How Four Hands went from importing antiques to creating a lifestyle brand

Four Hands Van Thiel
Four Hands relaunches its partnership with Van Thiel at market. Influenced by a Chinese antique, this grand-scale sideboard features a simple box frame with subtle leg and hardware details and a worn finish.

In 2006, Four Hands was stuck. The then-10-year-old company had built a successful business by importing antiques and other handicrafts from overseas to bring “a world perspective” to the U.S. market, said CEO Matthew Briggs. But as it became easier to import – and import cheaper goods at that – other companies, including retailers, began doing it as well. Four Hands found itself being squeezed out as the middleman. Briggs even recalled one retailer gleefully telling him that Four Hands would be out of business in four years.

Seventeen years later, not only is Four Hands still in business, it’s the sixth largest furniture supplier in the country, according to Briggs, growing from $40 million in 2006 to almost $600 million in wholesale revenue last year.

At that pivotal moment back in 2006, the company knew it needed to shift direction and began transitioning into a lifestyle brand by doing two things. First, it partnered with outside designers, beginning with furniture designer Thomas Bina – “a game changer for us,” said Briggs; that collection launched in 2010 and the company grew 50% the following year. Secondly, it invested in its in-house design team, which included key appointments such as Adam Dunn as vice president of design and Rick Lovegrove, who is now president of upholstery.

Four Hands
Four Hands’ Austin headquarters

It also began courting interior designers, bringing the minimum opening order from $10,000 down to zero to allow designers to easily order one or two items for their projects, said Briggs. Now, the company has 10,000 active design accounts. Briggs groups designers into what he called non-traditional customers, and along with home builders, staging companies and others, this segment now constitutes over half of its business.

Upholstery is currently its largest product category, at about 26% of revenue, followed by dining (23%), occasional and bedroom (both at 12%) and one of its newer categories, outdoor (11%), which launched in 2018. Lighting, accessories and art are among its fastest growing categories. Four Hands bolstered its lighting category and now has a comprehensive lineup with different looks and materials, said Dunn; it will debut a lighting line with a new brand partner early next year.

Four Hands
Four Hands’ motion furniture line includes the leather Bradley collection.

And while the company projects a neutral vibe within its line, vibrant color is important and art is where the company can bring that in, said Dunn. Its art is made on demand at a new facility a few miles away from its corporate headquarters in Austin, Texas. The company now works with 175 artists, and its printers can reproduce texture-enhanced prints, as well as print on metal. The printers are running almost 24/7, said Brooke Elliott, director of art development. The facility also makes its own frames – as well as its own boxes, allowing it to produce boxes specifically to fit the artwork.

The company continues to look at adding categories that make sense, said Briggs. During COVID, executives walked around their homes and made lists of possible product categories they could expand into, and from that, the company was able to create a roadmap, said Dunn. This year, new categories include power motion furniture with a stationary look – “The market is interested in furniture that does more than what it looks like it does,” said Dunn – kitchen islands (a 120-inch “monster” will soon be added) and wallpaper, which is made at its art studio. Expansions into product categories both inside and out of the home are on the planning board for 2024.

It will also incorporate more tech into its designs. “Technology is driving so much of design,” said Dunn, so it is now adding lighting inside cabinets and charging areas on nightstands. “We’re trying to pull more tech into furniture but do it in a more pretty way that’s hidden.”

Four Hands
Designed by Thomas Bina and Ronald Sasson, this grand bed from Four Hands features an extra-wide headboard crafted of natural reclaimed French oak with subtle curves all around.

At High Point Market, Four Hands will continue its partnerships with two of its outside designers: Thomas Bina and Van Thiel. “Thomas was a big part of growing Four Hands, and Four Hands was a big part of growing Thomas,” said Dunn. Bina’s line is rooted in Brazilian midcentury design with an inflated scale. Four Hands previously worked with Van Thiel 10 years ago, and the new collection brings in a heritage look with clever details and unique finishing that makes it look aged and meant to be passed down, Dunn said. Four Hands will also expand its partnership with Libeco and debut top-of-bed at market, in six colorways.

The company has been deliberate on stamping Four Hands’ DNA into every place it interacts with its customers. That includes its showrooms in Austin, High Point and Las Vegas, where it will debut a new 40,000-square-foot showroom in Building B in January. “When someone walks into a showroom, they immediately get what Four Hands is about,” with floor-to-ceiling merchandising, audio playlists and more for an “immersive experience,” said Josh Jarboe, vice president of sales.

Four Hands
Four Hands had delved into the wallpaper category, which is made at its art studio.

The company also planned to soon release its new website, which will also be mobile friendly. It wanted the new website to be like a good B2C type of experience, “because that’s how consumers shop,” said Jarboe.

Looking ahead, the company also shared which trends its sees as important for 2024:

Mixed Era: The resurgence in antiques and vintage is influencing design, and includes reimagining classic designs, Dunn said. It also includes “Future Heirloom,” where items are meant to be passed down and last a long time.

Gather: This “is one of the more important stories we’re launching,” as people are doing more at home, such as working at home. That includes washable and antimicrobial fabrics and flexible seating that can move around, said Dunn.

Source: Materials are central to Four Hands’ design and now “we’re begin more proactive with sustainable materials,” through partnerships with small artisans, ethical sourcing and certified organic material, among others, said Dunn. That includes using more mango wood, for example, which has a good sustainable story and is extremely fast growing, said Dunn, but has a lower perceived value and “is a little ugly.” The company is working on new finishes for mango wood to make it more attractive.

Hero: This trend focuses on aspirational design that is high end and unique and includes the Thomas Bina and Van Thiel collections. “Customers are still spending,” especially if the value is there, said Dunn.

Outdoor: In the U.S., new builds are allocating more space to the outdoors, and new spaces inside that are transition to outdoor spaces. So the company will continue to build that category up as well.

See also:

See what’s coming at High Point Market

F0ur Hands highlights carbon neutral leather, debuts 325 items for Vegas

Four Hands’ foray deep into art

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