How Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams Came to Town

Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams at 2014 opening of their Leawood, Kansas store. Photo: John Long

After seeing the ads in men’s lifestyle magazines many years ago that featured half-naked men lounging on stunning Mitchell Gold +Bob Williams furniture, I was excited to go to the grand opening party in June for their new signature store in Leawood. No half-naked men, but still a lovely evening at the beautiful new furniture store in the Town Center Crossing.

Gold and Williams, the creators of these signature stores, were there, as was their good friend Chely Wright, the founder of Kansas City’s LIKEME Lighthouse. Gold and Williams presented a $5,000 check to Wright for the LIKEME Lighthouse.

Gold said his friendship with Wright goes back six years.

“She contacted me because she got a copy of my book, Crisis, and it really resonated with her,” Gold said. “And when she read it, she said, ‘He’s talking about me.’ So we met and talked, and this was an early stage for her in coming out. I had a lot of contacts, so I actually introduced her to many. One of the things that is important to her is her faith. I introduced her to a couple of the ministers I knew, and one became her adviser. She is such a delightful, wonderful person that we became friends.”

Gold said that once a store is located in a city, the company gets involved in the community through philanthropy, vetting groups and choosing those that they feel are responsible. He said the stores host at least three or four events every year and open their space to others for parties.

The LIKEME Lighthouse honored Mitchell Gold and his husband, Tim Gold, with its National Shine A Light Award in November 2014 during its annual Comedy Night at the Folly Theater.

Before the opening of the new store, which is the company’s 22nd in the United States, the nearest Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams store was in St. Louis. The company plans to open three more U.S. stores this year, and it also has stores in Mexico City, Montreal, Toronto and Puerto Rico.

I planned to interview both Gold and Williams on the day of the grand opening, but the delayed arrival of their flight made it necessary to reschedule for a phone interview. I spoke only with Gold, because Bob Williams was ill that day.

The duo began creating home furnishings in 1989 with their company called DesignLine Ltd. It created “eclectic” dining tables and chairs with 23 employees. By 1995, they had renamed the store The Mitchell Gold Co. And as their book, Who We Are, states, that was also the year their English bulldog Lulu was born.

Lulu was soon to become an important namesake for the company. The owners say they create furniture fitting for dogs to enjoy as well as humans, and Lulu was shown in several of their ads. Later, they sold the company to Rowe Furniture, but they bought it back in 2003, and it developed into the stores we know today.

Lulu’s name was kept alive when the company opened the Lulu Child Enrichment Center in 1999 for the employees of their North Carolina factory. It was the first on-site, education-based, nonprofit day-care center of its kind in their line of business.

“We think it’s the right thing to do,” Gold said. “We think it’s good for business.”

The company also offers college scholarships as an employee incentive. In their book, they state the criteria: “To receive a scholarship, children of employees need only write us a letter explaining why they want to go to school. The letter must be grammatically correct, and the scholarship must be for a school that prohibits all discrimination, including against sexual orientation.”

I asked Gold why they chose the Kansas City area for their store.

“Why not Kansas City?” said Gold. “Well, frankly, we look for places with a population that has style sense and an income level. We look to have a good market site. There are some great headquarters of national companies there and higher income and education. Our customers are well-educated with good income. Kansas City has a lot of those people.”

Chely Wright, founder of the Kansas City LIKE ME Lighthouse LGBT center spoke at the opening of the Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams store in Leawood, Ks. Photo: John Long

Gold said they looked at several possible locations for the store in the Kansas City region, including the Plaza. The Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams staffer in charge of commercial real estate found the space in Leawood.

“Both Bob and I made a trip out to look at the space with the real estate people and looked at several real estate opportunities and knew this was the one,” he said.

“The other thing about the area where we are is that it can get people from hours away because it’s a great retail center,” he said.

Gold said that some people have the misconception that the company’s furniture is available in Crate & Barrel and other retail stores.

“In Kansas City and other cities, we only sell to our signature stores,” he said. “Our store is the only place you can buy our furniture in Kansas City.”

Gold said that many people are more familiar with the company’s upholstered furniture because that is what it’s been doing for 25 years and what it continues to manufacture in North Carolina. But in addition, he said, “For more than 10 years, we’ve been making bedroom, dining room, living room tables and all the accessories. Everything you see in the store is basically for sale. Bob has a team of designers that he works with. Everything from the bedrooms, to the rugs, tables, lamps and everything. The non-upholstery things -- we have contracts with factories that make these for us.”

Gold has been married to Tim Gold for five years, and Williams’ partner is Stephen Heavner.

Gold said, “He [Tim] is really brilliant and funny and handsome, and he is a great husband and supports me in many ways, emotionally and in enabling me to have a great life. I feel very lucky.”

People often think that Gold and Williams are a couple, Gold said. And in fact, they were together in the early days for 14 years.

“We really do love and respect each other and are committed to stay good friends and business partners,” Gold said. “I consider myself one of the luckiest people in the world … [for"] finding a great partner who is a brilliant designer and a really nice, wonderful human being. And he and I have this incredible synergy about the way we want to do business, from the design of the products to how we want to treat the people who work for us. Bob has said the same thing. We both really consider ourselves incredibly lucky that we found each other and started a business together.”

The two have both business and creative backgrounds.

“Bob was a graphic artist for Seventeen magazine, and then he worked at an ad agency as a creative director. I worked for a furniture manufacturer in sales and marketing, and before that, I worked as a furniture buyer at Bloomingdale’s,” Gold said.

“This business is our baby. We employ over 800 people, and we feel we have a responsibility to them to keep this business thriving.”

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