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Furniture World Magazine


Interview with Karen McNeill, Chief Vision Officer, AHFHFF

The debut of the American Home Furnishings Hall of Fame Foundation’s High Point building in April will signal a new focus on how consumers, job seekers and those of us who sell home furnishings see our industry.

Karen McNeill, the American Home Furnishings Hall of Fame Foundation’s Chief Vision Officer, got her introduction to the furniture industry in the 1980s when she accepted a job opportunity in High Point with what is now IMC. Later she formed McNeill Communications, a marketing agency that specialized in home furnishings, and also served clients in a number of other industries. “One longtime client,” she told Furniture World, “was Visit High Point, a company that encouraged groups and individuals to visit High Point.

“The major challenge for Visit High Point,” she recalled, “was that people who visited the Home Furnishings Capital of the World™ wanted to experience the home furnishings industry. And, of course, when they asked to do this, the answer was always, “You can visit the Bienenstock Furniture Library and drive by the world’s largest chest of drawers on North Hamilton Street. There are some wonderful furniture retailers in the area as well, but we are sorry to tell you that there isn’t a place for you to learn about the home furnishings industry and discover why High Point is the Home Furnishings Capital of the World.

That Will Change This April

“In April 2023, with the grand opening of the new Hall of Fame building near the corner of Green Street and Hamilton,” McNeill predicted, “all that and more is going to change for the furniture buying public as well as for home furnishings retailers, manufacturers, supply companies, their employees and future employees.


The Industry's New Home: 25,000 square feet to debut in April 2023.

“Ours is an important and noble industry that plays an essential role in improving people’s lives. But at the same time, we are a hidden industry,” she observed.

“Everyone furnishes their homes and interacts with our products at home and in commercial settings, but when the average consumer is asked what they know about the furniture they’ve purchased or why they might want to pursue a career in home furnishings, they really have no clue at all.

“Solving this issue is just one reason so much effort went into creating an amazing 25,000-square-foot centerpiece for our industry. Not only will it be inspirational on so many levels through its exhibits, but it will reach out to the world via an interactive digital platform.”

McNeill realizes that most Furniture World readers haven’t been sitting around thinking about the new Hall of Fame building. “But I will say this,” she offered, “I love those folks who are skeptical because it will not be just another High Point showroom. More than 50 groups toured the building while it was under construction during the most recent High Point show and were stunned by the beauty of the physical space and the vision behind it.

“When the doors open in April, less than four months away, visitors to High Point will be welcomed by an immersive theater experience. A fast-paced video will show the breadth of the market, giving them insight into the buying experience and the pride, design, craftsmanship and ingenuity that goes into creating home furnishings. And that’s just a small part of what will be available.

“The building will embody three aspects of the Hall of Fame’s mission. The first is to honor our leaders. The second is to tell our stories. And the third is to inspire future leaders.”

“Ours is an important and noble industry that plays an essential role in improving people’s lives. But at the same time, we are a hidden industry.”

Honoring Our Leaders

“Being inducted into the Hall of Fame is the industry’s highest career honor. Individuals are chosen based on four major attributes: enduring excellence, superior accomplishments, innovation and creativity, and philanthropic generosity. Inductees have changed our industry by putting their mark on it.

“True leaders understand that they have a responsibility to give back to their communities, industry and the world. That’s why their stories will be featured in the Hall of Fame Gallery and displayed on a huge multimedia Tribute Wall exhibit near the front entrance.”

Telling Our Stories

“Kyle Hughes, the Hall of Fame’s full-time historian,“ noted McNeill, ”is tasked with helping us to tell the stories of our industry. Having earned his Ph.D. at Trinity University in Dublin, he understands the value of presenting information in a way that relates to what is happening in society. It’s an important focus that will keep the exhibits alive and relevant over time.” As an example, McNeill used the Innovation Gallery exhibit that will debut in April.

The Innovation Gallery

“People, even those who work in furnishings-related careers, see our business as rooted in old-fashioned hand craftsmanship,” she explained. That’s true, but it’s not the whole story.

“A portion of the Innovation Gallery will present advances in furniture production on a timeline that clocks innovation from well before the industrial revolution to today’s digitally printed fabrics and 3D-printed furniture. The exhibit will evolve with a focus on different technologies, product categories and observations about how advancements both change society and reflect it.

“This April, the first installment of the Innovation Gallery will feature three chests. The first chest will be handmade, the second machine-made and the third 3D-printed. The evolution of technologies from hand saws to advanced robotics will be featured in a fast-paced video. The exhibits will be interactive and over time will focus on many different product categories, including lighting and home accessories. There are plans in place to follow up with a rug showcase that highlights rug construction including hand-knotted to machine woven and printed—all technologies presently being used to craft products sold in retail stores today. So, the exhibits will not be one-and-done. There are so many interesting topics to cover that go beyond just historical facts from how products are designed to how they are delivered, used and the broader impact on people’s lives.”

Innovation Gallery is just one of a number of interactive forward-looking exhibits that will form a discovery center for learning.

This space will hold seated dinners for 150 or cocktails for 450. Pictured at right is a top-down view of the grand staircase, under construction, which will lead into Celebration Hall. The staircase will feature comfortable seating for guests to watch in-person presenters as well as impressive digital content. This will be featured on the 25 x 17-foot Dynamic Discovery Wall which can easily be programmed for corporate events, announcements, and social functions.

Tell Us Your Story Booth

“The ‘Tell Us Your Story Video Booth’ is central to the Hall of Fame and its mission. “Consumers are more passionate about their homes than ever before and will be encouraged to share their home furnishings experiences.” McNeill imagined they might tell a funny story about furnishing their first apartment, how just the right furnishings turned their house into a home, or how finding the right interior designer changed their family’s life forever.

“Retailers, manufacturers, component and fabric suppliers, designers, salespeople, industry consultants and operations experts will also share their recollections, anecdotes and career information.”

McNeill said that plans are in place to incorporate these industry-specific stories into a new consumer-facing website to inform and inspire people to consider the many career options available in our industry for bright, creative, motivated people.

“Attracting and retaining talent has been a challenge for the home furnishings industry. This has always amazed me,” McNeill confided to Furniture World. “We are one of the most welcoming industries, one that’s tremendously creative and a place to form lasting personal relationships. I think people haven’t considered joining us because they don’t understand the breadth and quality of the opportunities available. Even new industry hires will be surprised and excited when they discover how their jobs and the companies they work for fit into the larger picture.

“This has been made possible through the Hall of Fame’s collaboration with Roto, a world-class, international exhibit design firm that worked closely with the Hall of Fame’s amazingly creative board members, Caroline Hipple and David Gebhart.”

More Exhibits: Pictured at left is work being done on the Trend Spotter Exhibit, one of 14 exhibits in Phase One that are under construction at ROTO in Columbus, OH. Others include the Tell Us Your Story Video Booth, the Wall of Fame, Innovation Gallery and the Process Gallery.

Who Will Use the Space?

When asked about other ways companies, including retailers, will use the facility, McNeill replied, “We’ve had many inquiries from retailers and manufacturers about bringing groups of employees into this space for programs that provide a panoramic view of our industry. And, as the new home for the industry, this building has facilities that can be used by other industry organizations such as Interwoven, High Point Market Authority and Fashion Snoops.”

“We’ve had many inquiries from retailers and manufacturers about bringing groups of employees into this space for programs that provide a panoramic view of our industry.”

Fashion & Trends

“Twice a year, the Hall of Fame will host a huge exhibit in collaboration with FS, a leading trend agency and consumer behavior platform think-tank. The first installment will feature their forecast for 2024, with an emphasis on four major trends, along with information on how each storyline is being incorporated into furniture, fabrics, rugs, lighting and home accessories. Jaye Anna Mize and the Fashion Snoops team will give a seminar on Monday, April 24, at the new building. It’s an exhibit that promises to be a huge draw for all segments of the furniture industry and for trend-obsessed consumers who will visit this living, breathing space.”

Traveling Exhibits

“A best practice for any museum or discovery center is to reserve space for traveling exhibits. There are a number of these in the works that will engage and inspire visitors who will come back to explore what’s new at the Hall of Fame.”

Future Leaders

The American Home Furnishings Hall of Fame Foundation’s new Chief Executive Officer, Patrick Chapin, and Karen McNeill, Chief Vision Officer.

As McNeill previously mentioned, a major focus of the Hall of Fame is its commitment to developing emerging leaders. The industry is changing more rapidly than at any time since the industrial revolution. Despite the ubiquity of online networking, people are asking for more face-to-face interaction with their peers.

“The Hall of Fame building,” she said, “has addressed this need by including a special area in the building for them to gather. It’s called The Hub. The Paul Broyhill Future Leaders and participants of the Hall of Fame’s Leadership Institute, launched last year at High Point University, will be among those who will use this space. Programming will include learning-based events where up-and-coming leaders will gather and connect.”

The Leaders Boardroom (bottom left) seats 40. It will feature a full deck of AV equipment suitable for the meetings of change-makers within our industry, the wider corporate world and our local community.

The Pond Library (center) will include a collection of books including bound copies of Furniture Today, Home Accents Today, Textiles Today, Furniture World and other publications.

The Leaders Bar, a dramatic wine and coffee bar, will be a perfect place to find a favorite beverage or to meet friends at Market.

Speaking of new leadership, McNeill introduced the American Home Furnishings Hall of Fame Foundation’s new Chief Executive Officer, Patrick Chapin. “The American Home Furnishings Hall of Fame Foundation,” she explained, “has never before operated a public space. Patrick has an extensive background in this area, having worked with multiple Chambers of Commerce and YMCA facilities, in property development, and with the Walt Disney Company. He has the creativity and leadership ability to bring people together. And, has the experience in operations needed to manage the influx of everyday visitors and special events that will take place at the industry’s new home. We are fortunate to have him on board.”

Wall of Fame: The Hall of Fame honors industry leaders for enduring excellence, superior accomplishments, innovation and creativity plus philanthropic generosity. Pictured are the space under construction and renderings of the Wall of Fame exhibit. A tribute wall within the Wall of Fame area will feature digital audio and visual content.

April Debut

Many private and public events are being scheduled at the Hall of Fame for High Point Market.

The facility is designed for maximum flexibility. Its impressive Celebration Hall will seat 150 for dinner. There’s a Leaders Bar and a full catering kitchen for events that might include bringing in a celebrity chef.

“We can handle 450 to 500 people for cocktails,” McNeill explained, “or host a private meeting for eight to 10 people in the Pond Library. The Immersive theater seats 35. Our Women’s Center is more like a living room environment, and there’s an amazing boardroom that seats 40.

“In April, the Hall of Fame will host an open house for the industry as well as large and small private events for retailers, manufacturers and industry associations. In between Markets, the Hall of Fame will be available for all manner of business, social and community events, while presenting our industry as cool, fun and exciting.”

Screens Everywhere

“Digital content will be presented everywhere in the new space. Most notable are The Grand Story Wall, which faces out onto Hamilton Street, and The Dynamic Discovery Wall, facing inward toward Celebration Hall and the Grand Staircase. These 25 x 17-foot displays will set the stage for amazing events, impressive sales meetings, new product introductions and much more.”

The Upstairs Galleries

“The second floor,” McNeill continued, “will feature a gallery devoted to how products are made and delivered through the supply chain to consumers. Another exhibit will focus on product design and trends. Portions of these exhibits will be fully completed following April Market in phase two. It will take an unbelievable amount of content to create these digital displays. The Hall of Fame is looking for lots of input from companies in manufacturing, supply and retailing to share video and photography.

The Grand Atrium will be an entryway for visitors to step into the world of home furnishings and begin their tours through the building. Facing the street, the imposing Grand Story Wall will feature video, and messaging easily programmed to suit any event.

The Design Gallery space will include exhibits that explore trends, personal style, the product design process and the impact of home furnishings products on our lives. Highly interactive, visitors will be able to explore product categories and styles.

“For the most, part this material is branded, presenting an opportunity for consumers and content suppliers. Throughout the Hall of Fame, visitors can scan QR codes to access information about companies and products featured in the exhibits.”

For More Information

In closing, Karen McNeill, Chief Vision Officer, noted that Furniture World readers can visit https://www.homefurnishingshalloffame.com to share ideas for using the space. Just click on the “Have An Idea For Us” box. She also said that she is looking forward to welcoming you all there during the April High Point market.


Russell Bienenstock is Editor-in-Chief of Furniture World Magazine, founded 1870. Comments can be directed to him at editor@furninfo.com.