Design has always been in High Point’s DNA. From our city’s inception, furniture design and manufacturing has been central to our economy, our community, and our identity. Today, as the International Home Furnishings Capital of the world, High Point still plays a massive role in outfitting the homes and spaces of the entire globe.
But if you ask the average High Pointer what their experience has been in the furniture industry, you might get a blank stare. While the High Point Market brings thousands and thousands of global guests to our city every year, most High Pointers don’t venture into the trade showrooms (unless you have a job connected to Market). This is the way it’s been for a while – a divide between the furniture industry and the city it calls home.
That is until several industry leaders started meeting up to answer one very simple yet important question: “Can’t we do more?”
More to connect the industry and the community. More to bring arts and design to High Point year around. More to support restoring local jobs surrounding the furniture industry in High Point. And the “more” that was born from this conversation eventually evolved to become High Point by Design (HPxD) – an organization dedicated to making High Point a year-round hub of creativity and design innovation.
Even more radical? HPxD makes many of their showrooms open to all – trade industry and the general public. Today, HPxD is a non-profit that has around 50 members – showrooms dedicated to being open all year round, many of which are open to the general public. Their three-fold mission is to create a destination for design, educate with creativity, and activate the streets.
Create a Destination for Design
The initial desire for HPxD was spurred on by the fact that each of those industry visionaries had been given so much by High Point. High Point has become more than just a place for them to conduct their businesses – it’s become home.
“I moved here 18 years ago because I had a furniture company,” says Carol Gregg, owner of Red Egg. After deciding she wanted to have her company stationed and producing in the United States, she realized High Point was a good place to start.
Similarly, John Muldoon, owner of COHAB.SPACE, moved to High Point back in 1988. After working internationally in China and Indonesia, he moved to his first space which used to stand where first base of the Rockers’ field now sits.
“We’ve always been in the neighborhood,” John says, although now his showroom is on English Road.
And Tom Van Dessel, owner of Splashworks, has lived in a variety of places, but moved to High Point from Cleveland, OH after working for Avery Dennison.
“Where does one make furniture?” Tom remembers asking himself. He laughs, “I had no idea!”
Today, Carol, John, and Tom all call High Point home, along with many others who were involved in the initial conversations, like HPxD’s now managing director, Jane Dagmi, Kathy Devereux, Frank Leyon (Oly Studio), Tom Verellen (Verellen), Ron Royals (The Royals Project), and Dudley Moore (Otto & Moore Furniture).
“We had one of those ‘aha moments,’” Tom recalls. “All of us came here for the same reason, and most of us were not from here.”
That reason was simply furniture, and the “affordability of staying,” as John puts it.
"What's interesting about this industry is that it speaks to the entrepreneurial side of what this place can be,” Tom explains.
“Don’t think of High Point as a static place with showrooms where you just come to sell your wares,” he explains to other manufacturers and designers. "You can make High Point your home because everything is here. That's pretty unique.”
Tom, Carol, and John all point out that much like the auto industry in Detroit, High Point is one of the few places that has everything an industry needs for a successful ecosystem – from product design to logistics, to packaging, to shipping, to marketing, to staging, to showing, to selling.
“You have an ecosystem,” Tom says. “Within a mile and one or two phone calls, you can pretty much get in touch with somebody who you can go visit that afternoon to help you with what you're trying to create or make.”
With this sort of clarity on how crucial High Point was to the furniture design and manufacturing industry, the HPxD founders started uncovering part of their mission: to make High Point a destination for design. As visitors from the furniture industry began to visit High Point year around for inspiration, and businesses relocate here for the furniture ecosystem, sustainability grows.
“We are unified by design and this idea that High Point is a design destination,” Tom says.
Educate with Creativity
The next piece of the HPxD puzzle was education – something that is largely lacking in the furniture industry from the HPxD founders’ perspectives.
“How do you convert from a showroom to something experiential?” John rhetorically asked the group. “People think there's a transactional sale that has to take place. But what if you walk in the door and it's a place you just want to experience?”
Experiential showrooms – or flagships – became the primary outlet for High Point by Design.
“Flagship stores are not retail outlets,” explains Tom. “You get an immersive brand experience at flagship.”
He compares a Nike flagship store to a Macy’s department store or retail shop. The prices may be higher, but the experience is one-of-a-kind and doesn’t have to result in a sale. Rather, it focuses on inspiration for all five senses from the brand itself. The HPxD crew notes that with offshoring, furniture manufacturer brands became less and less well known to the general public.
“People know brands of furniture retail stores but not the furniture manufacturers,” Tom says. And the HPxD founders want to help solve this problem.
“We wanted to educate the end consumer so they can speak with their designer,” Carol explains. Instead of having to shop unknown brands in big outlet stores, homeowners or commercial space owners could actually engage with the manufacturer brands – by shopping the HPxD showrooms that are open to the public.
And beyond the consumers themselves, the HPxD founders saw the opportunity to educate and recruit future members of the furniture industry with their mission for HPxD. “We're in a place where we have a lot of schools around us,” Tom points out. “We’re in the vicinity of schools who have art and interior design faculties. Why not pull them into what we’re doing? Why not create succession in the industry?”
The HPxD leaders envision a world where the technical, skilled craftsmen who are crucial to the success of the furniture industry find a home in High Point. They envision bringing the jobs, skills, and craft of furniture manufacturer back into the United States – back into High Point – through education and community.
"Education goes from the design profession all the way to the vocational elements,” Tom says. He mentions partnering with Guilford Technical Community College to rekindle students’ passions for hands-on trades like upholstery and sewing. John mentions other cities that have mastered this sort of greenhouse for growing makers and craftsmen in the Boone and Savannah areas.
“We have that type of infrastructure being put in place here already,” says John. "So how can we create these spaces where people can come to High Point and actually build their craft or build their brand?"
“Let's go back to being a maker culture,” Tom emphasizes.
"Let's go back to a maker culture."
Tom Van Dessel, Owner of Splashworks
Activate the Streets
The final portion of HPxD’s mission developed as the conversation around “more” for the city of High Point and the furniture industry began to turn towards the city itself. Another question was posed: what if the furniture and design industry could actually begin to activate the streets, get people strolling down sidewalks and exploring the beauty of the industry right in their own backyard? Beyond just shopping or purchasing, how do you get a community to start experiencing and embracing the wonder of beautiful design happening around them?
“We needed a change,” says John, “a different thing we’re trying, which is to be open to all and more connected to the community.”
For John, his former space was “always open” on Church Avenue, but he often found himself frustrated on weekends in High Point, when only one or two cars would go down the street all day. Carol had the same experiences, as she had tried to host open houses or open showroom times at her space in the past.
“I would have people walk in, sort of slinking into the showroom,” Carol laughs. "They'd ask if it was okay for them to be in the showroom, and I’d say, ‘Yes, come on in!’”
But even beyond just being open to the public for shopping and inspiration, the HPxD showrooms want to be a contributing part of the community. The visionaries have brainstormed ways to partner with the High Point Farmer’s Market, local non-profits, and even other businesses. That’s what led John to work with Jay Stephens to bring ZIGGYS.SPACE to COHAB.SPACE.
“We want to try to show like-minded businesses or investment property owners in High Point that this is something they could explore as a different way of getting in front of their own audience, as well as helping the city,” John explains.
The experiential nature of the HPxD flagships makes it easy for the team to ideate ways they could convert their spaces to support events, creative projects, video and photo shoots, educational workshops, and more for the city of High Point.
And the idea of making businesses more experiential, more versatile, and more community-minded all ties back into making High Point a destination for design. It not only invites in the local citizens, but it motivates visitors as well.
“It’s tourism. It’s heritage. It’s authenticity,” Carol says.
Because the ultimate goal for HPxD is in their name, it’s in their blood: revitalizing High Point through – our original super power – design.
"We brought in the designers. We brought in High Point Market Authority, Visit High Point, and the City of High Point,” Tom says. "Because HPxD's success is ultimately going to increase business, but that's not the objective. The objective is revitalizing the city.”
Because unlike in Detroit, the High Point by Design founders have a vision for helping the city of High Point grow to thrive and flourish again thanks to a resurgence of our core industry. The furniture industry doesn’t need to be a forgotten story. With creativity and community, the HPxD members envision design becoming part of High Point’s roaring success once again.
"If you think about it, High Point impacts homes everywhere," says Jane Dagmi, "and I think the end consumer is beginning to make that connection and is curious about discovering the source."
And each facet of HPxD’s mission serves to strengthen the ecosystem of furniture in High Point once again: bringing in new visitors and businesses, filling the city with educational and career opportunities, and creating experiences and energy for our community.
“This avoids a repeat of what happened when everything offshored because it strengthens the individual power of what we are,” Tom explains. “This is the resurgence of appreciating furniture. It doesn’t have to be everything, but it’s in our DNA, and we should celebrate it.”
"If you think about it, High Point impacts homes everywhere, and I think the end consumer is beginning to make that connection and is curious about discovering the source."
Jane Dagmi, Managing Director of HPxD
Discover our High Points,
The HPD Team