Comment on this storyComment
Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams’ furniture business once survived their personal split. But the 34-year-old company that became known as Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams could not survive its last ownership by a family-run private equity firm.
Many of the approximately 800 employees found out about it over the weekend, which caused a lot of discussion on social media. A sign posted to the factory gate in Taylorsville, North Carolina on Saturday read, “Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams have recently and unexpectedly learned that we are unable to continue business operations.” A letter from interim CEO Chris Moye, affixed to the office door contained the sombre details: “As you may know, the current economic climate presents major challenges for the furniture industry. … [The company] has recently and unexpectedly learned that we are unable to secure critical financing to continue our business.”
A call to Stephens Group, the Little Rock public company that bought the company in 2015, on Monday went unanswered.
Gold, 72, who retired as the company’s chairman and CEO in 2019, learned of the news last week. “I was devastated and shocked,” he says. “Both Bob and I. And if I had to use a word, it would be heartbroken.”
Gold says when he left the company just before the pandemic, “some of it was in good shape, some wasn’t.” Recent years have seen a rollercoaster of issues with changing consumer demand and supply chain issues, and Gold says the bank and the public company could not find a way to keep the business going.
The company owns 24 signature stores, says Gold. The first opened in 2007 on Washington’s newly hip 14th Street NW, near Logan Circle. A green eco-rug was rolled out for 500 guests, including Hillary Clinton, who reportedly owned an MG+BW dining table and chairs but was absent. The stores were among the first to allow dogs and carried a line of designer dog beds.
Originally called Mitchell Gold, the company became Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams after the duo’s relationship ended. It produced some of the most iconic sofas, sectionals and lounge chairs of the 1990s to 2000s. Known for their comfort, the laid-back styles were dubbed “lifestyle furniture” and suited the laid-back fashion of Casual Fridays. The baby boomers hung out with their offspring and dogs on the company’s crumpled couches. Her trendy distressed leather club chairs were inspired by Parisian flea market finds.
The company manufactured private label linen sofas and velvet headboards for some of the biggest names in retail, including Restoration Hardware (now RH), Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn. In 2000, the company made some of the first stylish home office chairs for Crate & Barrel – in red chenille.
The entire furniture industry is in a state of upheaval. Earlier this month, Klaussner, a large manufacturer based in Asheboro, North Carolina, notified employees that the company was closing. “I call it pandemic ripple effects,” says Bill McLoughlin, editor-in-chief of Furniture Today. “Currently, consumer demand for furniture is weak and people are spending their money on things like travel. Some companies still have inventory from the pandemic and are struggling with cash flow.”
Gold and Williams, who met in New York, formed Mitchell Gold in 1989. Gold, a former furniture buyer at Bloomingdale’s, was the frontman, whose company uniform included a denim shirt and Gucci loafers. Williams, a graphic artist who designed the line, was able to pinpoint exactly what consumers were looking for.
Mitchell Gold and Tim Gold’s DC Loft
They bought an existing factory in Taylorsville, North Carolina, near the center of the sleepy US furniture industry. Then they started messing things up. It was one of the first air-conditioned furniture plants in the state. They built an on-site gym, set up a health clinic and hired a chef to prepare seared salmon with mango salsa in the staff canteen. At her daycare, the kids sat on kid-sized club chairs and denim couches.
Gold and Williams have been donors to the Democratic Party and women’s rights groups, and have been very active in the LGBTQ+ community.
In 1998 they sold the company to Rowe Furniture and were able to continue the business. One of the reasons for the sale, Gold says, was because they’re gay. “We couldn’t get married and we ran the risk of paying estate taxes if one of us died,” Gold told The Washington Post in 2007. “That could have bankrupted the company.”
The final frontier for gay rights
Gold and Williams’ personal relationship ended in 2001, but they remained business partners and “best friends forever.” In 2002, they bought back the company along with a group of New York investors and the company was renamed Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams to reflect the contributions of both men. In 2015 Stephens bought it; Williams and Gold remained on the board and management. Gold retired in 2019, Williams, now 61, 2022. Both men still sit on the board as observers.
When calls were made to multiple Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams phone numbers on Monday, the message was recorded: “There are no staff available to take your call at this time.” But it appeared the site could still order furniture . “The company is sorting things out,” says Gold.
Gold says he’s encouraged by the messages he’s receiving from current and former employees, many of whom have worked there for decades. On Saturday, Gold posted a heartbroken GIF on Facebook with the message, “We’re still working on solutions…but…”
A previous version of this article listed the wrong location for Klaussner’s location. It’s Asheboro, NC, not Asheville. This article has been corrected.