Midcentury designs get a second life at AREA modern home
By Quinn Dalton • Photographs by Bert VanderVeen
Step inside AREA modern home at 511 South Elm in Greensboro and you’ll feel you’ve finally found the home you always imagined was out there waiting for you.
In fact AREA’s clean-lined, midcentury vibe has been waiting for you since owner Mark Hewett opened it in 2000 — well before the South End, as this downtown neighborhood is known, had begun to reemerge as the vibrant design and cultural arts district it is today.
A native of Birmingham, England, Hewett studied industrial design and worked in London, Hong Kong and New York before he came to Greensboro 20 years ago. He was already familiar with the Triad from regularly visiting High Point suppliers to his Bronx-based business that specialized in reproductions of midcentury furniture designs. Eventually, rents and other expenses climbed too high, so Hewett headed south, renting the building at 515 South Elm (next door to his current location) and setting up shop, initially living upstairs.
For someone who’s lived in cities his whole life, the change was refreshing. “Where I grew up, when you open your front door, you’re on the street,” Hewett says. “This is a really pleasant place to live. For people with my experience it feels like living in the countryside.”
There’s also the advantage of access to top-notch suppliers only a few miles away. Hewett has a long relationship with High Point–based Younger Furniture. Customers can select from a wide range of designs and upholstery for the couches, chairs and headboards displayed in AREA, which are then custom-made and delivered to their homes, usually within six to eight weeks.
Most of the case goods — nonupholstered chairs, side and coffee tables, et cetera — are sourced from a Minneapolis-based company, which in turn sources from a manufacturer in Pennsylvania. So customers can feel good about supporting locally supplied and American-made products with the attendant lower carbon footprint.
“AREA is lifestyle furniture,” Hewett says. “We are bringing together appealing design, high quality construction and moderate pricing.”
This mix has developed a loyal following over the years. Hewett opened another AREA store in Durham in 2010 after many customers coming from the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area expressed the wish for a location closer to them.
But the success he’s achieved has demanded business creativity beyond just selling good products at a reasonable price. In 2012, Hewett purchased the buildings at 513 and 511 South Elm Street, next door to his original location. He moved AREA into 511 in 2012, which allowed him to expand to two floors of showroom space.
He then renovated 513, which houses office tenants upstairs, with the storefront serving as the retail space of interior design company VIVID interiors. Owners Gina Hicks and Laura Mensch describe their design aesthetic as “modern with a softer organic feel, with an emphasis on texture and color.” On occasion VIVID will source pieces from AREA, and AREA’s established presence has helped bring traffic and awareness to VIVID, which had already built a client base before setting up shop at 513, and will celebrate five years in the location this December. While the downtown renewal was and is certainly positive, Hewett knows from previous experience that rising rents are a particular challenge for specialty retail stores.
“Retail needs foot traffic and it’s already harder for people to navigate this area,” Hewett says. “Rising rents puts retail at higher risk of failure. It’s a really delicate balance.” Hewett tries to maintain the balance through offering reasonable rental rates in his properties. And he’s happy to see Greensboro’s downtown flourish.
Aside from his strong business instincts, Hewett seems to be first and foremost a design devotee and lover of quality, not just in the construction of his offerings, but in the delivery – literally. Many clients are surprised to see that he and store manager Evan Brearey actually deliver most of AREA’s orders.
Hewett wants to ensure that the furniture a customer has waited weeks to receive is in perfect condition, is exactly what was ordered, and is assembled and placed precisely as directed. On the one hand, it’s a smart business move to make sure this crucial last step in the process goes smoothly, especially since Hewett does not collect final balance until customer sign-off on delivery.
But mainly Hewett just wants the job done right. “People are happy when you bring in the couch or dining room set they’ve been waiting on,” Hewett says. “I want them to stay happy for years to come.”