’ve carried since day one. And I would probably say the Draper Chair.

I’m totally a lover of mid-century modern. I love chairs. Chairs are great, chairs are awesome. So yeah, honestly, anything from Thayer Coggin, I love.

Red wine or white?

I prefer red. Yes, definitely.

And are you salty or sweet?

Oh god, I’m both. I love salty and then I have to wrap it up with some sweet. Or then if it’s sweet, then I have to wrap it up with some salty.

What are you most proud of accomplishing?

This is our 10-year anniversary. So it’s been an amazing journey. When we bought this building, it was an old shoe warehouse and we built the space.

I’m so proud of how far we’ve come from those planning phases when we would go to showrooms and see how their businesses are laid out and what product they have and getting all the bits and pieces and all the components figured out.

Getting along with family all the way through has been a big one because when we opened this business, we talked about how it was family’s first.

If anything happens when the family is starting to really be affected by this, we’re not doing this anymore.

Emily’s tips to assess quality:

Upholstery

Choose solid hardwood frames. We also look for 8-way hand tied springs, like the traditional artisan bench-made quality. A lot of our Italian product or modern product is a Pirelli webbing. It’s not going to sag out, it’s going to take a beating and then you’ll be able to recover it years down the road. A lot of our product you can rotate or flip it so that you can just ensure that it’s going to maintain a look and it’s going to give more life basically.

Leather

We only do top grain aniline-dyed leather. We don’t do any bi-cast. You can cut corners by putting a bi-cast on the back or attaching cushions. Usually, with higher-end leather, you can take the cushion right off. If you can’t flip your cushions, you have constant wear in one location. You get a dip in one place.

Metals

We look at how things are welded and put together. What are theproportions of metals and the thicknesses of tops? Are the joints clean?

Case goods

We look for wood items that have really good bones, things that are made with proper joinery techniques and drawers done with proper drawer glides. How doors open and close and if the pieces can be levelled.

Carpets

It really comes down to the material and the product. Educating clients to make an investment in something that’s knitted or knotted properly. Usually, a wool product.