[caption id="attachment_143468" align="alignright" width="273"] Hickory Furniture Mart showcases 1,000 manufacturers on four floors and about a million square feet.[/caption] Take it from the 7-year-old running sprints four floors below, in
Take it from the 7-year-old running sprints four floors below, in the vast reception area of Hickory Furniture Mart: Wear comfortable shoes. Presumably, his parents are nearby, but “nearby” is a relative term when a building sprawls over one million square feet. The “rooms” within this space — bedrooms, living rooms, dining rooms, foyers, patios, bars, dens, home offices — are truly countless, because nearly every inch displays dream-room vignettes — or, simply, that etched-glass lamp you envisioned for your end table.
All the Mull family dreamed of in 1947 was selling a few hot dogs to drive-in movie customers. But 10 years later, after recognizing an unmet need in Hickory’s furniture industry, J.P. Mull, his daughter Lynn Lail, and her husband, Leroy, constructed Mull’s Restaurant and Motel to accommodate increasing numbers of wholesale furniture buyers and showcase the furniture of local companies. Today, the site is Hickory Furniture Mart, home to some 1,000 manufacturers of everything that goes into a home — and it’s still owned by the Lail family.
In North Carolina, furniture is big business. But for those of us unconnected to the industry, purchasing furnishings can be bewildering, right down to the lingo. Just as you figure out what “case goods” are, you also figure out that you’re not permitted to attend High Point Market. The Hickory Furniture Mart was once open “to the trade only,” too. But in 1985, the Lails, who’d initiated the practice of having manufacturers display products twice yearly at the Mart, decided to convert the exhibition space into a retail furniture destination open year-round. And this is the beauty of Hickory Furniture Mart: its open-to-the-public accessibility.
“Think of it as a big regional mall,” suggests Tracey Trimble, executive vice president and general manager of the Mart. “But instead of a Sephora or a Banana Republic, they’re individual home furnishings stores for lighting, rugs, furniture, artwork, and accessories.” There’s still a little to learn: Pieces tagged “market samples” are one-of-a-kind prototypes that came from High Point Market. Others are “outlet” — overstocks or past-season styles sold at closeout prices. Nearly every showroom carries a variety of brands, such as Tommy Bahama and Bernhardt. And if you fall in love with a particular dining room chair but wish it came in a blond finish with black corduroy upholstery? Customized furniture is a Mart hallmark; buyers often have a project in mind, or a room with unusual dimensions. In special-order showrooms, they’re able to select an exact size, color, stain, fabric, and a host of other options for a piece. (Alternatively, you can bring a U-Haul and take your right-off-the-floor coffee table home that day.)
Just try to pick a favorite store: Go for broke with buttery soft leathers or Amish-made wooden furniture. Marvel at what feels like acres of Roya Rugs, where head-high stacks of traditional, hand-knotted carpets in rich jewel tones (and, OK, every tone) lend the showroom a “Princess and the Pea” fairy-tale feel. In these days of open-floor-plan living, enormous sectionals abound, dwarfed only by terrace umbrellas as large as decks themselves. And there, by golly, is a black-and-white photograph of a horse, in all its majestically serene, 6-by-4-foot glory. Forget that button-tufted headboard — turns out this is what you wanted all along.