The Finer Points with Elizabeth Brown
I hope you had a chance to acquaint yourself with my previous guests on The Finer Points and that you’ve been enjoying this behind-the-scenes look at a few of our industry faves! Today, I am thrilled to be sharing a conversation with a truly remarkable woman. Entrepreneur, CEO, wife, and mom, today’s guest is leading the charge at Viyet, an online destination for exceptional pre-owned designer furnishings that has been changing the game for luxury buyers across the nation. And what better time to highlight this remarkable woman and the Viyet team than during the holiday season? Scroll and shop, friends, scroll and shop!
Marie Flanigan: I’ve been catching up on your career and your many successes and it’s obvious that you come from an extremely strong ecommerce background. Can you share a little bit about what brought you to the Viyet team and why you are so passionate about the interiors industry?
Elizabeth Brown: It’s definitely been a winding path and it’s been an interesting one for me because I was a complete design outsider when I first joined the founding team at Viyet. I started my career in investment banking in NYC right out of college. I was working 90-hour weeks and feeling totally burned out! I realized that I wanted to do something that I could put my personal stamp on, and I wanted to put everything I’d learned to use building something new. I went back to school for my MBA and started thinking about where I wanted to go with my career and realized that I really wanted to start my own business.
My father was an entrepreneur and, growing up, I experienced how much passion he had for the business he built first-hand and loved the satisfaction he got from watching it grow. Alas, I’m also like my mother, who is extremely risk-averse, so I decided to venture out and get as much experience as possible. Once I saw how many new and interesting things were happening online, particularly in ecommerce, I decided it was the right time to join the group of frontrunners who were bringing all of these shoppers and luxury retailers together online for the very first time. I joined Lot18 following grad school and it was a really cool company – basically like a Guilt for wine and gourmet food. I had so much fun there and loved the business, but unfortunately, it didn’t work out as well as we hoped. I was recruited out of Lot18 into Poppin, which was my first taste of design with retail genius, Chris Burch. I had so much fun and gained a ton of experience but I could still feel that hunger to go out and work on something I could call my own.
Viyet was launched in 2013 by my two co-founders, Rachel Rodin and Louise Youngson-Klasfeld, who had the brilliant insight that people’s homes are filled with beautiful treasures that they have trouble selling when the time comes to redecorate. Viyet was founded to address that market need. I met them through a business school friend, we immediately fell in love, and I came on as CEO during the summer of 2013!
MF: As a designer, I applaud your team because I talk to clients every day about what they’re going to do with their house full of furniture, and they are often really high-end products. I feel like you’ve honed in on a brilliant niche in the market.
EB: That’s one of the first things designers told us when we were trying to get smart! Rachel and Louise had both worked with designers and heard time and time again that dealing with a client’s previous furniture was a massive problem. When you start a project, you want to be fully focused on the new design, figuring out how to make each space as beautiful as possible; it can be difficult to shoehorn someone’s old table into a beautiful new concept, so we’re always happy when we can partner with designers and help out in that respect.
MF: I loved seeing your apartment in AD – it’s gorgeous! How special is that wallpaper you sourced from your childhood home?! Could you share a little bit about your personal experience with that project and what the design process was like for you?
EB: Thank you! We were so lucky that my mom finally agreed to let us have that wallpaper – it took a lot of cajoling! As far as the process was concerned, everything I’m sure you tell your clients is totally true – take the budget number and amount of time you think it might take and multiply it by 3! When we first got into the home, it was awful! The guest bathroom was mauve (even the bath tub and the sinks) and the second bedroom was painted neon orange! We started thinking it would be a couple of cosmetic upgrades and, by the end of it, there wasn’t a single square inch we didn’t touch.
But it was all worth it in the end, and we had such a great time doing it, especially because I had the opportunity to live the Viyet experience first-hand. I sold all of the stuff from my old apartment and was scouring the new arrivals to find the best piece for every spot in our home – it was so much fun!
MF: I would love to hear about your favorite “new” furniture pieces sourced through Viyet.
EB: We worked with one of my close friends, Margaret Ash, who’s an interior designer and we fell in love with these French Deco dining chairs on 1st dibs but they were crazy expensive! They were $20k and the dealer wasn’t willing to negotiate, but we got really lucky because we found black lacquer Nella Vetrina Klismos chairs on Viyet that were absolutely gorgeous! The fabric needed some touching up but we got a set of 8 for $3,000, re-upholstered the seats , and now they’re a total statement piece that you see right when you walk through our door!
Our workhorse piece is definitely a classic Baker tight-back sofa! The bones were great but it was in terrible condition. It had been purchased over 10 years ago, so the fabric was horribly dated and sun-damaged, but we re-covered it in this gorgeous Holland & Sherry fabric and refinished the legs. It originally retailed for $6,000, we bought it for $600, put a little money into sprucing it up, and now it looks like a million bucks in our living room!
MF: I also love that light fixture above your dining room table – gorgeous!
EB: We love that too! That was actually from Margaret. My taste tends to lean a little more traditional but we wanted some youthful, unexpected touches that feel more modern. That fixture is from Matter and was one of Maggie’s strokes of genius!
MF: Something I noticed while perusing your website is that your team offers some exceptional one-of-a-kind pieces! For instance, the Andy Warhol Marilyn that recently sold! Obviously, you source these pieces, people send them to you and you’re even storing some of them. Can you talk about the challenges you face with sourcing and purchasing pre-owned furniture?
EB: We’ve been really fortunate in that there’s still such an unmet need in the market. So many people want to sell beautiful things but they don’t know where to turn. We’ve never even had to market to the supply side of our marketplace because we have such a wealth of inbound inventory! And a lot of that is a function of interior designers. We’re so grateful to have these strong relationships with designers who continue to refer us to clients at the start of a project.
That being said, we work to set a very high bar for what we accept on our site. We never want to be one of those second-hand marketplaces where you have to dig through 5 or 6 pieces of junk to find a treasure; we only want the treasures on our site. We’re happy to take pieces that have been well-loved as long as they still have good bones and quality craftsmanship that a new owner can restore and bring back to life. Another way we stay true to our quality standards when curating, is by accepting the majority of our consignments from trade-only manufacturers, like Holly Hunt and Henredon.
MF: You touched on this a little bit, but you’ve seen so much success since you launched in 2013. From the CEO perspective, what are 3 – 5 strategies that you guys have implemented that you believe have been the backbone to your success, besides offering an amazing product to the modern market?
EB: First and foremost, maintaining strict standards to ensure we’re only offering the best of the best and, because of that, we’ve been able to build strong relationships with interior designers as well as individuals. Our manufacturing clients know that whenever they list with us, they’re going to be featured alongside like-minded brands and other items exhibit a similar luxury quality. Beyond that, customer service is huge in this industry – everything is extremely high-touch. Even though these items are discounted or second-hand, they’re still luxury products and we want to be sure we have the customer service to match. Actually, half of our full-time staff is part of our service team working directly with our consigners and buyers to make sure they have the best possible experience. We also continue to invest in our relationships with the trade – interior designers are so important to our business. They’re both our outlet for supply and they’re also some of our most loyal buyers. They’re out there shopping every day and we want to be sure that we’re top of mind, and that we’re a valued resource when they start thinking about their next project.
MF: Well, I was shopping on the site this morning and whatever you’re doing is working! Before we go, do you have any tips for our readers on how to incorporate vintage designer furnishings into their home and how to go about starting that process?
EB: Looking to items that are relatively easy to “plug and play” – a coffee table, side table, or a really great accent chair- is a great way to start experimenting with designer furnishings! And the awesome thing about sites like Viyet, Chairish, or 1st dibs is that they make these luxury pieces so much more accessible without the sticker shock you might expect. It’s a great way for people who are furnishing their first home or just starting to develop an interest in design to experience high-quality pieces without breaking the bank. It’s really exciting that we can offer things like a Holly Hunt sofa at the same price you might pay for a new piece at Crate & Barrel or Restoration Hardware. I encourage people to go beyond the typical retailers and ecommerce destinations to hunt for something unique!
With that, I’d say it’s time to shop! Click here to see my favorite Viyet pieces and see below for a few holiday gift ideas that’ve got us in the spirit: