Erinn Valencich exudes a California cool: natural, approachable, casual. And that vibe comes through in Erinn V. x Universal, a 45-piece collection that debuted at the High Point Market April 2-6.
“I wanted a California cool that doesn’t feel coastal,” says Valencich, who lives in Santa Barbara, California, and has Erinn V. Design Group offices in Los Angeles. “A lot of these pieces have a French Moderne element to them. Some have a little bit of a Japanese influence or a little Art Deco. But throughout, you see gorgeous finishes and details.”
The collection of case goods and upholstery includes living room, dining room, bedroom and home office, or what Universal Furniture calls Work From Home, but Valencich designed the pieces to be multifunctional: dining tables that can serve as a focal point in a foyer; cabinets that can be a buffet in a dining room or a stylish storage in a bedroom. Clustered side tables can be gathered in front of a sofa or pulled apart when entertaining. A beveled-edge, large-scale mirror that floats in its frame greeted visitors to the Universal showroom. It provides reflection and light, but acts as an art piece, too.
“My goal whenever I design furniture is that it can go in a modern home and will warm it up or it can go in a more traditional home and modernize it,” she says. “I like pieces to look very sleek from afar and then as you approach, you and discover the texture and the little details that make is special.”
Finishes and fine details
A hallmark of the collection is its details and wide variety of finishes — 20, Universal notes — and the most the company has done. Some are weathered or wire brushed, but there’s also white lacquer, silver leaf and black chrome.
She kept the hues neutral, avoiding any colors with undertones that were too blue or red. “Even the gray is a more brown gray than a blue gray. And there are no rich yellows or reds. I’m anti-red,” she says with a laugh. “I want furniture to blend into any surroundings.”
When designing the collection, functional details were important to Valencich, too. Not just things like touch-latch doors on case goods but also the weight of dining chairs. “I don’t want them to be too heavy. We need them to be easy to move,” she says. “And I want everything to sit well.”
“The collection is a bit of a departure from what you normally see from Universal,” says Neil MacKenzie, vice president of marketing for the High Point-based company. “Its striking shapes are novel and its palette of finishes and materials is broader than any collection we’ve ever created.”
Though developed with the interior designer in mind, MacKenzie says he also expects the collection to open new retail doors for the company. “I think certain retail operations that may not have considered Universal for certain products before will see this and think, ‘Wow!’ and that will then expose them to our other collections and capabilities.”
A chic Barbie house
Valencich has been designing custom furniture for her clients for about 20 years, having grown up hanging out in her grandfather’s woodshop in Northern California. “I was literally making Barbie sofas out of scrap wood,” she says. “My Barbie had a very chic house.”
She opened her own interior design firm at age 24 and started designing furniture for clients, manufacturing the custom pieces in Los Angeles. She says her product development process with the Universal team — from curating the inspirational images to sketching the initial designs to choosing finishes and giving final approval — was similar to the process she follows for her own custom furniture.
Valencich was attracted to the partnership with Universal, in part, because she was impressed with their showroom displays on an early visit. “And then there was the quality of the product for their price point,” she says. “It’s a great complement to my super high-end, made-to-order pieces. I wanted to offer my style to a wider audience and, frankly, I wanted to have great pieces to put into my own projects because not every client can afford a custom piece.”
The collection is expected to ship in the first quarter of 2023.
Her favorite piece: The coffee table.
Her pro tip for retailers: “The key to displaying is to keep your fabric choices fairly neutral but with heavy texture. That offers the maximum flexibility to the end customer. We layered in a lot of finishes on the case goods that give you a pop and beautiful shapes on the upholstery so you can keep a simple cover and it’s still going to be special. I think showing the collection with a highly textured rug is very chic and you can up your game with white accessories and oversized black and white photograph.”