"I don’t see myself as much a leader as an instigator," says David Sutherland. Dallas-based Sutherland is celebrating the 25-year anniversary of his namesake furniture line, Sutherland Furniture. The line is part of the Perennials and Sutherland portfolio, which he oversees as chairman with his wife, Ann, who is CEO. "My wife, Ann, is a leader. Together we make a great team," he says.
In the 25 years since David founded Sutherland Furniture, he hasn't been afraid to embrace innovation. Perhaps because David is an instigator, as he describes himself, he has eagerly welcomed opportunities that could have easily intimidated others. In addition to expanding the line's use of materials, David has recently taken the massive step of developing a manufacturing center in India, and welcoming a new capital funds partner. David took some time to discuss with Interior Design what the past 25 years have meant for Sutherland Furniture, and what's next.
Interior Design: You started Sutherland working with quite traditional materials, such as teak. Now I hear you’re introducing a futuristic carbon fiber material for a chair this year. What has shaped your design and innovation journey?
David Sutherland: Teak is the king of woods and long used for doors, windows, flooring, and furniture because of its durability and beauty. Since the raw teak isn’t available in the U.S., designers of products and interiors rarely used it, which actually added to its value and uniqueness. Teak furniture designs were all similar—straight benches with no concern for comfort. Most teak furniture was relegated to estate status and use—a place to perch for a moment, not to relax with a cup of coffee, glass of wine, or good book.
I find newer materials interesting for the creative uses they provide. We have worked in metal and metal/teak combinations for years, but the carbon fiber material is astounding in its use and shapes. When we went to the factory, which makes parts for a lot of high-profile automobiles, motorcycles, Lamborghinis, etc. I spotted a foil used for America’s Cup contenders in the corner. It weighed less than five pounds, but would support weights over 100 tons! It got us all excited about using that material in our industry.
ID: Do you have a motto that guides your creative decision-making process?
DS: “Is the product additive to today’s way of living?” Can it be indoor or out? Can it be used on yachts? Is it evolutionary to our overall look and efforts? We don’t want revolutionary, we want evolutionary.
ID: Could you tell me about some of your preeminent goals as you position the company for growth?
DS: My goals are to stay the creative course with furniture design, while also explosively expanding Perennials Fabrics and Rugs. We have only scratched the surface of soft goods products made of our unique fibers and yarns. These products are disruptive in centuries-old industries, and we are committed to lead the design industry and retail into this most valuable of categories.
ID: How do you feel that your company’s new funding partnership with Bertram Capital can support those goals?
DS: Bertram brings years of experience in the consumer goods industry, and they have focused on design and quality in their partnerships. They also are willing to make significant investments to reach our mutually agreed upon goals. Though Sutherland and Perennials are 25 and 23 respectively, Bertram has invested at the beginning of our opportunities and they will be instrumental in that growth.
ID: You recently expanded the company’s manufacturing presence to India; how is that going for the company? Are you eyeing any additional locations for future opportunities?
DS: We believe the use of our fibers and yarns in the carpet and rug industry is a game changer. The look and feel of silk, combined with the bleach cleanable and UV resistant properties are just a few reasons why we have established our own facility in India. The raw materials are sourced around the world, but the expertise and art of weaving are a centuries-old industry in India. Indian talent, history, and experience are legendary. Our goal is to offer steady work, predictable and growing wages, and an environment equal to the quality of work.
ID: What are you most proud of accomplishing in your 25 years leading Sutherland?
DS: I am most proud of the fact that while we have multiple entities under one name, we have been able to make the whole much more successful than the parts. We have looked for, and taken, opportunities to support each element of our company with partners, factories, and associates who recognize and celebrate the synergies.
ID: What’s next for Sutherland?
DS: After relaunching our Sutherland website with design and backend upgrades, we look forward to expanding our reach and broadening our client base. We are passionate about customer service, and our digital presence now reflects this with user-friendly navigation and new page features.
We’re also thrilled to be partnering with Vincent Van Duysen on his second collection for Sutherland Furniture, due out this September. After the success of his Franck Collection, it was a no-brainer to collaborate again.
ID: Where do you turn for fresh inspiration?
DS: Inspiration is in the air. Staying receptive, staying curious, staying passionate about all we do breeds inspiration. Nothing describes us better than “what if?”
ID: Do you have a favorite travel destination when you want to rest and recharge?
DS: Travel destinations for rest and relaxation include the mountains or the ocean. We recently sold a boat which was top of the “rest and recharge” chart… Perhaps we will enter that arena again in the future.
ID: Is there any other occupation you could imagine yourself in, if you weren’t leading Perennials and Sutherland?
DS: Fresh out of college I had no idea that design was an industry. Once in it I cannot imagine being involved in any other career. I’m a dreamer, I have so many others who are willing to share their dreams and make them a reality.