A certified public accountant, Michael spent two decades working for one of the “Big 8” accounting firms before making the jump to join his sister, Karen Baty Rice, as a full-on partner at Chestnut Hall. Karen started the store in 1989 following her career as the director of home furnishings and interior design at Goldsmith. Michael was Karen’s silent partner for a number of years, and when his accounting firm made the decision to move to New York in 2000, he saw an opportunity to take the leap and follow his passion into the family business. Their parents, now retired, used to work alongside them in the store and were well-loved by customers.
“My father was in the furniture business, and I grew up with warehouses and inventory and getting things delivered,” says Michael. “This is a very neat way to, if you like product, create the life you want around that product.”
The two stores are under the same roof, and while the focus of their furnishings is quite different — Chestnut Hall features a mix of more traditional and contemporary furnishings and At the Cabin is full of rustic, handcrafted pieces — both stores champion American design and manufacturing, and almost exclusively stock American-made furniture and accessories.
At the Cabin’s rustic furnishings include pieces made by Amish craftsmen in the Midwest, as well as classic accessories that evoke the feeling of the great camps of the Adirondacks and the American West.
“We are advocates of American craftsmanship, keeping in mind that my mandate is to bring in the best products for our customers,” says Michael. Throughout the stores, customers are as likely to find a custom-made hickory sapling chair as they are a classic wing chair that’s been updated with bolder fabrics. The vibe is definitely comfortable and cozy, great American design with a twist.
Michael credits his sister with giving him a deep understanding of the periods of American furniture and design. “Karen has a very good concept of history, so I learned all the periods of history from her,” he says, saying his own design aesthetic has morphed over the years into an amalgamation of the taste and vision of the designers he has worked with at the store.
It’s an exciting time, Michael says, to be focused on bringing young American designers to clients. “This whole notion of the new traditional is so neat for someone my age, working with young people seeing the energy and enthusiasm and their aesthetic with time-honored silhouettes.” Nothing is off the table, he adds, when it comes to today’s designs. “It can all work together.”
Just back from April’s High Point Market in High Point, North Carolina, Michael says color is making a comeback. “We’ve always been a color store, but for the last five to eight years, we really had to look hard to find color,” he says. “It (color) was pervasive at market. Neutrals aren’t going anywhere but there was just a broader spectrum to choose from.”
Customers of At the Cabin and Chestnut Hall are embracing the idea of new traditional. “Baby boomers have to figure out a way to bring in these newer pieces into an existing environment, one that may be 20 to 30 years old since they really stopped acquiring pieces,” says Michael. “That’s where new traditional really makes it easy because if you have a silhouette that matches your other silhouettes or colors that match your existing colors, you want a different scale or a different size pattern.”
He notes that the trend toward new traditional isn’t just for the boomer set. “I think younger people just like it and they just do it. Millennials actually have a higher affinity for home furnishings, and I think the combination of transitional and new traditional has been received very well.”
For Michael, the best thing about making the jump from CPA to advocate of American craftsmanship is coming to the store every day. “It’s almost like going out in the woods to see what you might see,” he says. “There’s the beauty of being here and it’s exciting every day to see your customers. When you’ve been here 27 years, you’ve known them a long time; they’ve known your sister, your parents. That’s one of the neat things about being here; you never know who is going to come in and who you’re going to see.”
Chestnut Hall and At the Cabin are located at 3075 Forest Hill Irene Road, Germantown, TN 38138. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Learn more at (901) 753-8515.
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