Any Chicagoan knows their commercials and has had the family jingle stuck in their head at least once. Walter E. Smithe Furniture is a Chicago institution, and has been making Windy City homes more comfortable, beautiful and personal since 1945. Since that time, it has also been a family business. Now, sisters Meghan, Colleen, Caitie and Maureen Smithe are all actively involved in the furniture business as well! This week, we are getting the family lo down and decor ideas from Caitie Smithe, Designer and part of the Merchandising Team as well as Buyer Maureen Smithe. Next week, Meghan and Colleen will give us another peak behind the curtain, and we can promise you’ll be planning a home revamp before you’re done reading!
HOW DID YOU FIRST BECOME INVOLVED IN THE FAMILY BUSINESS?
Caitie: As a child, I would help my dad with warehouse sales and random other tasks like sorting papers. As a teenager, I worked in our outlet store. In college, I had a design internship at our Arlington Heights showroom. After college I worked as a sales rep for two large furniture lines. I took a break when I had my first three kids and then returned as a designer in our Oakbrook Showroom in January of 2016.
Maureen: I joined the family business in 2004 after working in merchandising and product development for Abercrombie & Fitch. An opportunity in the buying office opened up, and I was invited to join. I very happily accepted the offer!
There was never an expectation or demand that any of us join the business. We all had experience elsewhere, and we all joined at different times. When an opportunity fitting our skill set arose, we were invited to consider the position. The four of us working here together happened very organically.
Maureen and her family
HOW DO YOU MAINTAIN A BALANCE BETWEEN FAMILY AND WORK?
Maureen: With six kids it can be a challenge to keep life balanced, but I have a wonderful husband who is very involved with raising our kids. We support each other in all areas, and we know we can count on each other to take care of things at home when a professional obligation comes up. He is the best!
HOW DO YOU AND YOUR SISTERS WORK WELL TOGETHER AND BALANCE EACH OTHER OUT?
Caitie: I always look forward to doing work related tasks with my sisters. We are all extremely passionate about making the business amazing, so there is an indescribable energy among us when we are at work. Maureen is a calming force, Meghan is very detail oriented, Colleen is very organized, and I’m creative minded.
The Smithe sisters in childhood
WHAT IS A TYPICAL WORK DAY LIKE?
Caitie: I wear a few different hats… I’m a designer, stylist, and trend consultant, so there’s never a typical day for me, but most days I’m working on projects related to all three jobs.
I guess you could call this a typical day for me: I meet with clients in their home or at our Oakbrook showroom, scout trends anywhere from high end designer showrooms to Instagram, and I accessorize and style vignettes going to our 11 showrooms or photography for our catalogs and online.
Maureen: I live in the city but our office is in Itasca, so the commute can be brutal. I leave home very early, put in a full day, and get home in time to pick my kids up from school. Getting to the office when it is still dark outside has its perks (aside from sidestepping traffic). I’m in the office for hours before anyone else, so I am super productive. Everyone thinks a buyer’s job is to look at pretty furniture and pull it together, but we have a lot of emails and spreadsheets to manage. I like knocking a lot of the computer stuff out of the way before anyone else is in the office.
Photo via Walter E. Smithe
HOW DO YOU WORK TO TRACK TRENDS TO FIT THE BRAND?
Maureen: The pace of change has really picked up over the past five years, so we are constantly tracking new trends and analyzing their relevance to our brand. We scour shelter magazines, follow inspiring social media accounts and watch design shows. We also walk the delivery runs in our warehouse to see what our clients are actually buying – sometimes we even copy a look designed for a client and send it to the stores!
WHAT SETS WALTER E. SMITHE APART FROM OTHER BRANDS?
Maureen: We’ve been tasked with having everything for everybody. We are not trying to fill the needs of one segment of the population, so our look is varied yet it all still works together. Any client with any aesthetic – from super traditional to country chic to clean contemporary – can come in to our store and find a spot that feels like “home.”
Both: We truly have something for everyone. We carry a huge range of styles and price points with hundreds of vendors and thousands of fabrics. Whether you’re just out on your own purchasing your first piece of grown up furniture, decorating your first family home, or an empty nester downsizing to a kid free condo, we’ve got you covered and will stand behind our quality and give you top notch design.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF YOUR JOB?
Caitie: The “end result!” I love seeing a completed room in a client’s home, a photograph I staged, or a new fabulous item hit the floors.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
Caitie: Sleep while you can!
Maureen: Find your voice and don’t be afraid to use it. The furniture industry is definitely male dominated, so as a young woman I caught myself feeling anxious about speaking up. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve learned that my opinion is valuable and important.
Photo via Walter E. Smithe
WHAT ARE THE TOP DESIGN TRENDS FOR THE SEASON?
- The Boho Mod look- thoughtfully curating a room by incorporating clean modern pieces with eclectic, bohemian pieces to showcase your own personal style.
- Custom, custom, custom. We have seen a real push for personalization, especially in the wake of the recession when retailers were just trying to sell one look to make a quick buck. People want their homes to reflect who they are and what they love.
- After years of grays and neutrals we are finally starting to see some color. It started with blue, and now we are starting to see more green and even some jewel tones.
- Dramatic antique inspired rugs!
- No room is complete these days without a good dose of greenery. Trees, succulents, orchids. It is amazing what a nice potted plant can do for a space!
Photo via Walter E. Smithe
WHAT ARE SOME EASY WAYS TO UPDATE A ROOM WITHOUT SPENDING TOO MUCH?
Both: In a lot of cases, the little accents can really make a room. Invest in interesting and eclectic pillows and throws for texture, an interesting case piece or two, and a chair that you absolutely love and the room will feel so updated and personalized. We also offer some spectacular deals in our stock program that are available for immediate delivery.
Maureen: Accessories – and that includes pillows and throws – will really liven up a space and add richness and comfort. I’ve also found that a great rug can quickly pull a space together while adding personality and texture.