The front window and office of Jeff King & Co. doubles as a gallery.
Jeff King & Co. The front window and office of Jeff King & Co. doubles as a gallery.

Philip Guarino was intrigued by an idea he read about in an Italian publication: High-end Italian retailers are showcasing work by local artists to entice customers to come into their stores. “They’re eye-catchers,” he says, “used to make people feel less intimidated to come into the store.”

This idea, combined with his personal interest in art, lead Guarino to have art shows in his Boston showroom where he has his dealership for high-end Italian Arclinea cabinetry and the Rimadesio closet system. “In the case of Arclinea and Rimadesio, there is extreme attention to detail,” Guarino says. “Creating these products is an artistic process. It’s a natural fit.”

He says that since Americans often find it difficult to visualize contemporary products in their homes, the 3,000-square-foot showroom has kitchens integrated with living and dining room areas. “The art brings it all together and contextualizes it. I feel it brings the space to life,” he says.

Guarino can’t always quantify the benefits of the art connection. “It does put you on the map in a non-intimidating type of situation,” he says. “Every time we have an event, at the very least, we make a new contact. We have the opportunity to spend some social time with potential influencers. That is crucial.”

Artist Owners

Remodeler Jeff King is an artist. He has a masters degree in fine arts and taught art and art history for a few years before furniture- and cabinetmaking lead him to start his own remodeling company. The 1,500-square-foot office of Jeff King & Co., in San Francisco, is in an old grocery store with a large glass front. King sets aside about 300 square feet by the window to display art, and also uses the 14-foot-high walls.

Having a gallery in his office is King’s way of staying connected to the art community. “I can keep one foot in each world,” he says. “I use the benefit of a successful business to provide a showcase for people’s art.” The gallery also promotes the remodeling company by drawing in past and potential clients, people from the neighborhood, art lovers, and friends of the artists. “We’re supporting something outside our industry, and it’s something fun to liven up our office space,” King says.

It also provides a low-key opportunity to follow the old adage in marketing about contacting clients four times per year. Besides creating name recognition, it was from one of the art shows that King won a $1.5 million project.

Remodeler Chaden Halfhill is also an artist. The sculptor and owner of Silent Rivers Design + Build, in Urbandale, Iowa, is just starting to promote what he says is an intrinsic link between art and building. He recently hosted a party for artists, to raise awareness about a green building renovation he is planning. “People came to celebrate artists, but the by-product is that they were looking at a building I was renovating — there was cross-pollination,” he says.

Halfhill considers himself an environmental artist, which ties in with his company’s green remodeling practices. He is trying to devote more time to creating art. “Branding myself as an artist in this community helps position the company’s brand,” he says.

Party Invitations

Guarino sends print invitations for the gallery openings to friends, clients, past clients, architects, designers, gallery owners, and the press, as well as the mailing list of the individual artist. If the response is low, the remodeler’s public relations consultant continues to market the event through local magazines and on Web sites. The information is also on the showroom’s Web site and is listed in the company’s e-mail newsletter.

King sends printed invitations to his 700-person mailing list. He does not require an RSVP and says that 30 to 100 people attend the openings, each show bringing in a different cross section of people. King says that his staff is supportive of the art and openings, and they usually choose to attend, but are not required to do so.

Guarino and his staff meet with the artist to learn about the work. “[That way,] when clients or friends ask them, they can speak intelligently about it,” he says. At the event, Guarino talks about the connection between art and his showroom’s products and then introduces the artist to speak briefly.

The remodeler alternates the art shows with a series of seminars about contemporary design. Similar to the art shows, these seminars are geared toward giving architects and designers an opportunity to present their work.