The furniture business of Mitchell Gold and Bob Williams once survived their personal breakup. But the 34-year-old company that became known as Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams could not survive its latest ownership by a family-run equity firm.
A call Monday to the Stephens Group, the Little Rock equity firm that bought the company in 2015, was not returned.
Gold, 72, who had retired as chairman and CEO of the company in 2019, learned the news last week. “I was devastated and in shock,” he says. “Both Bob and I are. And if I had to use one word, it’s heartbroken.”
Gold says that, when he left the company just before the pandemic, “parts of it were in good shape, and parts were not.” The past few years unleashed a roller coaster of problems, with changing consumer demand and supply chain issues, and Gold says the bank and the equity firm could not come up with a way to keep the business going.
The company owns 24 signature stores, Gold says. The first opened in 2007, on Washington’s newly hip 14th Street NW, near Logan Circle. It rolled out an eco-chic green carpet for 500 guests, including Hillary Clinton, who reportedly owned a MG+BW dining table and chairs, but she did not attend. Its stores were among the first to allow dogs and have a line of designer dog beds.
Initially called Mitchell Gold, the company became Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams after the duo’s relationship ended. It made some of the most iconic sofas, sectionals and club chairs of the 1990s to 2000s. The laid-back styles, known for comfort, were branded “lifestyle furniture” and matched the relaxed fashion of casual Fridays. Nesting baby boomers and their offspring and dogs hung out on the company’s rumpled slipcovered sofas. Their hot distressed-leather club chairs were inspired by Paris flea market finds.
The company made private-label linen sofas and velvet headboards for some of the biggest names in retail, including Restoration Hardware (now RH), Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn. In 2000, the firm made some of the first stylish home office chairs — in red chenille — for Crate & Barrel.
The furniture industry on the whole is in a state of flux. Earlier this month, Klaussner, a major maker based in Asheboro, N.C., told its employees that it was shutting down. “I call it pandemic ripple effects,” says Bill McLoughlin, editor in chief of Furniture Today. “Right now, consumer demand for furniture is soft, and people are spending on things like travel. Some companies still have inventory left from the pandemic and have cash-flow issues.”
Gold and Williams, who met in New York, formed Mitchell Gold in 1989. Gold, a former furniture buyer at Bloomingdale’s, was the frontman whose corporate uniform included a denim shirt and Gucci loafers. Williams, a graphic artist who designed the line, could drill down on what consumers were looking for.
They bought an existing factory in Taylorsville, N.C., near the center of the sleepy U.S. furniture industry. Then they started shaking things up. Theirs was one of the first furniture plants in the state with air conditioning. They built an on-site gym, installed a health clinic and hired a chef to make seared salmon with mango salsa in the employee cafeteria. At their child-care center, kids sat on child-size club chairs and denim sofas.
Gold and Williams were donors to the Democratic Party and women’s rights groups, and they were very active in the LGBTQ+ community.
In 1998, they sold the company to Rowe Furniture in a deal that allowed them to keep managing the business. Part of the reason for selling, Gold says, was that they are gay. “We weren’t able to be married, and we ran the risk of inheritance taxes if one of us died,” Gold told The Washington Post in 2007. “It could have bankrupted the company.”
Gold and Williams’s personal relationship ended in 2001, but they remained business partners and “best friends forever.” In 2002, they bought the firm back with a group of New York investors, and the company became Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, to reflect the contributions of both men. In 2015, Stephens bought it; Williams and Gold remained on the board and in management. Gold retired in 2019, and Williams, now 61, in 2022. Both men still sit on the board as observers.
Calls to several Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams phone numbers on Monday got a recorded message: “No associates are available to take your call at this time.” But it appeared as though you could still order furniture on the website. “The company is sorting things out,” Gold says.
Gold says he is heartened by messages he’s receiving from employees, both current and past, many of whom worked there for decades. On Saturday, Gold posted a broken-heart GIF on Facebook with the message: “Still working on solutions … but …”
A previous version of this article listed the incorrect location for where Klaussner is based. It's Asheboro, N.C., not Asheville. This article has been corrected.