A chat with Alex Sarratt, founder of iconic brand Sarreid LTD, since 1967.

Tell us about your background, where do you come from, how did you land in the furniture world?

I was born in Charlotte, North Carolina; my mother was a housewife and my father was a journalist. We moved to Baltimore Maryland where I lived from age 1 to 10. My father, Reed Sarratt was the editorial director for the Baltimore Sun newspaper.

 We moved to Winston Salem in 1953 where I remained until going to college in 1960.  I went to UNC, a great place to network and a very good school. I graduated in 1965 in the middle of the Vietnam War but got a medical exception that kept me out of the military service.  For six months, I worked at Wachovia Bank and Milton’s Clothing Cupboard. During that period 2 Beta brothers and I decided to seek adventure looking for a business in Europe. It was more the idea of doing an adventure that brought me to leave. It was hard to find a job because no one will hire you long term with the risk that you will leave to go to Vietnam. I had another fraternity brother  whose father had an ocean freighter leasing  business and offered us to go on one of his ships. So that was it, we left from Richmond, VA in September 1966 with 2 couples and a dog and we were going to sail to Barcelona. But, the boat broke down in Lisbon and we ended up entering the country of Portugal without going through customs and therefore not having stamped passport to enter Spain. This is how my adventure started and the Sarreid dream of importing goods from Europe to the U.S was what I brought back to my land.

Transatlantic Ship to Europe, 1960’s

Let’s talk about the future of the furniture business? What do you expect for the next 20 years, especially for Sarreid? And what is the future of the High Point Market?

The furniture business has changed more in the last 10 years than it has in the previous 100 years thanks due to technology. With these innovations of internet, smart phones, high resolution digital photography, and social media any factory anywhere in the world can learn everything and understand the American and European markets and Asian Factories  can see what’s made in each part of the world and access to these sources like it was not possible before. Everybody knows the value of everything too. The internet with the e-commerce cuts down the middle man and this is very important to cut down costs. Wholesalers and distributors are the middle men. This is why all the costs related to a marketplace like High Point will be squeezed out. Retailers, designers, e-commerce, they all come to High Point but it’s a big cost of time and money to them. Think how easy Zoom and GoToMeeting can function as a replacement for the Furniture Show in High Point. There will be providers of home furnishings but they are going to be streamlined. I guess 30-40% can be squeezed out of the retail price by efficiencies not being fully applied today.   High Point has in my opinion limited years left, and sales reps as we know them will become more like interior designers/product specialists/space planners. It is hard and expensive to be a road rep travelling to sell at this time and it may become less necessary when buyers become accustomed to digital imaging. With the Amazon freight being free and you can return anything, a lot of people went out of business because they couldn’t adjust to this. I think that 3d printers within 50 years will reproduce almost anything, and people could print their own furniture! Living space will be smaller, because population will be less burden on the environment, less pollution, freight will be not as extensive thanks to 3d printers!

3D printed furniture

What is your favorite furniture designer of all times?

There aren’t many famous architects now who really design furniture based on imagination uninspired by other’s ideas. But people like Ludwig Mie’s van Der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright, and other architects were revolutionaries in there world. In today’s environment it is hard to reinvent a chair, the more unusual it is, the more difficult to sell.  We had a designer John Van Koert who was well known in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s,  and has flatware designs at the MOMA- and Philip Stark has done some nice things. I don’t think he is the best or the worst designer though. Great providers of home furnishings work with Product Development Experts more than designers.  Look at RH, Crate & Barrel as examples.

Neue Galerie in Berlin by Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe

What is your favorite Country in the world and where do you feel most at home?

I will say Italy. It is a great country since it was opened up to America after the II World War when it had its blooming becoming a wealthy nation. Its ambiance, its food, its historic parts are great. If you ask me what city, I would choose Paris though. France is a treasure of history but not that keen on food and wine, for me.Plus I must say I have a very special relationship with all of Spain.

Lake Como, Italy

What are the trends and colors you think we will follow in the next years?

There is a short trend of 2-3 years, like apricot can be the color of the year for example. Trends last normally around 10 years, and it’s a cycle that will repeat every 5 to 7 decades, always going back to 1950’s or 1970’s for example. I’m not referring to the looks but to the concepts. You can go from modern to traditional, formal or casual. It does not matter what’s in the news: traditional has represented 70% in the U.S of purchases forever, despite trends. A trend can have themes: art deco, Hollywood look are developed by designers. The biggest trend we have are colors, we are currently coming out of grey color and oak veneers has been dominant, and then navy blue for upholstery will last about 5 years. Furniture last too long to make it too bold, unless you have one piece. So, generally white might be the prevalent color of all times as there are so many variations of it: pure white, beige, cream white, off white, shiny or matte. What Sarreid does is making finishes to look old, so we have antique white which is very popular. Greys are going become more taupe, there will always be a strategic use of black that will never go away. Those are all monochromatic neutral colors as opposed to bold colors which are not really furniture but more upholstery colors. Upholstery colors are easy to change,  not so much with the furniture.

Luciana Cabinet, Disrupted White

Why America is always following Europe’s trends?

People in the industry go to Europe for inspirations and ideas but it’s also true the contrary, they come here from Europe to get inspired from the film industry, television, fashion, as Europe is so much older than America, the buildings are five hundred years old, we do not have stones structures or castles, so I think Europeans are over the old look of the antique reproductions, they prefer contemporary looks, modern. This is why Americans are more inclined to pick antique looks in furniture too.

French Library

Which countries in the world are going to become stronger as suppliers in the next years?

You can’t ignore China. Although they have problems. The Chinese government is strictly controlling and it is not good for capitalism. You can get a license for anything in China, but it can be suddenly taken away for any reason. At some point in China they all became so good as engineers, that they started building infrastructures, they have done more than anybody in the world during the last 15 years. Every airport, railroads, hotels in China is now new as you’ve got very good cheap labor. Vietnam is another interesting country to produce but they are only 67 million people, there is a limit in what they can manufacture.

India, Indonesia and Bangladesh are third world Countries and they are mostly manufacturing cheap apparel which is easy to make and control by foreigners. Labor is cheap but final costs of doing business here go up due to lack of any modern infrastructure. Much of the population is illiterate so difficult to train After China and Vietnam, maybe Laos and Cambodia can be the next countries where we will source furniture. Mexico has potential but have economic and political instability as well so it’s harder to operate there as well.

Sarreid, brass coffee table. An Iconic piece

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