Cat’s New Cradle
Wildcat Territory founder Nancy Reib creates a new life in Thomasville
By Tracy Bulla
A self-described city gal, Nancy Reib pulled up roots in the Big Apple to create a different, more serene life in the Triad five years ago. President of home décor manufacturer Wildcat Territory, Nancy and her husband Ibo Coban, vice president and “chief problem solver,” moved house — and factory — to sunny Thomasville.
“We’ve always been committed to manufacturing in America,” says Nancy. But when their landlord decided to double the rent on their Long Island, Queens-based factory, an economically motivated move was imminent. Familiar with the area after coming to the High Point Market for nearly 25 years, scouting for new sites in North Carolina seemed like a natural fit.
Their search took them to Charlotte, Durham and Raleigh where potential factory locations lacked a crucial element — windows (and therefore, no natural light). “It’s important for me to be in a beautiful and inspiring place,” she explains. “And I want my employees to feel proud and comfortable in the workspace.”
So, when a friend tipped them off about a building in Thomasville that boasted beautiful windows, high ceilings and hardwood floors, “We were sold.” Another plus: The new location offered over 50,000 square feet of space, compared to their 10,000-square-foot NYC factory. “From a design standpoint, we’ve been able to do new things that we didn’t have the space or facilities for in New York,” Nancy observes, like upholstery, furniture and more custom work.
Despite the “lovely bones” of the building, it required extensive renovations including putting on a new roof, outfitting the factory, redoing three large bathrooms, and installing a break room, a showroom, a design studio and custom woodworking shop. For Nancy, who loves food and cooking, the break room was an essential. “We all come together to share food and conversation,” she says. “Before that, all the employees were eating lunch in their cars.”
Wildcat Territory received a grant from the city of Thomasville to help with restoration, based on opening up new opportunities to attract employees to Chair City. The company employs local artisan sewers to create its bedding and drapery collections. Currently, it introduces an average of 12 new bedding collections each year as well as new drapery styles and embellishments. In addition, Wildcat offers approximately 50 to 60 collections at all times with coordinating drapery and unlimited custom options, while the Cake Custom bedding and drapery program includes over 150 bedding and 35 drapery profiles.
A native Chicagoan, Nancy headed to New York after college and worked in advertising sales. After becoming disenchanted with corporate America, she founded Wildcat Territory “on a lark” in 1997. “I had no experience when we started, but I was passionate about fabric and instinctively drawn to working with it,” she confesses. “My efforts were emotional and instinctive — because I had no formal training, I started creating designs that most people found completely unexpected.” For example, placing tulle inside the fold of drapery to convey a ballgown effect. “We drew heavily from the world of fashion as we established the vocabulary of what makes Wildcat, Wildcat.”
At that time, bedding geared toward women was “all flowers and ruffles,” she continues, “and I couldn’t relate to that. I thought bedding should be sexy, and for me, that meant soft, sensual fabrics, beautiful dressmaker details and clean, simple styling. Our style has evolved over the years, but at our core it remains the same.”
Nancy and Ibo (who’s originally from Turkey) also travel the world to exotic locales for design inspiration. Plus, for this urbanite-turned-small-town-girl, she can get her “city fix.”
Why the name Wildcat? “I’ve have always been — and still am — wild about cats,” Nancy explains. “And my very first designs were leopard, which I sold at street fairs in the beginning. It really summed up my personality and my approach to things back then,” she adds. “We were really different as we came at the product from a different point of view than had rarely been seen before.”
While the transition from the bright lights of the city to a small Southern town has admittedly been difficult, Nancy says she has come to appreciate the beauty of living and working in a quiet and peaceful environment. “I’m very inspired by living down South — by the beautiful country, the sun and by Southern hospitality. There is an eccentricity and relaxed elegance in the South that I really love, and you simply can’t find it anywhere else,” she reflects. “I’ve always been inspired by the exotic locations that I travel to, and now I am merging these inspirations.”
Nancy and Ibo have also embraced the local artistic community. “I’ve been coming to High Point Market for years, but I didn’t really feel like a part of the furniture community,” she says. “Now, I do. I’ve met a very creative group of talented artists and craftspeople, and it’s broadened my horizons quite a bit. There’s a lot of creativity here without the New York attitude.”
Southern living has also had another unexpected effect: Nancy’s personal transformation into an “outdoor” person. “I love going to both the beach and the mountains and taking walks in nature.” When they are not exploring new destinations on the Carolina coast, treasure-hunting for antiques or visiting farmers’ markets to shop for their next dinner party, Nancy and Ibo can be found walking their new family: an adopted pair of rescue dogs named Lucy and Buster.
Nancy, being a cat person, was a little at a loss as to what to do when Lucy showed up in her backyard. So, she invited her into the house for some chicken, which Lucy gratefully accepted and then promptly fell asleep on the floor. “She knew she had found a home,” Nancy recalls, “and she was ours from that moment on.”
Homeless Buster showed up later to play with Lucy on occasion. When he fell ill with parvo, they treated him and he became the next addition to the family. “They’ve become the loves of our lives,” Nancy says. “It’s one of the best things that has ever happened to Ibo and me, and we would never have had a dog in the city. Dogs bring so much love and they have changed our family life. So, we are wild about both cats and dogs.” One of their favorite weekend rituals is to take the dogs on long walks around the neighborhood, but, as part of the Wildcat family, Lucy and Buster go to work every day, too. So far, though, there are no plans to include “wilddog” in the company’s name.
Tracy Bulla is the former senior style director of Home Accents Today magazine and is now a freelance writer spcializing in all things design-and trend-related