Editor’s note: This story appeared in the winter issue of Aspire magazine.
When you walk into Chariho Furniture, the settings feel comfortable – warm and bright and welcoming. You can find Chippendale or Queen Anne style pieces, and the showroom holds a solid selection of traditional American pieces.
And then there are the Lhasa Apso-inspired pieces or the lipstick-red chairs.
Well, they don’t look exactly like Lhasa Apsos … but the “fluffy tuffet,” as co-owner and Chief Operating Officer Stephanie Smith refers to them, are a pair of squat little seats that could potentially be mistaken for two long-haired pups who wandered into the store and stood patiently waiting for their owner right next to a sofa.
They’re two of Smith’s favorite pieces and, she’s happy to report, have been well received in what has long been a business known for its more traditional furniture.
About five years ago, the store began to “dabble” in contemporary styles, mixing funky new pieces in with the traditional. That translates into the stains and the woods, so in addition to cherry and maple, an eye-catching wood like grey elm can also be found.
“It’s been gradual,” Smith said. “We kind of sampled it out and people really took to it.”
Smith clearly loves the style, her eyes lighting up as she describes the pieces and walks briskly across the showroom to point out a few highlights. But she is playful about it as well, referring to a unique coffee table piece as a “tree trunk.”
She also brings an “anything goes” attitude.
“There’s really no right or wrong because everyone has their own style,” she said.
Smith credits her father, owner Ed Smith, with first exploring the contemporary product lines, and the two of them head to trade shows together. They travel to the High Point Market trade show in North Carolina twice a year and just returned from the October show.
“We’ve evolved,” Ed Smith said when discussing the expansion from mostly 18th century reproductions into the contemporary. “We’re not abandoning it by any means. … It’s still all American made, it’s still all solid wood, but it’s more contemporary, more casual.”
Any of the pieces can still be customized, too, whether that means a different stain or swapping out the metal legs for another color.
Chariho Furniture still carries Amish furniture as well—but that doesn’t mean it’s all Shaker style and clean lines. Another one of Smith’s favorite pieces is a gorgeous tiger maple sofa table with a blue-stained top and metal legs.
Yes, blue stain. Yes, Amish.
“We’ve never seen anything like it, so we had to get it,” she said, running her hand over its cool, smooth top.
“There was so much sanding and stain on it that it actually feels like glass,” Smith said. “I was trying to take a picture of it and the flash [kept bouncing] off of it.”
The store carries pieces by CR Laine, like a sofa called “The Chester” with its angular patterns. Nearby, there’s a recliner/swivel/glide chair that defies definition and which Smith describes as “feels like you’re floating.”
The chair is a recent addition and is part of the Comfort Air line by American Leather, a luxury furniture manufacturer based in Dallas. Smith said Chariho Furniture is the exclusive dealer in Rhode Island for American Leather Comfort Air.
The contemporary pieces are sprinkled throughout the store rather than arranged together in a separate contemporary section. Smith said she prefers it that way, with customers being able to wander the floor, eyeing a secretary desk before glancing over at the contemporary white sofa with the doe print pillows or the bright purple chair near a chest of drawers.
“People still come in and are surprised,” she said of the newer designs. But clearly, they enjoy it—and whether they want Shaker or fluffy tuffet, they’ve come to the right place.
Visit charihofurniture.com or call 401-539-9043 for more information. The store is located at 10 Richmond Townhouse Road in Richmond, R.I.