Christopher Guy Harrison gives furniture a whirl


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LAS VEGAS

Go big or go home could be furniture designer Christopher Guy Harrison's business model.

While others are shrinking operations, Mr. Harrison is expanding Christopher Guy, his international brand of luxury furnishings. In January, he opened an 8,884-foot showroom at the World Market Center in Las Vegas, his fifth dedicated showroom in the United States.

Never shying away from a challenge, the first thing he ever built was much bigger than a chair, when he was 16 years old.

"My stepfather was building a house in the south of France, so I went down. It was very important for me," he recalls.

That began a career of creating objects, many of them larger than life. If his style looks familiar, it's because his furnishings are often in hospitality and commercial spaces such as Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton hotels, Saks Fifth Avenue stores, casinos and in movies, including "Casino Royale," "The Hangover" and "The Devil Wears Prada."

There is something Dorothy Draper-esque about his bold and timeless designs. One of his signature furniture details is the Chris-X leg.

Like his brand, he is an amalgamation of influences. Though born in Britain, he was raised in France and Spain and now lives in Singapore. His furnishings are all manufactured in three factories in central Java.

"It's about a two-hour flight from Singapore, and it's a little area where you find everything from Ralph Lauren to Armani being built these days," he said.

Over the past few years, the company (www.christopherguy.com) has spread internationally with showrooms in Russia, the Middle East and Asia. In May, a 20,000-square-foot Christopher Guy showroom will open in New York City's Design Center, complete with an auditorium, gallery and three penthouses to showcase his new lifestyle collection, Mademoiselle. New York will become the company's new U.S. headquarters, replacing Fort Myers, Fla.

Mademoiselle "is all about what would Coco Chanel's home look like today if she were alive and about 37 years old," he said.

Mr. Harrison believes his company has navigated tough economic times by not limiting its focus to the U.S. market. He believes his brand will outlive him.

"We are working on a business model which is beyond Christopher Guy, which is recognizing the global industry and what its needs are. It won't be launched until 2014. I believe it will revolutionize the interior design industry globally."

Mr. Harrison is not as optimistic about the future of classic furniture.

"When people decorate their homes today, they are not looking for their heritage. They are looking for comfort and convenience.

"There is no market for classic furnishings, and I don't see that ever returning. The reason is the skills have all been lost. The skills in an industry like this are lost very quickly. In Asia, where we had an abundance of carvers, we see them all going to get different jobs in the construction industry," he said.

When he was creating the Mademoiselle collection, Mr. Harrison carved the pieces in miniature in Styrofoam. "From there I can see the balance that is needed. When I am designing a mirror, it is fun to play around with it."

He got the idea for the Oliver mirror from a shirt one of his carvers was wearing. It bore an image of the Milky Way.

"I took the Milky Way and turned it into more like a hurricane for the mirror frame," he said.0

The mirror in turn inspired Irish milliner Philip Treacy, who is famous for his hat designs in the United Kingdom. Mr. Treacy used Oliver mirrors in a hotel he was doing in Ireland and subsequently used the design in a hat he made for Camilla Parker Bowles, the Duchess of Cornwall.

Now the Oliver mirror is informally known as Camilla, Mr. Harrison said with a smile.

Just like the constellation itself, what comes around goes around -- and around.

mobilehome - homes

Patricia Sheridan: psheridan@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2613 or follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/pasheridan.


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