Baker Furniture, as seen in Oval Office, makes its mark in China
Presidents and film stars have long recognised the quality and craftsmanship of the luxury brand, which, three years after opening in Hong Kong, has secured a Shenzhen partner for its expansion into China
Furniture by luxury brand Baker can be found in high places. US President Barack Obama has pieces in the White House's personal living quarters, guest quarters and in the Oval Office, continuing a tradition that started during Ronald Reagan's presidency in the 1980s. Furniture by Baker has also graced the Oscars' green room, a backstage area of the LA theatre where presenters and performers hang out when they're not on stage.
Now the brand, which was founded in 1890 by Siebe Baker, a Dutch immigrant and craftsman, is making a huge push into China. It opened a store in Hong Kong in 2012 and last month made its debut in Shenzhen with the opening of a two-floor flagship store. The move comes as the company opens up its 12th retail channel in the growing Chinese market.
Consistent with Baker's international expansion business strategy, the flagship was executed with the help of a local Chinese partner. "We are very much about developing relationships with someone who has the expertise of that individual market and relationships with the leading design community," says Brett Beadleson, vice-president of dealer sales.
In the case of Shenzhen, this flagship was realised with local dealer Atelier A+. "The relationship between Baker and Atelier A+ started six years ago, when I was the marketing and branch development person for Baker in the Asia Pacific," says Atelier A+ general manager Anita Lin.
"I had a chance to visit the North Carolina factory at that time and I fell in love with the brand.
"Much has progressed since then as we established the Hong Kong dealership in 2012 and now three years later we are opening this store in Shenzhen."
The move comes as the furniture brand hopes to capitalise on customers in China looking to upgrade their homes - not exclusively in major cities such as Shanghai and Beijing. Baker is now present in second-tier cities, including Suzhou, Chengdu and Dalian.
"Beijing and Shanghai are very important to us. But it's also very important for us to bring Baker to dynamic markets like Shenzhen. We feel this is a great opportunity to build the company's brand with the city as it grows," says Beadleson.
Li notes: "Also, we feel that it's important to have a physical presence, as a lot of our customers such as homeowners and designers just want us to talk to them here. So having a flagship here is incredibly helpful."
Despite a new presence in Shenzhen, no new products will be displayed for the flagship opening. That said, the product offering is tailored slightly differently to the Hong Kong showroom.
"In Hong Kong, we showcase more of the Thomas Pheasant-designed pieces, as the designer spends half of his time in Paris and understands compact living. Hence, the scale of his furniture is smaller and fits Hong Kong. The colour palette happens to be more neutral, too.
"But in the Shenzhen flagship, pieces will be bigger. We've ordered two-metre dining tables rather than 1.7 metres we use in Hong Kong. Our showroom also has a more adventurous colour palette as seen in our purple sofa and orange chaise."
Part of the appeal of Baker is its contemporary and luxurious aesthetic. Its elegant take on furnishing homes and commercial spaces is fuelled by excellent manufacturing facilities in its home base of North Carolina.
Baker also injects new energy into the product portfolio through collaborations with guest designers. There have been nine so far.
"We don't add designers to our roster very often, as we have a fairly rigorous vetting process. In fact, it's rare that we do add designers. The last was Michael Smith in 2010," notes Beadleson.
"That said, we are adding two new designers in the next seven months - an American and a European. We are also considering to partner with a Chinese designer ... I suspect in the next several years we will have one."