Sometimes it's not necessary for a furniture retailer to sell whole pieces of furniture. In the case of Homeward a showroom, catalogue and online venture in Northeast Washington just offering critical replacement parts for classic designs was enough to turn an initial profit.
Norman Tolkan closed the last of his more than two dozen Door Store locations back in 1995 and started offering parts of the ubiquitous Breuer chair that had been a Door Store staple the familiar design with the tubular metal frame and cane seat and back through a simple catalogue and warehouse showroom.
"We sold so many of those in the old days that there was a notion that we had a good chance of doing that again," says Tolkan, just back from the furniture shows in Europe. "The Breuer chairs have sold for many years all around the United States, but people don't know what to do when it comes to replacing the seats." Or the matching wood and cane backs, or the black plastic C-shaped floor glides, or even the black vinyl arm covers.
Back in 1928, what's come to be known as the Breuer chair was actually christened the Cesca chair, after Marcel Breuer's daughter, Francesca. Breuer, known for his Bauhaus-inspired furniture designs and architecture, got the idea for this now-famous tubular metal chair from his bicycle handlebars.
He also created the Wassily, as well as the B-50, tubular metal chairs with leather seats and backs. Homeward carries reproductions of all three, in prices that range from $79 for a Breuer (or Cesca) side chair to $299 for the Wassily lounge chair.
Walking through Homeward's tiny, light-filled showroom is like walking through a Greatest Hits design exhibition. Besides all the permutations associated with the Breuer side chair, armchair ($89), Rapollo barstool ($89) plus various replacement parts ranging from 50 cents to $39 there are plenty of other classics, including the Stam chair (side, $79; armchair, $89), another tubular metal design with a distinctive leather back and seat. Replacement seats and backs for the Stam sell for $29; they're available in saddle, camel, chocolate, black or white. There's also the Bungee ($129), a stackable leather-covered plywood chair based on a postwar Danish design, as well as some high-style stools in chrome and black vinyl.
But don't think that Homeward carries only 20th-century designs. One of its biggest sellers is the classic Thonet bentwood dining chair with both a natural cane seat ($99) and the restaurant model with a solid wood seat ($89). (Can't quite picture it? The Thonet bentwood, used in countless saloons and restaurants, comes in a natural or walnut finish and features a sturdy rounded back and solid, slightly splayed legs with back and front bracing.)
Homeward has Thonet reproductions made in the same Polish factory where the original 1857 model was fabricated. It also offers replacement cane seats in a natural or walnut frame ($29) that work in an ingenious way: The half-inch-thick replacement seat is designed to fit directly on top of the damaged seat using heavy-duty glue or a few well-placed nails. Sure beats the $100 it would cost to have the original seat re-caned.
Ed Porter, Homeward's general manager, likes to show off another innovative replacement part, this time for the popular Breuer chair. "Most people buy Breuer chairs in a natural finish, but as they get older the wood naturally turns to more of a honey color," he explains. "So we starting having the wood parts of the replacement seats and backs stained a honey color, so any replacement would match the rest of the chair."
Homeward also carries a number of what it calls "party" chairs, including a classic gold bamboolike cane-seated chair ($149), a traditional ballroom chair with a red velvet seat ($199) and a similar model with an antique walnut finish and a neutral fabric seat ($199).
For those who like the lines of 18th-century chairs, there are reproductions of the classic Louis XV (armchair, $299; side, $249) and the Montgolfier (armchair, $299; side, $249).
"We try to pick things that we like and we thought others would like," says Porter.
To that end, Homeward has expanded its furniture offerings to include an interesting array of outdoor furniture, including a number of styles done in plantation-grown Indonesian teak, priced from $299 for a classic two-seat garden bench to $399 for a folding table and two chairs.
Also in stock are chairs and tables in Spanish steel (antique gray, white or verdigris), "weatherproof resin" (that means plastic) and Chinese elm. There's even a knock-down Adirondack chair in pine ($129, including a small side table) that's not only comfortable, but, Porter vows, easy to assemble. "It comes in six pieces, with all the holes pre-drilled," he says. "All you need is a screwdriver and pair of pliers."
Kathleen Stanley (2000)