Sunday, December 4, 2022 Dec 4, 2022
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Furniture

The Mysterious Disappearance of The CEH

The beloved local bespoke furniture company is facing a wave of fraud accusations. Customers say they’ve lost thousands of dollars. The company claims it suffered a targeted cyberattack. All we know for sure: a lot of furniture is missing.
By |
The CEH
Elizabeth Lavin

Boston-based interior designer Julie Richard was surprised when she looked at her PayPal account last November. The CEH, a bespoke Dallas furniture company, had withdrawn $1,800 from Richard’s account without sending a final invoice. 

Five months earlier, Richard placed a $1,700 down payment on a custom coffee table, charging it to her American Express card through PayPal. She says the company withdrew $1,800 directly from her account without telling her—and the coffee table was nowhere to be found. 

She didn’t think they could do that without her permission, “but I figured, ‘okay, this seems like a legit company,’” she says. (D Magazine has reviewed records from this transaction, which show the money taken from the account and refunded by PayPal after Richard flagged it.)

Everything leading up to that had been normal. She received wood finishing samples in September. “Your table is getting close to completion” they told her in October. So, after her card was charged in November, she waited a few weeks to hear about how it would be shipped to her. Then she started trying to contact the company. 

“I’ve spent hours calling them and emailing them and panicking, like, I’m not receiving the table,” she says. 

Richard is one of at least 19 buyers across the country who have publicly accused The CEH of accepting payment for products it never delivered. Some buyers who took to Instagram to air their grievances have received their furniture. Others haven’t. 

The CEH finally reached out to Richard in January, explaining that co-owner Justin Evans was arranging shipping. On March 7, she received a picture of the completed table, and was told she’d have to find her own shippers. 

After that, she says, all messages from The CEH stopped. 

The dam broke on April 6, when Massachusetts-based interior designer and author Erin Gates complained about her own missing orders to her 104,000 Instagram followers. Many others began to share their own experiences, tipping off reporters and outlets across the country. The Substack The Wreck List, the magazine Business of Home, and NBC 5’s Meredith Land all began exploring the story.

On her Instagram, Gates likened the situation to “an Anna Delvey, Elizabeth Holmes pyramid scheme,” referencing, respectively, the Russian-born German con artist and the indicted CEO of Theranos, which misled investors and led to criminal charges. (No criminal charges have been filed against the Evanses.) 

The LLC registration the CEH used is no longer legally allowed to operate in Texas. On November 5, the secretary of state revoked the registration for JDE CEH, LLC because it had stopped paying its franchise tax or did not allow the Texas comptroller to examine its records, state records show.

But despite its charter being forfeited in early November, The CEH continued business as usual. It announced an online flash sale on November 11 on its Facebook account. The charge to Richard’s PayPal account occurred on November 12. The CEH advertised its Black Friday and Small Business Saturday sales through five Facebook and Instagram posts from November 25 to November 28. A Tennessee-based buyer named Caroline received a $2,642.50 invoice on January 14 for a credenza she ordered last May. (She asked that we not use her last name.) On March 1 of this year, the company posted about a clearance blowout sale, where products were sold at up to 80 percent off.

(It’s worth noting that the company could resolve its debt or form another entity from which to operate.) 

In the interim, the company has taken increasingly erratic measures that have made it difficult for clients and reporters to reach them, including disconnecting phone lines, ignoring emails, making its website password-protected, and sharing concerning posts on social media. 

It isn’t clear what is causing such confusion within the company. Buyers just want to know where their furniture is—or their money. 


Former teachers Justin and Diana Evans began selling refurbished vintage furniture on Facebook in 2014. The pieces sold quickly in the popular Park Cities Resale Sale Facebook group, and the couple launched an online shop, The Collected Eclectic Home, a few months later. 

At first, they continued selling high-end, upcycled vintage pieces. But they soon added custom-built furniture under their “The CEH Label” line. In 2019, after five years of using their family home as a workshop, studio, and storage space, they opened a 10,000-square-foot showroom on Plano Road. 

Their company had grown quickly. Through word of mouth and Instagram, the Evanses became somewhat of a “darling” in the tight-knit interior design community. They created commissioned pieces for notable names all over the country, like Sarah BartholomewPaloma Contreras, and even Laura Bush. They were featured in Modern LuxuryArchitectural Digest, and D Magazine

Dresser and Artwork
Even the family cat, Rosie, has an Instagram account. Elizabeth Lavin

The Evanses’ Richardson home was on the September-October 2019 cover of D Home. The CEH was listed as “Best Traditional Furniture” in the 2021 Best of Big D. (Editor’s Note: After the recent allegations, D Magazine removed The CEH from the list online while this story was being reported.) 

A large part of this popularity originates from The CEH’s wholesome, family-forward persona that it broadcasts on social media. Between beautifully curated images of their furniture staged in magazine-worthy rooms, the Evanses shared endearing posts about their family. Even their cat, Rosie, has an Instagram account. You don’t have to squint to see parallels with HGTV sweethearts like Chip and Joanna Gaines and Ben and Erin Napier, whose shows each mix home makeovers with charming and relatable vignettes of family life. 

That family-forward persona is what makes this story so shocking, says Dana Mitchell, a New York-based designer.

“I think they probably abused the fact that they held themselves out as a family business, as a small business,” she says. “I think that bought them some empathy and bought them some time and some trust.”

Mitchell had been following The CEH on Instagram for about a year before deciding to work with them. “I thought the furniture was beautiful,” she says. In May 2021, she ordered two nightstands and was told they would get to her in three months. 

“I realized I was never going to get my furniture.”

Dana Mitchell

That deadline came in August. She was told the tables weren’t ready, “which was not unusual, given the supply chain issues and the incredible surge in demand at that time for furniture.” Justin Evans assured her that the tables would be delivered personally; he said he had been making out-of-state deliveries for the company since May, which he documented on The CEH’s social media posts. Like Richard, Mitchell never received her tables. Instead, she says the company kept putting her off and would wait weeks to send a response. 

“I realized I was never going to get my furniture,” she says. 

In February, she asked for a refund on her $4,000 deposit and canceled her order. The company sent her a direct message on Instagram, asking for a mailing address to send a certified cashier’s check. Justin Evans later contacted her from the company email account on March 2, asking for her address again. 

“And then the last thing I have from anybody there is also March 2,” Mitchell says. She read the email to D: “Thank you, Dana. I know this has been frustrating to say the least. But will make it right and get you a check. Thank you again, Justin.’” 

Mitchell says she has not received her check.


Charleston Demilune Mahogany Tables
Former teachers Justin and Diana Evans began selling refurbished vintage furniture on Facebook in 2014. Within months, they soon launched The CEH, adding custom-built furniture under their “The CEH Label” line soon after. Elizabeth Lavin

Caroline, in Tennessee, says she experienced a similar runaround when she started asking questions about her $5,285 credenza that she had bought last May. She did not receive any updates about her piece from September 2021 through January 2022. 

In early January, after checking in again, Caroline heard a similar refrain: her piece was ready. “This is ready to go and it is absolutely stunning!” read a January 5 email from The CEH. She did not receive a photo, and when she asked about shipping, the company sent her an invoice and went radio silent for nearly three weeks. 

On January 24, she says Justin Evans sent another email about a potential delivery route. A week later, she followed up. A CEH team member responded on January 31 with an email that read, in part: 

“I have not heard back from him on a planned route yet. Both Justin and Diana have not had a phone in a bit and I have been trying all I can to get information to clients. I feel as though my hands are tied. …” 

That email concerned Caroline, “so I wrote back and I said, ‘Well, do you have the piece? Because if you can’t get in touch with Justin and Diana, how am I gonna coordinate all this?’” 

She asked for a photo of the credenza. She hasn’t heard from The CEH since. 

“Both Justin and Diana have not had a phone in a bit and I have been trying all I can to get information to clients. I feel as though my hands are tied. …” 

The CEH appears to have cut off any way for customers to contact its owners. Comments have been turned off on The CEH’s recent social media posts. On April 11, the company put its website, theceh.com, behind a password. The company changed email addresses and phone numbers. 

An email to the new account was unanswered. When D called the new phone number, the line was left ringing. The old phone number no longer works. When D called Diana Evans’ cellphone, an automated response answered, “This number is not accepting calls.” No one answered when D Magazine knocked on the doors of both The CEH’s warehouse and the Evanses’ home—although it appeared the family’s doorbell had been removed. 

About two weeks later, the Evanses sent a text message declining to comment. 

“As much as we want to share our truth, we have been consistently advised across the board that it’s best we wait for the green-light to shed some light on the issues at hand,” the text reads. “We will continue to do all we can to do the right thing by our clients, community, and family.” 


The company’s reasoning for the communication drop-off is the strangest twist in this saga. On February 15, The CEH shared a long post to Instagram, claiming every one of the Evanses’ devices “that connect to the internet” had been hacked. According to the post, accounts, documents, and photos had been deleted. It said the hacking was a “a highly intrusive personal attack on our family.” 

The Evanses wrote that the targeted content concerned their three children, and they were working with the FBI, which “is highly-engaged and executing the plan.” They blamed the whole situation on their “rapid growth and successes.” 

Melinda Urbana, an FBI spokeswoman for the Dallas Field Office, could neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation, which is standard policy. She said the bureau welcomes tips through its online portal and that it “consistently receives credible tips through this system that have led to successful investigations.” 

For many of The CEH’s clients and followers, this post was the first sign something was awry. 

“It’s very confusing,” Julie Richard says. “It was a red flag. It seems a little strange to me.”

However, The CEH had been hinting at trouble within the company for months on social media. 

On August 28, 2021, Diana Evans took to Facebook to write “Instagram only shows the highlights, in most cases. I didn’t realize to what extent, I, too, was guilty of this until lately …” In the post, she explained that her husband had been hand-delivering all out-of-state orders since late spring. She wrote that her children were “tearfully (and endlessly)” questioning her about why she was working through the night. 

On October 12, 2021, the company said supply and labor shortages caused it to limit the number of new custom orders it accepted. “We will still be able to answer quotes,” the Instagram post reads, “but not all orders will be accepted due to our currently booked solid schedule (which is booked into spring).” However, customers were able to place new orders on The CEH website through April 7, 2022. 

“It was a red flag. It seems a little strange to me.”

Julie Richard

Diana Evans announced through Facebook on November 4—the day before the state revoked The CEH’s registration—that she would be taking a step back from the business management side of the company to spend more time with her children. She would, Evans wrote, stay involved in design and HR.

On November 25, 2021, Diana Evans shared a Thanksgiving post, thanking family and friends “who, without notice, took care of me, and the kids through some scary health issues and several back-to back-surgeries recently (I’m now on the mend!).”

On January 13, the Evanses shared a 368-word post on Facebook and Instagram discussing the year prior. “2021 brought huge sacrifices from our team, even larger ones from our personal family, and countless all-nighter work habits (not unlike our first years),” they wrote. The post, which reflected on The CEH’s eight years in business, continued with cryptic references to “relentless obstacles from every direction,” changing conditions, and hopes for a smoother 2022. 

“However, we are navigating the ‘new normal’ as best we can, adapting to changes as fast as possible, and are confident that with the support of our loyal clients, prayer, hopefully less sanity and bloodshed that 2022 will be better than all the ones before.”


Image
The CEH's Plano Road workshop and warehouse.

The strange social media posts and surfeit of frustrated customers has generated heaps of gossip about potential health crises and fraud. There are outlandish rumors, including “staged” ransackings and burner phones that rival even The CEH’s erratic behavior. (During visits to the family’s home and warehouse, D Magazine saw no evidence of a ransacking, staged or otherwise.)

But for those who know the Evanses, this turn of events is out-of-character. 

Tracy Blacketer of Marburger Farm in Round Top said nothing was amiss last October when The CEH participated in the small town’s famed antique show. They didn’t reach out again to participate in this year’s spring show, but Marburger Farm also didn’t ask, Blacketer says. 

“I’m honestly puzzled as to what is going on with them,” said a Dallas designer who asked not to be identified because of their relationship with The CEH. The designer wrote that while they had some communication difficulty with The CEH, they loved the pieces they received. 

On an April afternoon recently, D Magazine visited The CEH’s warehouse on Plano Road. The parking lot was empty, and the front door was locked. But the showroom itself looked in pristine condition. The space was clean and filled with furniture. Some of it was even saran-wrapped, like it was about to be shipped out.

And some of it was. On April 14, Erin Gates posted another Instagram story about The CEH. She announced that Justin Evans had finally reached out to her.

“He stuck by his story of being hacked,” she said. Shippers were able to pick up several of her pieces on April 13, but one piece, which she claimed she ordered and paid for in November, was never started.

“I figured it’s going to be a loss,” she said.

Meanwhile Julie Richard still hasn’t received the coffee table she ordered in June 2021. She said she sent shippers to the warehouse on April 14, where they were informed that The CEH didn’t have the table, despite the company sending her a photo of the product a month earlier. No one from the company has contacted Richard directly.

Caroline hasn’t heard from them either. She and Richard are just a few of many who have lost thousands of dollars after working with The CEH. Instead, they are left wondering if they’ll ever receive the furniture they ordered months ago.

Author

Catherine Wendlandt

Catherine Wendlandt

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Catherine Wendlandt is the online associate editor for D Magazine’s Living and Home and Garden blogs, where she covers all…

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