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Sitcom Furniture Celebrates 20th Year in Design

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International Design Magazine's 1991 "Best of Category"
Award Winning Folding Chair From Sitcom Furniture

Sitcom Furniture announced that it has been 20 years since San Francisco architect, Alex Chan of Sitcom Furniture, designed Sitcom's archetype American foldable chair, a favorite for spectator sports and other pastimes.

Sitcom's humble beginnings can be traced to a San Francisco garage where Alex Chan and Shelly Wong, Co-Founder and President, founded the company.  "We had to hand build 25 chairs daily," said Ms. Wong. "Then, we would throw them in the back of an old Camry and hit the road to sell.”

Twenty years later, they've created hundreds of product lines and a global presence in the furniture marketplace. With masters degrees from Stanford in Business and Harvard in Architecture, Shelly and Alex were “definitely the most overeducated sewers and box packers in the industry. "Although they both came with resumes that could have landed them in any Fortune 500 Company, they found different rewards in founding Sitcom. Alex says, "furniture design has much more immediate gratification than designing buildings.”

For example, Alex could go into a shop and build a prototype in an afternoon. “If it sells well, I can affect thousands of customers," Alex remarks. For Shelly, "there is value in building every aspect of the business the way we want it to run.

We hire people that will fit into the Sitcom family and create a work atmosphere that we enjoy working in."

Upon winning the prestigious International Design Magazine’s “Best of Category” Award for Furniture in 1991 for the folding chair that could be folded in a 4x4x32’’ canvas for about $100, the Bay Area duo decided to expand their reach to include their first Asian-made furniture and traveled to Taiwan and China. Alex recalls that "the typical factory was a tin shack in the middle of rice paddies, and there were more water buffalo outside than machines inside", since at this time, furniture importing was in its infancy. However, the cost savings was substantial and Alex worked with the factories to improve quality to American standards, introducing high speed production techniques to increase output.

“Working with these primitive factories, we were able to get them up to speed so they could handle multi-million dollar orders from companies such as Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel. I worked many nights, until 3 or 4 am to make the welding jigs so they could stay on schedule and meet the required ship dates," Alex says of the early days.

The foldable chair transitioned into the tradeshow and corporate market while the sale on their original, first Asian-made furniture (table and chairs) flourished, eventually inspiring them to produce their first line, the Farmhouse Line in 1996.

The Farmhouse Line was bought by both Z Gallerie and Storehouse. Since then, they have built an organization that has multiple divisions; a stocking line that sells to independent and top 100 retailers worldwide, a private label division that designs OEM furniture for large customers like Pottery Barn and Crate & Barrel and a contract division that services hospitality giants like Wyndham, IHG, Landry's and Hyatt.

Sitcom products now cover many rooms of the home including bedroom, dining and occasional. This year, Sitcom has even expanded outside the home with several lines of outdoor furniture.

When asked about Sitcom’s appeal, Shelly and Alex attribute Sitcom’s unique design and brand in three-parts: Sitcom designs are contemporary, yet functional; Sitcom is the only designer with an in-house design team; and Sitcom places particular emphasis on the engineering and QC of their manufacturing.

“In our stocking line, we try to tap into the urban, more contemporary market but every piece needs to be special or different to catch the customer's interest,” continues Shelly. “In response, we chose to be different by adding functionality to our collections. You will find hidden drawers or extensions in some pieces. Other pieces have tops that pop up so coffee tables become desks. We try to be innovative; we're always looking forward to staying in the lead of furniture design.”

Still, working with the largest retailers in the country from El Dorado to Pottery Barn to Living Spaces, Sitcom has not lost touch with the end user of their furniture. "How you present your home or space is very personal and speaks of who you are,” explains Shelly. "We design every piece as if we are going to use this in our own house and we often do."

Alex takes particular pride in the in-house design team he has put together. “With this team of designers, draftsman and sample makers, we develop concepts for our own line as well as OEM furniture for many of the nation’s biggest retailers.”

“Most people know us for our modern stocking line, but our designers do rustic solid wood for West Elm, traditional wine bars for Pottery Barn and transitional furniture for Macys.” No one in the industry has this special dynamic of an in house team that can create any style for any category. Designers are usually able to turn around concepts within a 48-hour period.

Further, Sitcom has assembled an international operation with offices and QC in every country in which they work. This is extremely important on a customer service level and design level. ” We work in very close collaboration with our manufacturers in China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia and India, visiting frequently to ensure the necessary quality and specifications are present,” explains Alex. "This cooperation is how we are able to realize our designs for reasonable prices while building in technical advances that keep the products fresh."

This 20th year marks a special turn for Shelly and Alex as their vision remains positive, focused and aggressive. “We are currently providing our top customers better access to more collections and design ideas on a more regular basis, as it is crucial to keep your ideas fresh and constantly evolving,” Shelly and Alex concur. “We also added a warehouse space in the East Coast allowing us to ship more quickly and reasonably to our eastern customers.” The future is bright with a promise of continued contemporary, functional design.

But whatever happened to that foldable chair? If you want to see the original, you will have to visit the SF Museum of Modern Art. Their first product has been inducted into the permanent collection in the architecture and design department.

About Sitcom Furniture: Sitcom is the leading designer and manufacturer of contemporary, transitional furniture. With Sitcom’s notable beginning of winning the prestigious International Design’s “Best of Category” Award for Furniture for designing the foldable chair in 1991, Sitcom has broadened the scope of their work to include six categories of furniture designs.

Sitcom’s unique style of simple, elegant and functional design translates well across their wholesale, private label and contract divisions. Headquartered in Oakland, CA, Sitcom currently has over 100+ employees and works with over 30 different manufacturers throughout China, Indonesia, Vietnam, India and Malaysia. For more information, visit www.sitcomfurniture.com.

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