A ‘gift to the furniture industry’

New American Home Furnishings Hall of Fame building offers many amenities for the industry, businesses and community

HIGH POINT — This week’s grand opening of the American Home Furnishings Hall of Fame’s new home not only marks the culmination of a project that began with the 2019 purchase of a 25,000-square-foot former furniture showroom on South Hamilton Street. It also completes a vision that observers say dates back some 35 years when Ethan Allen co-founder and HOF inductee Nat Ancell said that the Hall of Fame would one day have a building of its own.

This was back in 1988, the year the first organizational meeting of the HOF was held and the year that the organization recorded the first several oral histories of industry leaders.

The front of the new American Home Furnishings Hall of Fame building at 311 S. Hamilton St. in downtown High Point

The story was about his vision was passed down over the years in hopes that it would one day become a reality. Had Ancell lived to see it materialize, he would have seen a project that likely went beyond his own dream at the time.

Replacing a leased facility in High Point that was one-tenth of its size, the new building is a celebration of the industry, complete with interactive displays that showcase the people in the industry, the processes involved in making furniture and the products themselves. It even allows visitors to tell their own story, creating a multilayered type of engagement that allows them to share who they are and the impact that the industry — and furniture — have had on their lives.

Nat Ancell, whose vision it was for the Hall of Fame to have a building of its own, is featured on a display area in the Hall of Fame Gallery.

In developing the concept for the building, which began being renovated in early 2022, officials visited with 12 museums to learn best practices on how to build a relevant and interactive facility for all visitors. From these visits, they came away with critical knowledge that has developed the building into what it is today — the creation of both visual theaterlike experiences and revolving exhibits that change every six months or so.

As one enters the building they are face to face with the Grand Atrium and the Grand Story Wall featuring a giant video screen telling the stories of the industry, including figures who have served in key leadership positions over the years. A similar video screen called the Dynamic Story Wall is on the other side, facing the Bill and Carolyn Hicks Celebration Hall. It also showcases stories about the people, product and innovations of the industry.

This area is on the opposite side of the Grand Atrium and faces the Bill and Carolyn Hicks Celebration Hall.

A reception area with a bar and entertaining area is adjacent to the Dynamic Story Wall. This leads to a grand Surya Presentation Staircase with cushioned seating on the steps that allow visitors to sit and relax while watching a presentation on the giant screen in front of them.

To the left of the Grand Staircase are additional interactive display areas including the International Market Centers Imagination Theater, with seating for 30 people. To the right of staircase is the Samson Holding Gallery of Innovation, showcasing different innovations past and present that have created both interest and value to product and manufacturing processes over the years. It also has a screen that tells the story of some of these key innovations.

Beyond this is one of the core areas of the facility, the Hall of Fame Gallery, which has images and short bios of Hall of Fame Inductees over the years. Touch screens allow visitors to look up different individuals to learn more about their histories and accomplishments. A wall opposite the gallery is devoted to emerging leaders, including those who have received the Paul Broyhill Future Leaders Award.

Adjacent to this area on the first floor are several other key showcases including a display area paying homage to furniture design leaders — the current one devoted to a product display area and historical story line from Thayer Coggin. There is also the Discovery Center with a display of Italian pottery, featuring some pieces that are more than 100 years old provided by David Gebhart, Hall of Fame board member and owner of Global Views; the Stephen Knight Pond Library; and the Karen E. McNeill Women’s Center named after the chief executive officer of the American Home Furnishings Hall of Fame Foundation.

At the top of the Grand Staircase is the O. William and Candace Fenn Leaders Board Room, which is open to various groups wanting to hold meetings. Other key destinations on the second floor are an area devoted to industry style trends as well as the Iconic Display area featuring historical furniture designs and the Process Gallery, which showcases items such as a rug loom, a deconstructed mattress and a deconstructed chair, all of which help visitors understand aspects of how furniture is constructed. These also are revolving displays that will be switched out to keep the subject matter both timely and relevant.

Karen McNeill Pond in the Karen E. McNeill Women’s Center

Also on the second floor is a History Center with boxes of files that are labeled and inventoried in a computer catalog system, all to museum standards. The second floor also has a lounge area called The Karen and Stephen Pond Hub as well as staff offices and a kitchen.

McNeill notes that the $12 million project was funded entirely with industry support with no loans outstanding — including more than a half million dollars worth of furnishings that were donated by many industry suppliers.

“We have built this building from start to finish and have done it with cash,” McNeill said, while also acknowledging the other gifts from the industry, including extensive furnishings. “That’s how supportive the industry has been with this building. … It is so amazing when you think about the generosity of the industry.”

She also noted that the building is available to everyone from industry professionals to community groups and other businesses that wish to make use of the space.

“We have 31 events scheduled between now and August,” she told Home News Now, noting that these groups have wanted to use the building site unseen. “They have all called us. Some of it is corporate, some of it is community and some of it is the industry.”

Caroline Hipple seated in an area with furniture donated by Norwalk Furniture

Caroline Hipple, chair of the Hall of Fame board of directors and president of Norwalk Furniture, said a key element of the facility is its ability to help engage everyone who visits with dynamic and continually evolving exhibits and educational features.

“We designed it to serve the industry for decades, so as we built the space, we thought of intimate meeting rooms and large meeting rooms and using technology and education everywhere,” she said. “It is a gift to the industry to make us come together, be better and engage, learn and grow. I can’t wait to see how people use it. I just think we have only scratched the surface in terms of the potential.”

She also took time to recognize the many people who have been involved in the project from start to finish.

“All the players were fully cognizant of what they needed to do,” she said of the countless hours industry leaders have given of their time and energies. “Everybody was really good at what their part to play was.”

Finally, she credited McNeill for bringing the project to life through her direct, yet often behind-the-scenes involvement.

“This once in a lifetime remarkable achievement (the opening of the home for our industry at the Home Furnishings Hall of Fame) is a true labor of love for CEO Karen McNeill Pond,” Hipple said. “Karen has spent a remarkable multi-decade career in our industry making companies and customers look great through her leading communications firm. Eighteen years ago, she turned that brand-building focus to  leading the Home Furnishings Hall of Fame. She led the charge to embrace the entire industry and to grow the impact on future leaders while celebrating our industries’ super stars. The opening of the building and our industry’s home is a love letter from Karen (along with her board of directors and staff) to this industry that has been her and their home for these many years.”

It’s a gift that more than likely would have made Nat Ancell quite proud.

Thomas Russell

Home News Now Editor-in-Chief Thomas Russell has covered the furniture industry for 25 years at various daily and weekly consumer and trade publications. He can be reached at tom@homenewsnow.com and at 336-508-4616.

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