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Ann and David Sutherland are a power duo unlike any other. He, a purveyor of upscale home goods and maker of fine furniture, and she, an interior designer. Together, they created Perennials easy-care, luxury upholstery fabrics in 1996. Twenty years later, Perennials exceeds $125 million in annual sales, and it is the fastest-growing component of the three Sutherland enterprises that include six showrooms nationwide. The happy couple sold a majority of the whole lot in December to Austin private equity firm Acacia Partners, but David remains CEO and Ann, president. On April 23 the dynamic duo chairs the Art Ball benefiting the Dallas Museum of Art.
They were born in the Sooner State.
DS: I was born in Tulsa, and lived in Dallas since age 8. I went to O.U. and got a degree in petroleum land management. I hated working for a big corporation, so I went to work for a good friend [EC Dicken] in this industry and realized I had a knack for it.
AS: I grew up in a small rural town outside Oklahoma City and went to OSU for interior design. I became familiar with the Dallas market and shopping down here, and David’s showroom was my favorite. When he was on the road traveling, he came and presented me with products, so that was the first time we met. I was impressed, but he doesn’t remember.
DS: I’m sorry to say.
David’s daughter plays matchmaker.
AS: One day I was in his showroom. His daughter [Susan] worked for him, and she went back to his office and said, “Dad, you have to meet Ann.” He came out and we talked and he said, “Let me take you to lunch.” We like to joke that that’s when Cupid hit him. After that, he started to find excuses to come to Oklahoma City.
DS: It’s kind of cool to have your daughter introduce you to your wife.
The Sutherlands start working together.
AS: Our life is really involved in our work—that’s where we find satisfaction and passion, and we are compatible in our design aesthetic and what we see as important. He’s got vision and people skills, and I’m more detailed and like to be involved in the product a bit more. We pair up because he starts something, I take it on, and then he’s onto something else.
David has his aha moment.
DS: I started it [Perennials] mainly for our own use because we needed better-looking fabrics for our outdoor furniture. What was available then was mainly directed toward marinas. It was in primary colors, stiff, had lots of finishes on it, and was not comfortable at all. So we started with a subtle, decorative palette from the garden. All of a sudden, instead of 95 percent of our sales being to ourselves for Sutherland Furniture, 95 percent went to other furniture companies as specified by interior designers and architects.
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They take their fabrics indoors.
AS: As designers saw the response of the clients, they realized they should offer our fabrics as a special order on their interiors too. Now that’s where the growth is coming from—using high-performance fabrics on interior furniture.
DS: We began a creative binge and crafted new yarns, new chenilles and bouclés. It’s virtually indestructible. You can clean it with bleach. Even a Sharpie…
AS: …red wine comes out.
DS: We do a lot of private label for other industry editors.
AS: Like Holly Hunt and Clarence House. Now we have our own weaving, our own yarn management, our own finishing line. We make everything ourselves in Mexico.
As the Art Ball turns…
AS: We are highlighting the importance of the relationship of art and architecture in Dallas and the world. Our goal is to raise $3 million to support the DMA’s ongoing mission to offer free admission and other programs.