For the average homemaker in the 1950s, a day’s work consisted of cleaning, cooking and child care within the four walls of a woman’s residence. For Audrey C. Lenchner, cofounder of retail furniture chain Today’s Home, homemaking was about designing ideal living spaces for clients by day and getting home in time for dinner with her own family by evening.
“My mother was a working professional well before it was fashionable for women to enter the workforce,” her son, Jeffrey Lenchner, said.
Business savvy, charisma and a talent for visual design that led to the creation of the modern furniture showroom helped Mrs. Lenchner carve a name for herself as a pioneer of the retail design industry.
She died Dec. 21 due to congestive heart failure at age 86.
Described by her son as a “force of nature,” Mrs. Lenchner was bucking gender norms long before entering the workforce at her husband’s side. The Squirrel Hill native was a tennis player at Allderdice High School and likely would have attended the University of Illinois under an athletic scholarship during the Title IX era, Jeffrey Lenchner said.
As a daughter of Austrian immigrants who founded a camera business, Mrs. Lenchner had the entrepreneurial spirit ingrained in her from an early age. So after marrying Sigmund Lenchner in 1945, it was natural for her to become his partner eight years later when the couple founded the first Today’s Home retail store on McKnight Road.
With Mr. Lenchner in charge of business operations, Mrs. Lenchner transformed the traditional sales floor by knocking down walls, applying fresh paint and consistently changing the showroom into a grid of potential living spaces.
“Audrey really pioneered the concept of whole home design. She did a great job at a time when most people were just lining up sofas against a wall,” said Robert Stamper, vice president of Lexington Home Brands, who worked with Mrs. Lenchner when he was at Drexel Heritage Furniture.
Beyond the showroom, Mrs. Lenchner took her eye for design directly to consumers’ homes. Using a team of professional interior designers, she crafted a step-by-step approach that used sketches of a customer’s home to develop a comprehensive design plan. A customer who furnished a living room at Today’s Home could return to the showroom to find an interior designer had already set aside the perfect dining room table or paint sample to complement the home’s overall look.
Dan Grow, former president of Drexel Heritage Furniture and current vice president of business development for Ethan Allen, said Mrs. Lenchner “knew the pulse of Pittsburgh’s consumers” and wasn’t afraid to share her opinions about the best ways to give them what they wanted.
“She was a straight-shooting businesswoman,” Mr. Grow said. “She didn’t mince a lot of words and because of that, people respected her opinion because they knew she said exactly what she was thinking.”
Over the course of 30 years, the Lenchners expanded Today’s Home to five locations in the Pittsburgh area. Today, with Jeffrey Lenchner as CEO, the company is operating within Designer Furniture Outlet Stores and has expanded to include TH Trade, a commercial design company.
Despite working six days a week and often going back to the office after her children were tucked in for the night, Mrs. Lenchner never missed dinner with her family and always made it clear they were her top priority.
“In the midst of her tremendous work ethic and all of her obligations, we never felt any of that at home,” Jeffrey Lenchner said.
“At home, we were the center of her world.”
In addition to her son Jeffrey of Sewickley and her husband of 66 years, Mrs. Lenchner is survived by two other sons, Mark of Franklin Park and Gary of Naples, Fla.; six grandchildren; and a great-grandchild.
Memorial services have been held. The family suggests that any contributions in her name be made to a charity of the donor’s choice.
Deborah M. Todd: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1652.