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Gay CEO on a Christian Loveseat

Furniture mogul Mitchell Gold eschews glitzy Democratic confabs for coffee talk with evangelicals

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Gold’s chief advantage, Blankenhorn added, is his sheer approachability. “Maybe it’s because he’s in business and has to have relationships with his customers,” Blankenhorn added. “He’s a salesman.”

***

Taylorsville, where Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams is headquartered, is tucked away in hills dominated by church steeples above and emerald mines below. The steep driveway down to the 600,000-square-foot factory carries the cutesy postal address “One Comfortable Place.” The front door to the corporate offices is less noticeable than the off-kilter yellow schoolhouse façade that marks the entrance to the company’s on-site daycare center. (When I visited earlier this summer, tall stalks of corn planted by the children were being inspected by a groundskeeper with a full ZZ Top beard.) “We are in the country, my dear,” Gold told me. “At first I was like, oh my god, it’s like Deliverance.”

Gold, who grew up in the suburbs of Trenton, N.J., wound up in the South by accident. His mother, a schoolteacher, wanted him to be a lawyer, but when he graduated from Long Island University in 1974 with a degree in history, one of his professors set him up with an interview at Bloomingdale’s. “He said, ‘You don’t want to be a lawyer. Lawyers are such boring people, you belong in retail,’ ” Gold recounted. “So, I thought, ‘OK, I’ll go check it out.’ ”

He got an entry-level job with the department store and spent six years working his way up to furniture buyer, before leaving to work for one of his clients, Lane Furniture. By the mid-1980s, Gold was handling national accounts like JCPenney and Sears, but when Penney’s relocated to Plano, Texas, Lane’s president, Arthur Thompson, asked Gold to move to Lane’s headquarters outside Lynchburg, Va. One night, Gold, who didn’t know anyone in the area, decided to look for the gay bar in town. “I finally found a gay hotline in the blue pages and said, ‘I just moved here from New York, I’m in Lynchburg, there must be somewhere I can go,’ ” Gold said. “And the guy says, ‘Lynchburg is the headquarters of Jerry Falwell. There’s nothing.’ ”

After a year in Lynchburg, Gold moved to Hickory, N.C., which, he says, felt “like moving to Paris.” Lane had promoted him, and Gold asked Bob Williams, a graphic designer for Seventeen whom he had started dating in New York, to join him. “I grew up in Texas,” Williams told me over lunch with Gold at the company commissary, Cafe Lulu, named after their late English bulldog, “so it was almost like moving back home.”

At the time, the fastest-growing segment of Lane’s business was its upholstered dining furniture. “Rich people had fully upholstered chairs that designer showrooms made,” Gold recalled. “Lane had this division making them in 50 or a hundred fabrics, and they were better priced than the ones in the designer showrooms, and it was a cheap business to get into.” Gold decided they should start their own company and convinced Williams, who had trained at Parsons School of Design, to take on the design side. “He helped me pick some fabrics, and then it was like, ‘OK, let’s put the fabric on these chairs, and let’s get a showroom,’ ” Williams said. “I’d never done any of these things before.”

They incorporated in April 1989 as Mitchell Gold’s DesignLine. (Williams’ name was added in 2005, to cement their professional partnership after they split as a couple.) The new company began selling to JCPenney, Levitz, and Crate & Barrel, which was just beginning to move from housewares into furniture. “We sold 5,000 chairs before we even started manufacturing,” Gold told me. “We put on these beautiful florals, velvets. I would have put five different shades of beige, but Bob brought a wow factor to it.”

Gold and Williams hit the market just as home retailers were looking to capitalize on a phenomenon started by chain clothing retailers like the Gap: the casual buyer. “Mitchell was the first person to think about selling upholstery as an impulse item,” Glen Senk, the CEO of jeweler David Yurman, told me. When Gold and Williams were starting out, Senk was at Williams-Sonoma, where he was charged with reinventing their Pottery Barn brand, and Gold convinced him to try selling sofas. “It was a white slipcovered sofa, and we shot it in my apartment,” Senk said. “And I remember waking up the morning after the catalog broke and everything had changed.” The sofa led to a leather club chair, modeled on a Parisian flea-market find but more generously proportioned for suburban American spaces. It became one of Pottery Barn’s iconic products. “We didn’t invent slipcovers,” Gold said. “But Bob had this idea to tailor it and make it different sizes to fit with different homes.”

As the company grew, Gold—who had been student body president in college—began to get actively involved in politics. “Bill Clinton gets elected, and he says gays should be in the military, and next thing there’s this whole push back against it,” Gold told me. “Living here, when you hear the preachers talking, and the local news, it’s not quite what people up north are hearing.” By 1998, he had joined the national board of the Human Rights Campaign, while Williams volunteered for the Equality North Carolina board. The pair also started running ads featuring male couples with babies and children and teased the fall 2000 collection with the line, “We’re coming out September 15th.”

As they expanded—today, the company employs more than 600 people—employees would sometimes approach Williams and Gold with questions. “They’d say, ‘You’re gay, and my preacher said this or that,’ ” Gold said. “There were people who did not understand it.” Gold also began to get questions from people who needed support coming out: employees, friends, and sometimes strangers who were terrified of being ostracized not just by their families, but by their communities, people for whom the idea of leaving for New York or even nearby Charlotte felt like rejection rather than freedom.

As a teenager, Gold was privately wracked by anxiety over his sexuality. He knew he was a minority as a Jew and occasionally encountered mild anti-Semitism, but that never made him feel bad. “On the contrary,” Gold told me. “Because what I was learning in synagogue was that we were the chosen people.” But he heard his parents making fun of “the feygeles” and decided there was something wrong with him. “It was an enormous fear,” Gold said. He worried that his parents would send him for shock therapy—homosexuality was categorized as a mental disorder until 1973, when Gold was 22—and that he would never be able to get a job, let alone fall in love and have a family of his own. “It was torture, as a high-school kid, figuring out how I was going to act so no one knows, so that no one catches me,” Gold went on. He struggled with depression in high school and contemplated suicide.

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PhillipNagle says:

Based on the reaction of the homosexual lobby to Chick-fil-a, I assume Catholics, Evangelicals and Orthodox Jews should organize a boycott against Mr. Gold’s company. He is fortunate they are much more tolerant of those who oppose their views than the homosexual groups.

surfer_dad says:

Why shouldn’t they be more tolerant?
There is a fundamental difference between the two POVs. As a hetero you can DO anything you want, if you’re not gay, knock yourself out – nobody cares. People who oppose rights for gays are opposing what OTHER people’s rights are, what OTHERS are allowed to do.
People who are FOR gay rights just want to allow free American adults who happen to sleep with people of the same sex to to have the same rights as those that sleep with those of the opposite sex. Not more rights, not take AWAY rights from heteros, just gain the same rights. Fundamentally this is more tolerant. And even if you “oppose” gay rights, most people understand it’s a personal issue and not a political one (even if it gets manifested in a collective political one like in NC).

MichaelSklaroff says:

“Homosexual lobby” sounds like where you check in to a Provincetown hotel. Most Catholics, Evangelicals and Orthodox Jews have more important things to do than boycotting businesses that support equal rights under the law. People of all religious persuasions organized against a company that was vocal in its efforts to demean and isolate a particular segment of the population based on what consenting adults do in private. This rubs a lot Catholics, Evangelicals, and Orthodox Jews the wrong way as well.

There is some interesting and good research suggesting that the more voices and more diverse the voices in a polity the better lifestyles everyone has, eg, living longer, better infant mortality, etc. – The Logic of Political Survival. http://www.amazon.com/Logic-Political-Survival-Bruce-Mesquita/dp/0262025469

The bigger the “tent” the better for everyone under it. Now, of course, some in-groups use ideology/religion/moralizing to dehumanize people outside their group and try to keep them out of the tent — because “they are really human beings, like us!” It’s easiest to dehumanize others when there is something different about them to point to: skin color, food preferences, dress, gender choices, language, etc.

It is a psychiatric matter of brain processes why some folks fight expanding the tent by demonizing others. It is not a matter of facts, logic or even morality. Just the in-group attacking people outside — while claiming their “god” and supernatural forces justify the attacks.

It’s not just that religious folks exclude and demonize/dehumanize outsiders — they hate them. Passionately. Jewish folks have lived with this kind of pathology for centuries.

PhillipNagle says:

People who support the traditional definition of marriage are taking anyone’s rights away. My personal view is that the government should get out of the marriage business and let people recognize marriage based on their own beliefs. That being said, the narrow minded bigots who would boycott a business because they don’t like the owner’s view of homosexual marriage, are beneath contempt. Those who oppose homosexual marriage but do not try to punish those who oppose is are the ones on the moral high ground.

PhillipNagle says:

The owner of Chick-fil-a (no one accused the company of doing anything but selling chicken) did not “demean and isolate”, he fought, and quite successfully based on referenda that have been held, to preserve the traditional definition of marriage. The narrow minded bigots of the homosexual lobby want to quash any actiont that opposes their agenda. They are enemies of free speech.

MichaelSklaroff says:

Well, you do raise a point about the efficacy and validity of economic boycotts. But surely you don’t want to infringe on the public’s right to spend their dollars where they so desire? Just as I don’t have any problem with Mr. Chick-fil-A saying whatever he wants. And if the effect of what he proposes is to isolate and demean a segment of the population, so be it. Let him advocate this proudly.

I do agree with you, Phil, about the government getting out of the marriage business. This legal and economic arrangement is better off left alone. Do you think that limiting marriage legally only to members of the opposite sex is within the government’s right under the U.S. Constitution?

surfer_dad says:

Huh? So in your book it’s ok for someone to oppose someone else having equal rights, but it’s not MY right to not shop there? What kind of logic is that?
Your missing the big picture. Nobody (most people anyway) cares what any individual FEELS or BELIEVES. When an owner goes out of their way to SAY what they think, or to put their money where their views are, that opens the floodgate to reciprocate. I do not and will not spend my dollars at companies who go out of their way – either as a company or the owners individually – to give to causes I don’t agree with. What’s wrong with that? They have a right, but so do I!

“Those who oppose homosexual marriage but do not try to punish those who oppose is are the ones on the moral high ground.”
Even by your twisted logic, why are they “higher” than those who believe in homosexual marriage but do not try to “punish” others??
It goes both ways, doesn’t it?

PhillipNagle says:

First there is some question whether those who want to redefine marriage are fighting for “equal rights”. I, and from what we have seen in referendum after referendum, a majority of the population reject that premis. It is our contention that you are wrapping your wish for homosexual marriage in words that do not apply. Second, your refusal to respect other people having a different point of view is narrow minded, Finally, as this article shows, you would be outraged if people who opposed your point tried economic boycotts, you yourself find nothing wrong with petty facists who iniciated, with terrible results, the Chick-fil-a boycott.

surfer_dad says:

“outraged if people who opposed your point tried economic boycotts, ”
Me? I would be? How do you know that?It happens all the time, everyday. More power to them.

At the time of the end of slavery, end of Jim Crow laws, voting rights for women, at all those moments the majority of the “population” would have rejected those notions too. So what? I’m entitled to my POV, them theirs. I’m entitled to boycotting their establishments, their entitled to boycott mine.
Equal rights means every person doing what they want with other people. If you feel differently for whatever reason, fine. If you feel strongly enough to support with rhetoric or $ the opposing view, it is my DUTY to not support you. It really isn’t hard.

“So in your book it’s ok for someone to oppose someone else having equal rights”

Which right or rights are you speaking about specifically? The right to____________.

Please be specific so that the conversation can move forward reasonably and perhaps with more clarity.

“Your missing the big picture. Nobody (most people anyway) cares what any
individual FEELS or BELIEVES. When an owner goes out of their way to
SAY what they think, or to put their money where their views are, that
opens the floodgate to reciprocate.”

YOU are missing the big picture. Define reciprocate. The most recent case was a fairly radical escalation that went back and forth. If you want to evaluate who held the moral high ground in the end, then go for it but don’t try to use weasel words and vague moral equivalence arguments by leaving out all of the details. You want to go there? Fine.

“I do not and will not spend my dollars at companies who go out of their
way – either as a company or the owners individually – to give to causes
I don’t agree with. What’s wrong with that? They have a right, but so
do I!”

Nobody opposes your choices as described by you. What are you talking about? What rights of yours have been impeded in any way? Please be detailed. Don’t simply expect anyone to just take your vague claims of victimhood as proved when you haven’t even described anything specific. Your right to shop? Your right to speak? When were these rights violated?

Please explain yourself.

“Those who oppose homosexual marriage but do not try to punish those who oppose is are the ones on the moral high ground.”
Even
by your twisted logic, why are they “higher” than those who believe in
homosexual marriage but do not try to “punish” others??
It goes both ways, doesn’t it?”

Marriage without children is purely narcissistic. Civilizations have a stake in their future citizens. Raising children by their natural parents is the ideal. Historically the government has taken the position that this benefit is (while also rooted in tradition and many religions as well) clearly extended beyond one’s personal beliefs about sexual morality. Basically we as a people have noticed that when children may come forth at any time, we have an interest in incentivizing stability for those children.

It’s not about rewarding or putting anyone’s sexuality on a pedestal. It’s about the future and best interests of the children.

In my opinion, it is the narcissistic heterosexuals who came to see marriage as a blessing from the state and society rather than as what I described. This created a sense of arrogance among the less thoughtful of them.

This however does not provide a basis for what some call “equal rights” of marriage. All people have equal rights to marry already. If you marry anyone of the opposite gender, the fact that in theory you might bring children in to the world entitles you to described your relationship as a marriage.

Your vision of equality might be skewed by narcissism. It is nobody’s business who you have sex with until you have children who need to know who their parents are, and ideally they need to have maximum quality relationships with them. It’s about the children. Get over it.

Now the bigotry against homosexuals, the insults and attacks are often wrong. Obviously all laws should be respected, and those who consider themselves Christians should revisit how they are supposed to treat people.

Having said that, I don’t really know what the overall trends are because I don’t personally witness these things myself and with the media reporting events, this only gives us examples, but not accurate statistics.

Generally, people are angry today because they don’t know how to have rational, reasonable conversations. They speak before they are prepared with facts and informed opinions.

I have absolutely no problem with advocates of “homosexual rights” because even if all of these claims are exaggerated, they are still victims of the perceived threats they’ve been indoctrinated to fear. Based on the poor understanding of the issues on all sides, I’d say that Mr. Gold is doing a very good thing.

I totally empathize with his feelings and the fear anyone feels about these real or perceived threats. We need to think a lot more before we speak and then have these conversations calmly. Don’t quote the Bible to someone who doesn’t believe in it, and if you do quote it, make sure you have a firm basis. Don’t just repeat an opinion you can’t fully defend.

“Well, you do raise a point about the efficacy and validity of economic
boycotts. But surely you don’t want to infringe on the public’s right
to spend their dollars where they so desire?”

Your discussing non-salient points. Boycott anything you want. Don’t argue for supposed rights while breaking the law. When you use vicious rhetoric to attack law-abiding people, expect vicious rhetoric in reply, but don’t then fall back on your right to boycott or shop where you want. You may label it as such, but it’s not about that. It’s about the escalations beyond the so-called boycott.

Why do you use that label? I’d like an explanation. It’s so typical of why people simply talk past each other. The technique is to use non-salients to distract from the issue you wish to hide from. People do it without conscious thought because it’s so common.

“Just as I don’t have any problem with Mr. Chick-fil-A saying whatever he
wants.”

Great.

“And if the effect of what he proposes is to isolate and demean a
segment of the population, so be it. Let him advocate this proudly.”

Isolate and demean? You haven’t made your case. That is the most salient point; what did he really do that justified fascist attacks on his property? How do you defend fascist picket lines by simply referring to these acts as any old “boycott” or “choice” to buy or not buy what you want? It’s really just about your choice of what to buy? Of course not. Get real if you want to be taken seriously.

MichaelSklaroff says:

PhillipNagle raised the point about boycotting, and I referred to it. I don’t understand what you mean by “Your [sic] raising non-salient points.”

And really, nothing I said qualifies as “vicious rhetoric to attack law-abiding people.” I’d venture to say, from the tone of his posts, that PhillipNagle himself wouldn’t agree with you about that characterization.

What escalations are you talking about? Forgive me if I missed some heinous behavior on the part of disgruntled gay-marriage supporters. I don’t agree with it, if they broke the law. I do support non-violent political action and protest. [I'm not sure why picket lines are fascist. They've typically been labelled socialist or communist.]

I’m not sure – and I don’t want to put words in your mouth – but it sounds as if you don’t want one human to be able to legally marry – and receive all rights, protections and responsibilities that come along with that – another of the same sex. If the portion of the population that is homosexual is roughly 10%, society would be imposing these restrictions on a relatively small number of the populace. I view this as isolating and demeaning. Do you have a better way to characterize this unequal treatment?

Civil rights and equal treatment are not subject to a vote. They’re cornerstones of our political system. Separate but equal won’t fly. If you wan’t the government out of the marriage business, that’s one thing. But allowing one group of consenting adults to do this but not another isn’t justifiable. [Forgive me if this is not your position.]

Lastly, I am real, Chris. I really am. As a matter of fact, I’m realer than you. I just looked in the mirror and I proved to myself that I’m real. I pinched myself as well, and it hurt, so I know I’m real. I have no proof that you’re real, none whatsoever. Are you for real, Chris? Are you?

surfer_dad says:

The discussion of a “right” to boycott were SPECIFICALLY towards PhillipNagle — he seems to have a problem with boycotts, I don’t. I think it is a moral imperative to not shop at businesses that I don’t agree with, either from an anti-semitic or environmental or even a rights POV. It’s rhetorical.

“Reciprocate?” Again – to PN. Read the entire conversation before butting in with nonsensical questions.

Now, the semantics of “marriage?” You can go fight the semantics police if you want to take up that issue. To me, if a group of adults want to define their relationship as a marriage, great! This is the issue that it all comes down to. I believe in fighting for the rights of people to do what they want even if (especially if?) it infringes on the FEELINGS on others. Since when do we define marriage in terms of children anymore – far too many have children without marriage, many are married without kids – but many gay couples I know DO have kids. Do we not allow hetero couples to have kids if they need someone else’s sperm to conceive – an egg donor? Adopt? Why is it ANY different if a gay couple adopts or only one is a biological parent?

Sorry, but that is the fundamental issue – the fact that they want to do it is enough for me. I won’t knowingly support those that don’t especially for what I perceive as reasons not based on logic or science.

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Gay CEO on a Christian Loveseat

Furniture mogul Mitchell Gold eschews glitzy Democratic confabs for coffee talk with evangelicals