To many of us, the word “furniture” causes no real stir of emotion. They’re objects designed for sitting, nothing more. But to a gifted few, to furnish means something almost cosmic. It’s an opportunity to bestow a sense of warmth to an otherwise cold space with a contemporary area rug, to encourage family bonding with the perfect dinning room table, to indulge in intimate conversation sitting on the ideal love seat. Yes, for those of you in the Los Angeles area who are familiar with this kind of excitement, you’ll undoubtedly want to have a conversation with a man by the name of Ray Newton, the owner and founder of NOHO Interior & Design- a contemporary furniture store making its official launch in the NoHo Arts District on May 19th.
As someone with an interest in interior design, but very little knowledge myself, I’m feeling more than enthusiastic about my interview with Ray, and this enthusiasm is only reinforced upon stepping inside his much-anticipated store. It’s in the vein of a Manhattan loft with a high, exposed ceiling, acid floors and a plethora of space. Before me is the finest, most colorful furniture, strategically placed around the room, working in unison to electrify my sense of sight and imagination. An interior designer’s wet dream.
“It’s still not ready,” Ray says. “I’m still working on getting all the right pieces in here before our grand opening.” His energy is excitable. He speaks rhythmically in an even tone, but with such pride and commitment that I have no doubt he’ll have whatever pieces he needs whenever he needs them because guys like Ray- who have owned and operated several successful furniture stores, supplied the set design for an award-winning independent film (he was also a producer), all without ever taking one interior design class or ascertaining a business degree- these kind of guys never really lose.
“We’ve only been open for a week, and I’ve already rented out our entire front window for a music video shoot,” he says. This is no surprise being that Ray has been extremely precise in the design of the store’s layout. “I’m also a space planner,” he says, “and for me, it’s like walking into a department store and seeing the mannequin displaying clothes the way they’re supposed to look, that’s what I do with my store. I want people to come in and see the layout and go, ‘I want it just like that,’ rather than seeing a row of sofas and not knowing how to match it with a coffee table.”
A self-taught interior designer, Ray has spent hours going to furniture expos, conventions and trade shows like the Las Vegas Market or High Point Market. He’s studied vendor catalogs and followed furniture designers from around the world, and he’s trained his eye to find the beauty in pieces that others would foolishly discard. “I’m into lines,” he says. “I really look for things that look like art, and I dream in color.”
Yes, it’s this kind of affection for detail, dedication to excellence and unabashed love for the business that has brought Ray to us, but with big wins inevitably come big challenges.
Learning to Walk at 16
Born and raised in Detroit, Ray secured a job at Pier 1 Imports when he was just 16, and having negotiated his parents into giving him the entire upstairs to do with as he pleased- he used the money he earned to decorate his section of the house. “I would deck the place out,” he says. “I learned about motifs and artists; I was buying artwork. I just had this whole mood and vibe going on, and it was natural for me.”
It was natural, but not immediate as Ray went off to college, moving to Long Beach, CA in 1979 to study Liberal Arts with a minor in English. He finished his degree and went straight into the work force selling women’s shoes where, in addition to learning about supply and demand, he inadvertently learned about design. “I was a manager,” he says, “so I had to know about displays and how to colorize and accessorize, and it was preparing me for what was next, little did I know.”
He worked diligently as a sales person during the day, and a promoter for concerts and nightclubs at night, then moved to Orange County, CA in 1990 where he would finally be reunited with an old flame. “I was still working in women’s shoes at the time,” he says, “and a client of mine invited me to a party to meet her husband who was opening a furniture gallery, so I went.” Ray was so impressed and inspired by the 100,000 square foot gallery that he asked for a job and was immediately hired. “And because I worked there, I was opening boxes and seeing everything before we were displaying it,” he says, “and we had major designers from major companies. And we were setting up actual show rooms much like I do now with vignettes.”
And The Training Wheels are Off
For Ray, whatever natural talent he had for decorating and design at 16 was quickly rearticulating itself in his work, propelling him to manager of the 100,000 square foot gallery in just 6 months. And from there, his star couldn’t rise fast enough. “I left that store and went on to manage one of the biggest stores in Orange County located in the Tustin Market Place,” he says. “Then, shortly after that, I was working for a lady who was going out of business, so my ex-wife and I partnered up and bought her out. And that was my first store back in 97 called Decor.” He and his wife would eventually close that store, and open up three more stores: one in Burbank in 2001 called the Burbank Bar Stools and Dining, Omni Designs Furniture in the NoHo Arts District in 2004, and a third store in Beverly Hills later that same year. But despite the fact that he and his ex-wife were running three stores at once, each with their own level of popularity, Omni proved to be the break-out hit with celebrity clients like actor Marc Curry and singer Teddy Riley- and with entertainment companies like MTV, Disney and Fox Studios looking to rent furniture. “At one point, my furniture was on 20 different television shows,” he remembers. “I used to keep a pass for the Warner Brothers lot in my car window because I was on the lot so much.”
A major part of Omni’s success was Ray’s inherent talent for promoting himself, aligning with industry publications The Creative Handbook and Tolucan Times to advertise. But that wasn’t the only factor as, much like the restaurant industry, location is everything. “Omni was right next door to Millennium Dance Complex, so the celebrities would leave there and wander into my store; they found me.” But by 2007, the economy fell further and faster than many of us had ever witnessed, and business went right along with it. “The market at that point, no one could’ve predicted,” he says, “and then I went through a divorce and everything just dissolved after that, needless to say. I lost my dream home in Los Feliz that I thought I would retire in, but things change.”
There are No Breaks on this Ride
Ray was out for the time being, but he was far from down. Remember, guys like Ray never really lose. “Out of all the stores I had, I learned the most from Omni because everywhere else was just basic areas of furniture,” he says, “but Omni was contemporary art. It was at a level where I could incorporate television and video, which is what we’re doing now with NoHo Interior & Design.” And he’s doing it quite well. You see, not only did he just rent out NoHo Interior & Design’s front window for a music video, but he’s also scheduled another video shoot with a big movie production company, all within a week of opening, and weeks before his big launch.
This was all possible because Ray had the forethought to partner with Glassrock Entertainment, a company specializing in television, film and video production. “Alton Glass, the owner of Glassrock Entertainment, and I worked together, I helped him produce one of his films,” Ray shares, “and he’s a very talented film-maker. So I brought him on board to act as a liaison between myself and the entertainment industry.”
Another significant leap setting Ray apart from the average business owner, showcasing his savvy, opportunity-seizing nature. “The hardest thing right now is just getting the word out,” he shares, “and even that’s coming together- I can tell by the vibe of the people who are walking in.” And considering the NoHo Arts District is exploding with new businesses and residencies every year- a new, multi-unit apartment building sprouting up directly behind NoHo Interior & Design as I write this, Ray will likely have more success this time around than ever before.
And even if NoHo Interior & Design isn’t the break-out hit that we’re all anticipating, you can rest assured that Ray Newton will still be successful. He already is. “Success to me means comfort and being able to give back. It’s not about having a degree on the wall, but about having the ability to live your dream and do what you aspire to do. And that’s me.”
For anyone interested in innovative and artistic furniture from the same man who brought you Omni Designs Furniture, please drop by NoHo Interior & Design, located at 4870 Lankershim Blvd in the NoHo Arts District. Or visit http://www.nohoid.com/for more information...818 691-3958