Everything in its Place

Meg Brown Home Furnishings offers pearls of wisdom in choosing and arranging furniture

By Nancy Oakley

We’ve all been there. You dream of the perfect room, certain that the image conjured in your mind’s eye will materialize as you imagined it, or as it looked on the Pinterest post you so admired — only to discover the sofa doesn’t fit. Or the upholstery doesn’t quite complement the rug. Or that groovy piece of pottery you just had to buy from a flea market seems, well, off. What to do?

Well, you might stop at a place like Meg Brown Home Furnishings in Advance, where owners Meg and Davin Brown, and their in-house designer, Hannah Wood, can offer some advice. “There are so many things, so many pitfalls that we can help you avoid if we talk to you, so many things we can educate you about in the store,” says Davin, whose family has deep roots in the furniture business. “We troubleshoot and ask lots of questions,” adds his wife, Meg, a designer and the store’s namesake.

They built the 10,000-square-foot space 12 years ago on an empty lot just a stone’s throw from Bermuda Run, which, Meg explains, “felt right.” At the time they were looking to tap into a younger demographic: 30- to 45-year-olds busy raising families. “We tried to be a lot more hip. Didn’t have the older stuff. But we found that older people in their 60s and 70s didn’t want the traditional anymore,” Davin says. And, let’s face it, older customers, especially those with kids out of the house, have more motivation and cash to spend on furniture and furnishings. “We got lucky that we appealed to both,” Davin continues.

Their inventory is far-reaching but consists mainly of upholstered furniture, with a healthy supply of case goods (pieces with hard surfaces such as tables, end tables, bookcases and so forth), rugs and various accents, from lamps to decorative pieces. Their merchandise is artfully arranged in roomlike scenarios by Wood (“a fun job,” she says). Though it speaks to current sensibilities, there is one bit of tradition you’ll find here: good old-fashioned, face-to-face customer service. “Right now we really don’t want to sell online,” says Davin. “If you just look at a picture on our website and click it, you don’t know if that wood’s distressed. If you touch it, feel it, sit in it, know it’s comfortable, it’s just a lot easier to get it right.”

Buying furniture in person also minimizes returns on sales. And as Meg and Wood, whose other responsibility is in-home consultations, allow, you can pinpoint the dimensions of the pieces so that they’ll fit your space.

What are some of designers’ considerations when walking customers through the buying process?

“How are you going to live in your space?” Meg posits. As parents of two boys, 11 and 14, she and Davin know firsthand that a family with young children is going to use a space differently from a retired couple. “You’re going to want to pick upholstery and pieces that are comfortable, durable, things that are going to last a little bit longer,” she says. “Cleanable,” Davin chimes in, adding that high-performance fabrics are popular among their clientele, who’ve done their research before entering the store.

Traffic patterns, says Meg, also figure into the equation. “Is this room going to be just for conversations? Is this going to be a TV-watching room?” she’ll often ask. “It’s so personal!” Wood emphasizes. “They’ll be living there, not me!”

Meg suggests that one start by editing existing pieces. “I’m not saying throw everything out,” she clarifies. Otherwise, your home might start to look like a showroom. She suggests combining old and new, to give a space a layered look and personality. And since you’re more likely to keep those case goods for a while, refresh them with new upholstery. As for the “edited” pieces? They don’t have to go into a box in the attic. Meg says you can arrange them in “collections,” in a single area, rather than scattered throughout, so they aren’t lost. “Not everything has to be on show,” she adds. “You can have a little shrine. I like that people build a spot in their closet that means only something to them.” (She keeps her race medals and trophies from running in a special place in her own closet, believing “not everyone needs to see that junk.”)

And what about finding that sofa to fit your space? Again, it goes back to how you intend to use it. Age, says, Meg, is a factor. “Are you just going to have friends over and you just want to sort of flop into it? Some people have health needs, where they need to sit up and don’t need to be super slouched back.” These concerns may seem obvious, but they can affect whether you buy a couch that’s 40 inches in depth, for slouchy comfort, or 38 inches, if you need something firmer, to sit upright. And the dimensions can also affect how intimate the space is. “People are wanting a sense of connection,” says Meg. “They’re feeling a little bit out of control and the world is going around really, really fast. But people are wanting some intimacy and they’re wanting to reconnect.” Best, then, to bring sofas and chairs toward the center of a room, rather than around its periphery, which is a natural tendency for novices.

To pull everything together, Meg maintains that art is a great option. “You just kind of need to find a focal point in your room,” she says, and that can be an original piece of art, something that’s been in the family for a while or maybe just a stock piece of art. That can be a bit of a challenge, in this day and age of open floor plans, which produce multiple focal points — fireplaces, televisions and kitchen islands — not to mention a dearth of floor plugs for lamps (Meg’s and Wood’s preferred way to light and soften a room, rather than using the glare of overhead lighting). Otherwise, you can unify a space by choosing metallics in some of the case goods — and don’t be afraid to mix tones. That old rule of separating gold from silver is a thing of the past. “You can do it,” Meg asserts, pointing to two attractive lamp bases in the contrasting colors. “Rules were meant to be broken,” she says.

Last but not least in achieving a harmonious setting are rugs. With hardwood floors being more popular, wall-to-wall carpet isn’t as common as it once was. So how to choose an area rug? “You need to have a rug that’s at least 8-by-10 minimum with upholstery,” says Meg. For a cohesive look, Wood advises tucking it under the sofa “at least halfway.” If they’re placed in front of the sofa, she says, “they’re sort of floating and they look so small.” As with upholstery, cleaning is a big factor. Meg says that wool is still easiest to clean, with a combination of wool and viscose being another good option (but avoid an all-viscose rug, which is harder to clean). Nylon is less expensive, especially for families with young children, but Meg feels its look isn’t as “luxurious.” And what about the trend toward seagrass, sisal and jute? “I love them. I think they are always in style. It’s a designer look,” Meg enthuses. But here again, cleaning is a challenge: They require a powder, and inevitably when they come in contact with water, they acquire brown spots. “They’re disposable rugs. If you’re planning to do a seagrass or sisal, you’re going to have to plan on getting rid of it in two years,” she says, casting a knowing look toward Davin. “We did it, remember?” she asks. “It’s uncomfortable,” he replies with a grimace. “Especially for kids crawling around and playing. It hurts.” But, “It’s good for cats!” Meg offers.

It’s this kind of personal interaction you’ll find at Meg Brown Home Furnishings, “a small furniture store,” Meg says, compared to many. “I feel like we have a wide array of what’s out there,” she says. Larger stores, as Davin observes, might overwhelm some customers with their wealth of choices. The Browns’ potential customers “can shop at a 100,000-square-foot store” but ultimately, they predict, they’ll return here.

`“We’ve fine-tuned our assortment,” he says. “Curated it,” Meg adds. In other words, they’ve learned the art of editing.  OH

Info: Meg Brown Home Furnishings, 5491 U.S. Hwy 158, Advance; (336) 998-7277 or megbrown.com

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