Photo By Mark Roessler
Keith Woodruff: A fresh set of eyes and ideas
“It’s interesting—people will come in here sometimes and wander around for an hour, not saying a thing,” said Keith Woodruff, owner of Easthampton’s KW Home, a furniture and housewares store in Easthampton. “And then this voice out of the blue says, ‘This is a really nice shop.’ Which, of course, is a really nice compliment, but then they say, ‘I wouldn’t even expect to find a store like this here. Where are you from?’” Though he has a degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and he worked for Michael de Santis, Inc., a New York-based design firm, Woodruff is originally from Westfield.
“I came back from the city because my family’s here,” he said. “I didn’t want my work to be across the country, or a commute where it took several hours to see them.”
The blend of a worldly, cosmopolitan style and an appreciation for the simple comforts of home is fundamental to Woodruff’s approach, and it’s this eclectic mix that perhaps perplexes some customers. Everywhere you look, inside and out, there are odd juxtapositions.
Located on Cottage Street, the store is situated in the foyer of a handsomely renovated historic movie theater—that, as recently as the ’90s, showed pornos. A felting supply store and a furniture maker occupy the theater space now. There are four bars in close proximity to the old cinema—one caters to the biker crowd and another to the stringed-instrument set—and up the street, just past the tattoo parlor and fancy bookstore, is a family Italian restaurant. Instead of feeling disjointed, the odd neighborhood just seems to click. It has a sense of identity other parts of the city are still striving to establish, and a down-to-earth funkiness other towns in the Pioneer Valley only pretend to have.
Similarly, inside his well-stocked store Woodruff has created a place where a framed etching of British gentlemen bowling on the town green works with a not-so-traditional black and white leather throw pillow that sports a Union Jack. In another corner, you might find stackable Italian lawn chairs situated near shelves made from welded iron bars and weathered planks.
“I love working with a lot of eclectic styles,” he said. “I have no problem mixing something contemporary with polished steel and glass, and putting it next to something more traditional, such as something made with stained wood and latticework. As long as the scale is right and you’re consistent with the story you’re trying to tell, almost anything can work.
“My goal is to offer competitively priced items that are quality-made,” he said of his collection. “I try to offer a selection comparable to what you might find at a national department chain, but with pieces that aren’t generic and that will last more than a few years.”
While other home furnishing stores may have more floor space, few have the same range of styles or sense of adventure as KW Home. More importantly, they don’t have Woodruff, whose services as an interior designer are his business’ chief asset. While he’s happy when anonymous customers purchase items from his inventory without much discussion, he does his best work when his design skills and years of experience are employed.
“When I was based in New York, I worked on some amazing projects in amazing places,” he said. “Trump Towers. An apartment on Central Park West. We had projects in the Hamptons and Turnberry Island in Florida, which was very posh in the 1980s and full of new-found wealth. We did a lot of work with custom-made furniture to create custom environments.” He adding that several projects he managed were later featured in Architectural Digest. “It was quite an experience for a kid like me, coming from a town like Westfield and being thrown into such a world of wealth and power.”
When he returned to the Pioneer Valley, finding meaningful design work was challenging. Before landing the position of designer on staff at Cedar Chest in Northampton in 1997, he renovated and ran a bed-and-breakfast in Amherst and also spent several years as a real estate agent in that town. In 2001, he went into business for himself, setting up his shop in Easthampton.
While he brought with him some of the clients from Cedar Chest, Woodruff credits his eleven years of independence to “the communities of East-, West- and Southampton [that] found me and really started to support my business, which I’m really thankful for.” This support has been particularly important to Woodruff’s business during the recent recession. Responding to the new economic circumstances, he has helped his clients adjust and sometimes scale back their vision.
“Instead of replacing a whole room of furniture,” Woodruff said, “through discussions with me as a designer, we’ve saved some pieces—refurbishing, refinishing, maybe reupholstering them. I take pride in helping people find one or two new pieces that will complement and enhance what they already have, instead of starting over completely, though I certainly do that for people, too.” For a minimal fee, Woodruff is happy to visit clients at home for an initial consultation.
“I am generally a pretty quick read on what customers’ needs are, which is priority number one,” he said. In addition to offering clients a fresh set of eyes and ideas with which to re-envision their homes, Woodruff can draw from an immense catalog of resources not immediately apparent on his showroom floor. He can recommend a range of global products from quality design firms, as well as a host of local artisan services to help tailor a look to a client’s vision.
Does he miss working in Manhattan?
“I miss the energy and the creative pulse, sometimes, but what I don’t miss is the madness. It was just too much,” Woodruff said. “But the Valley is my home, and it’s just so beautiful. There’s a lot to explore. Even after years of being in real estate and covering a lot of ground, there’s still so much I want to see.” Not coincidentally, this sense of adventure and reward is precisely what customers find stepping inside Woodruff’s Cottage Street storefront.•