On Bastille Day 1999, Rob Forbes mailed out a catalog of reproductions of midcentury modern as well as contemporary furniture and waited for the phone to ring. Today, eight years later, Design Within Reach shoppers peruse familiar icons like the Eames leather lounge chair and work by newcomers to the U.S. like the Brazilian architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha through the company's glossy catalog, website and more than 60 retail stores around the country.
"One of our manufacturers thought the market for modern design in the U.S. would be looked at in terms of pre-DWR and post-DWR," says Forbes of the impact of the $178 million business on the American market.
Having made modern design accessible and helped small firms build their reputations in the U.S., Forbes, 56, hopes to achieve the same effect with wine and food. In January he left DWR and has been gearing up for his new retail venture, which he expects to launch next summer. He won't give details, but the aim of the business is to bring products created by smaller producers in Europe to the U.S., thus supporting talented artisans.
"I'm probably an artist at heart," says Forbes, who has both an M.B.A. and an M.F.A. "There's been an overall leveling of product design. And I think that's the downside to things becoming standardized. Where's the soul in stuff?" Forbes has just been on a business trip to Sancerre, France, where he once worked as an apprentice to a potter. But it's safe to say that this time he was there to taste some wine.
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