April 19, 2012 | by Juliette Ebner
‘Essentials’ for design

David Schaefer, gay owner of Urban Essentials on U Street NW. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

David Schaefer’s first foray into selling furniture came completely by accident while running a men’s clothing store in Rehoboth Beach.

To save money when moving storefronts, instead of buying the usual store fixtures that need to be attached to the wall, he’d use furniture as displays, hanging shirts in an armoire and laying pants on a dining table.

“People started coming and wanting to buy the armoires and dressers and tables … originally I thought we’d sell some of the furniture, but I didn’t think every week all the furniture would be gone and the clothing would be on the floor,” Schaefer says. “So, I had to learn the words special order.”

Schaefer, after working in Congress for 13 years, is now the sole owner Urban Essentials (1330 U St., N.W.), a furniture store with a bit of everything.

The store opened 12 years ago when it was the only shop of its kind on the street.

“When we came in … you could park anywhere on the whole block … it was like a ghost town,” Schaefer says. “It’s amazing, its wonderful, its a fantastic change … When we opened, people thought we were nuts.”

Now it’s surrounded by businesses, banks and apartment buildings.

The store itself is small but filled with items of all sizes. Items aren’t just put out for people to see like some of the bigger, box stores, but arranged into spaces that are fully designed.

The bedroom areas don’t just have a bed and dresser, but art work, lamps, rugs and other accessories, all for sale.

“We change out merchandise every week … we have a huge warehouse we pull from,” Schaefer says. “Changing it up in here … helps move things along.”

Sometimes items stay in the store for a while, but occasionally items will sell within a day or two.

Schaefer finds the products they sell by traveling to furniture and home shows, going as far as Montreal and San Francisco, looking for products that are different from what everyone else sells. He goes to about four a year.

“I’d like to go to Milan next year,” Schaefer says.

The store is not geared to just one style, selling a little bit of everything from candles and picture frames to beds and sofas. There’s no defined style in its showroom.

That variety makes it harder to detect seasonal trends though Schaefer sees more overall trends.

“People are moving to designs that reflect what they want in their lifestyle. They want softer. They want quieter. They want less outside influence,” he says. “They feel it’s their place away from all the reds and the oranges and the craziness out there.”

Schaefer has noticed a few newer, more specific trends in recent weeks.

“There’s a lot of people coming in ready for spring cleaning, ready to make a change,” Schaefer says. “I think the spring you hear that a lot more than any other time of the year.”

He’s also seen a lot of people come in to buy new mattresses, specifically Temper-Pedic mattresses.

Urban Essentials isn’t just about selling furniture. There are also two interior designers on staff who will help design an entire room, going to a client’s house and helping assess what can be done with the available space.

“It’s just as easy to walk someone around here as it is to walk around their apartment to tell them what they need a block away,” Schaefer says of the design aspect. “Why not go out there and help them? Make sure it’ll fit through the door.”

Nearby apartment buildings are actually what brought the store’s interior design aspect to a whole new level. The staff would go to the apartments and stage the model rooms prospective renters would look at.

“We wound up getting a lot of business from that,” Schaefer says. “It was like we got to have three or four show rooms at one time.”

He still has people asking and sometimes insisting to buy furniture that normally wouldn’t be for sale. Just now, it’s the furniture in his own home.

“I sold both of the sofas in my house, out of my house, because somebody had to have them, which is not the first time,” Schaefer says, chuckling.

For more information on the store and services they offer, visit urban-essentials.com.

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