Phillip Jeffries Ltd. opened its newest showroom during Discover ADAC. The brothers Philip and Jeffrey Bershad are the president and CEO of the family-run business and are making wallpaper sexy again.
The brothers are following a 41-year tradition of innovation by using technology to craft one-of-a-kind textures seen in the homes of everyone from soccer great David Beckham to fashion houses Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton.
Originally from Chicago, Philip spoke with the AJT about wall coverings and the shift from a garage in Lincoln Park to ADAC.
AJT: How did you get into the wallpaper business?
Bershad: Phillip Jeffries started 41 years ago with my dad in our garage. He started with 10 grass papers or grass cloths. Think of early ’70s, mid-“Mad Men”-esque: The naturals were totally huge.
AJT: So when did you decide to get into the business?
Bershad: I’m the Philip, and my brother is the Jeffrey. I was the kid in the back, cutting samples or sweeping the floors, and eventually worked in the warehouse. Jeffrey and I both went away to school. I went to Michigan, and he went to Duke, and we both got jobs in corporate America. But even as little kids we had the lemonade stand and always wanted to start our own business or create something. Every Saturday morning in Lincoln Park, we’d go to the Salt & Pepper Diner, and we’d say, “What are we going to do one day?”
Well, one day Jeffrey says he remembers I said, “When is one day going to be today?”
I was 27, and we took that chance. I was working as a trader for a Fortune 500 company and took an 80 percent pay cut. At the time, it was Mom doing the books, and there was Dad. My wife told me I was crazy, and now, 17 years later, we’ve gone from eight people to 118 people.
AJT: What has been your driving force behind the business?
Bershad: Our vision is by simply doing wallpaper and rugs and wall coverings and fabrics, we want to be the world’s best when it comes to great textures and great wall coverings. From these grass coverings woven by hand or the Japanese woven papers to authentic gold and silver leaf to artisanal, handcrafted papers.
AJT: What are some of the trends you’re seeing in wall coverings, and how do you stay on top of what’s in?
Bershad: We have a team of nine designers and we’re always focused on coming up with something new and innovative. We work with three trend-forecasting groups too, so it’s not just looking at what’s hot today, but what’s going to be on trend two to three years out. Some are more home-design-based, and some are more fashion-based like Chanel. Sometimes it’s us taking natural materials and evolving them in a unique way, like taking a natural raffia and hand-glazing it so you get a really cool lacquer. What we do is create incredible textures and make them easy to install.
AJT: So what are some of the textures you create?
Bershad: Well, we’ve done something really cool and taken some of our textures and gone digital by digitally printing murals on our wall coverings. We’ve taken a classical pattern like a mulberry tree, blown it up and printed on everything from silks to metallics. We use special printers that can print on grass or weave that gives it a more artisanal look. It’s like taking modern technology and introducing it in a new, cool way.
AJT: So what kind of people would buy your wall coverings?
Bershad: We’re everywhere from Elton John’s house to David Beckham’s house to the Four Seasons. We did 37 Louis Vuitton stores in the last couple of years, and we’ve done five Dior stores in the last couple of months.
AJT: How did you go from your dad’s garage to Dior?
Bershad: You had all these wallpaper stores everywhere, and Dad used to be the name behind the name. So any time a company had a natural grass cloth, a lot of times it was Dad. So what happened in the early ’90s when times got tough and wallpaper wasn’t hot, seven of his 11 distributors went bankrupt. He said, “What am I going to do?” It was a really tough year. He was depressed and down, and I almost had to leave school in Michigan. I called him one day from a phone booth, and he was excited. He said, “No more middleman. I’m going to go direct.” He said, “I have a dream to go direct to the designers and create incredible textures, and I’m going to call it Phillip Jeffries.”
AJT: What’s your secret to success and longevity?
Bershad: For a while, we weren’t growing, but we made it through. When my brother and I finally came on board, we worked hard to make an innovative product. So a lot of times, where it takes most companies one week, two weeks, 10 weeks to deliver 80 percent of our line, you can buy it today by 5 p.m. and have it tomorrow. We stock over a million yards in this exotic place called New Jersey.