Arkitektura Assembly:  Bringing together the world of Design

DESIGN IN MIND: George Beylerian

George Beylerian has been many things—a curator, a collector, an entrepreneur—but perhaps the title he feels most comfortable with, the one that describes what is at the heart of all that he has done, is merchant. The founder of the world’s largest materials resource library, Material Connection, Beylerian’s passion for design began in his 20s. He had an infamous store on the upper east side called Scarabaeous, where he sold beautiful home furnishings to the likes of Jackie Kennedy. With a penchant for chairs, he started The Beylerian Collection which he sold to Steelcase for whom he was creative director. And his most recent venture was curating a collection of works by leading Italian designers, from Castiglioni to Lissoni to Magistretti, for a collection called de Gustibus, pieces of tablet design from bud vases to pepper grinders. We met George in NY and spoke about his roots, Armenian like my own, his first introduction to Italian Design and his love for his work.

Arkitektura:
You were born …

Beylerian:
In Alexandria, Egypt, 1935, July 30.

Arkitektura:
Your parents were from where?

Beylerian:
My father was born in Konya and then they left Konya during the Armenian … They were a wealthy family, so they settled in Beirut. One of the sons went to Paris, he was married and had a wife and two children.

Arkitektura:
Your uncle?

Beylerian:
My uncle, my oldest uncle. My second uncle went to Egypt, but I don't know how he went to Egypt. My third uncle went to Beirut with his family and the grandmother and the grandfather, the original Beylerians. Then there was the fourth one, Levon, who came to America on one of those big, those trips that many Armenians got on as immigrants. He came to New York, Brooklyn. He was the American uncle. Then there was my dad, who was the youngest.

Arkitektura:
Five boys?

Beylerian:
Five boys. He went to the boys' college, whatever, it's the famous school in Istanbul. How he went there, I can't remember because I thought they were escaping, which they did but they both time, they left a huge mansion in Konya. Somehow they, the parents and my dad, spent a year or so in Istanbul before they left for Beirut.

Arkitektura:
They left for Beirut, and then how did your dad end up in … First of all, how did they build their wealth? What was that history?

Beylerian:
Well, they had a department store, the one and only mini-department store, but don't think of Bloomingdales, it was a general store, call it.

Arkitektura:
Yeah.

Beylerian:
They had a beautiful house, which is now the police station in Konya.

Arkitektura:
Interesting.

Beylerian:
But they left everything. The only thing they took was a lot of gold coins. They took a carriage, their own carriage and their horses, and they built the back of the wagon, the carriage. They drilled holes like this through, just like this. They stuffed it with gold coins.

Arkitektura:
Amazing.

Beylerian:
Entire deck of the carriage was gold and that's how they took their money out. They didn't take anything, not a rug, nothing to give any reason for delays or. They never thought of cutting through, it was the bottom of the carriage.

Arkitektura:
Amazing, absolutely incredible.

Beylerian:
It's clever, yes.

Arkitektura:
Very clever and beautiful. The carriage must have looked stunning.

Beylerian:
Clean.

Arkitektura:
Can you imagine the most beautiful carriage with all of the holes filled with gold?

Beylerian:
No, the holes, you couldn't see. They went through the bottom.

Arkitektura:
I see, I see.

Beylerian:
It would be like under here, all gold coins but you couldn't see them.

Arkitektura:
So clever. Then your dad went to Beirut?

Beylerian:
My dad went to Beirut. One of the other uncles, the one who was in Paris eventually came back with his children. That meant they were two. Then there was a dear aunt who ended up in Alexandria. They were like the real bad luck in the family. He died young. His son was 30 years old, Nzare, died, kidney problems, which they didn't know at that time. A real negative, that entire one section of the family had all the bad luck. Anyway …

Arkitektura:
Levon stayed in Brooklyn?

Beylerian:
Levan stayed in Brooklyn and we didn't see each other forever because we had never met him. My father finally, he came to visit us with his wife, American wife, Armenian-American wife. She was a oddball. Anyway, we had a great nice family and so that was how my dad started traveling for- he joined his middle brother who was Brisbas, he joined them because they were in the hardware and related businesses like scissors, knives and all kinds of cutlery.

Arkitektura:
Interesting.

Beylerian:
My dad was the youngest and was traveling. He went to the American university in Beirut, which he graduated from. That was distinction, so he wasn't going to sit home and take care of Beirut, which was a tiny little city.

Arkitektura:
Yeah, it was a very prestigious school.

Beylerian:
Yeah. He started traveling towards Alexandria, which was a big capital, second capital. Then he inquired about finding a nice Armenian girl …

Arkitektura:
In Alexandria?

Beylerian:
… from a well-to-do family.

Arkitektura:
It happened?

Beylerian:
It happened. He married my mother, was a wealthy family.

Arkitektura:
Amazing.

Beylerian:
My grandfather was a builder. They got married and he said to his brother, "Sorry, I'm going to need to live here. That's what my wife's family is expecting me."

Arkitektura:
He wanted to do that?

Beylerian:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Arkitektura:
He wanted to live there and he knew that finding a wife there would keep him there?

Beylerian:
Yes, and he was very sophisticated. He dressed very well.

Arkitektura:
Yeah.

Beylerian:
Dad settled in Alexandria and then we were married there, my mother, he married my mother in Alexandria. My grandfather was quite wealthy, and he provided them a whole new building where they had their own apartment.

Arkitektura:
Amazing.

Beylerian:
But he built his own business out of there. Then came the World War II, which was very unfortunate, but that was 1939 and then near 1945, somewhere around '43, dad went to Cairo to visit because Alexandria was a beautiful city, it still is. Technically, nobody left from the European contingency, most people had by that time, in the … I'm jumping too fast, but I don't want to take too much time either. 1945 was about the end of war and then dad was already settled.

Arkitektura:
In Alexandria?

Beylerian:
Yes. A few years later, he went on to Cairo again to look and see what's worth. He realized how much ahead of things Cairo was in terms of importance, business, everything, retail, architecture. It was a charming city because it's full of Europeans, Greeks, Italians and French, English. In spite of all that, he landed in getting incredible retail space in the middle of Cairo, it's like Tiffany, where Tiffany is, that kind of a location. He opened a business, retail that's extremely up to date, all glass and crystal, glass windows and all. He ran a Tiffany-like store but for builders' hardware. All the latest technology things …

Arkitektura:
Amazing.

Beylerian:
… that have to do with metal industry. That was it. That's the second life for my dad, or the third life because Alexandria was okay but was nothing like this.

Arkitektura:
You moved to Cairo too?

Beylerian:
Yes. Everybody else went back after the problems of World War II, and the crisis because they were coming near Alexandria. The war almost ended in that part of the world, it was you remember the, heard of the War of EL Alamein?

Arkitektura:
Yes.

Beylerian:
El Alamein is on the Mediterranean. It's a little town outside of Alexandria. That was a big battle where the Germans totally collapsed. That was the beginning of the end for them. After that, they broke apart and …

Arkitektura:
The war ended.

Beylerian:
… the war ended.

Arkitektura:
You were born in Alexandria but really raised in the formative years in Cairo?

Beylerian:
Exactly.

Arkitektura:
You really come from a long lineage of people in retail?

Beylerian:
Yes.

Arkitektura:
That's interesting, it's in your blood?

Beylerian:
Yes.

Arkitektura:
I guess, a question that I often ask is when did the awareness of design and beauty really enter your life, and it sounds like it might have even happened before birth?

Beylerian:
Right.

Arkitektura:
You came to New York, you came to NYU?

Beylerian:
As a student.

Arkitektura:
Yeah, was it NYU?

Beylerian:
Yeah.

Arkitektura:
Yeah. What did you study at NYU?

Beylerian:
Commerce.

Arkitektura:
Commerce. The idea was you would be likely in retail, but you weren't sure what you're going to be doing.

Beylerian:
No, not necessarily in management.

Arkitektura:
Yeah.

Beylerian:
That could be wholesale or manufacturing.

Arkitektura:
Were you thinking at all the time of design, Italian?

Beylerian:
Nope, zip.

Arkitektura:
Italy?

Beylerian:
Zip, zip.

Arkitektura:
The Italian?

Beylerian:
It all happened here after I got started.

Arkitektura:
What happened?

Beylerian:
My first thing was to open a store, but I had already engaged myself towards design people and artists. They came with their creations and things. I managed them and their career. I guided them towards making products. I didn't have an experience either, except I had the shop, which was a testing ground.

Arkitektura:
Let's just actually take a step back. You come to NYU from Cairo, you're 22 years old when you graduate.

Beylerian:
No, I graduated at 26.

Arkitektura:
What year is this?

Beylerian:
I came in '57, '61.

Arkitektura:
'61, so exciting time actually to be in America.

Beylerian:
You weren't born then?

Arkitektura:
No, I wasn't born yet, no. When did you open your first shop in …

Beylerian:
Right, at the time, I was heavily into American design.

Arkitektura:
American design?

Beylerian:
Yes.

Arkitektura:
Italian was not part of the?

Beylerian:
No, it hadn't arrived yet. Charles Eames was around, George Nelson was- they were all fresh and all the famous artists, painters were just happen. I wish I had bought paintings at the time but I didn't. That was basically the atmosphere and I was tired having work with a company that sponsored me, which was very nice of them. When I got my Green Card, I was …

Arkitektura:
Free.

Beylerian:
I was free to do whatever I want and so I left. I had been looking to see about opening a shop.

Arkitektura:
You were what, 28 years old or something?

Beylerian:
Yes, exactly. We found a shop next to Serendipity, do you know where that is?

Arkitektura:
No.

Beylerian:
No, it's a very successful café, general goods shop, goodies, little trinkets, but all very designee. There are three gay guys, partners. It's a fun place and in the good old days, there were lines all the way to 2nd Avenue and 3rd Avenue, we were between the two. It was a very hot place and what's her name, Mrs. Kennedy and all the …

Arkitektura:
Big names would go there?

Beylerian:
… big names would go there and wait in line to get a table.

Arkitektura:
You found a place literally next door?

Beylerian:
Next door and the three guys, and then my wife shows up one day with a monkey that she had at home in Egypt, she thought it would be fun, sure enough. We named her Scarabena because the store was called Scarabaeus, which means a scarab.

Arkitektura:
Yes, I know.

Beylerian:
Scarabaeus was a big success and she jumped from here to there and we had to contain her and put her in a bathroom. We fixed it up for her.

Arkitektura:
Unbelievable.

Beylerian:
There are a lot of monkey collectors and they would come on Saturdays and sometimes bring their own monkeys.

Arkitektura:
No way.

Beylerian:
It was amazing, but then it was an impediment for us because after two years, it restricted our travels and the help would not necessarily too happy to come and feed the monkey on Sunday.

Arkitektura:
At this point, so then you were married at this point, I mean?

Beylerian:
Yes, yes, yes.

Arkitektura:
You had gotten married right after college?

Beylerian:
29 and a half, right. Louise moved from Boston to New York to go to the design school and then all her friends were gay, young men and women and were very helpful because they volunteered to work and fix my shop up. They were like subcontractors, when they did electrical work. None of that would be possible today.

Arkitektura:
No way.

Beylerian:
After a year and a half, we were lucky we got the 2nd floor available. We took that, we knocked out an entrance from inside to the- it became like a mini-department store, all full of design. Just then Italy started booming and then there was a big Italian design show at MoMA, which was very coincidental and very appropriate. We got a lot of good connections because of that. I had just been to Italy and with Louis and we bought a lot of stuff that was Italian, then eventually including Kartell, which is the plastic furnisher language. I took the license and started manufacturing in America.

Arkitektura:
Under their name?

Beylerian:
Both names.

Arkitektura:
Yeah.

Beylerian:
Kartell by Beylerian.

Arkitektura:
That's incredible.

Beylerian:
Yeah.

Arkitektura:
What was the- Kartell is such a established brand. What was that like to couple with them in that way?

Beylerian:
We were young and fearless and so everything was easy going and making deals. I made deals because you have to own the molds which are super expensive to be able to mold the same things here in America. I ended up buying some eight or nine molds that were thousands of dollars. I paid back over time, like you finance a car, same way.

Arkitektura:
You bought these molds from Kartell?

Beylerian:
Yes, Bloomingdales, Macy’s, Lord & Taylor, all the people throughout the country, bought our collection. We expanded the collection and made a real lifestyle. We launched the name, the lifestyle kind of word, it was the big word then. A lot of what we did became a creative force.

Arkitektura:
Fascinating.

Beylerian:
Very interesting moments because, all these words of which we don't use anymore were the running names and descriptions for the goods, like lifestyle was not a word that was- it was coined right about then, like with our stuff around it.

Arkitektura:
Conran, I'm sure.

Beylerian:
Conrad came 15 years later, yes.

Arkitektura:
Wow.

Beylerian:
That was way before. Bloomingdales had rooms and rooms of the stuff. It was so much nicer than now, I can't begin to tell you.

Arkitektura:
I'm sure, it's all changed. Now you go into B&B Italia, or are you going to …

Beylerian:
That became a second tier. The B&B Italia existed here through importers like me.

Arkitektura:
Yeah.

Beylerian:
There was a guy by the name of Charlie Stendig, which I don't think you know the name.

Arkitektura:
I do.

Beylerian:
He brought these high end things and sold them to designers, because my stuff was cheap enough and by making the Kartell things in America, the prices went way down. What was $140 chair retail price became $35.

Arkitektura:
Unbelievable, unbelievable.

Beylerian:
That was a huge momentum. Every major department store limited to one or two per city had our products in mass stacked up and beautifully done.

Arkitektura:
Because it was the price range was great.

Beylerian:
Right.

Arkitektura:
Whereas Stendig, was his …

Beylerian:
No, no, Stendig would have one chair and at a fancy imported price and that's it. That's why Stendig sold things that were unique but not mass.

Arkitektura:
Yeah.

Beylerian:
Swedish, a lot of Swedish things. Whereas our collection at the new prices were geared exactly towards consumer pricing.

Arkitektura:
Well, I guess the idea was that you would buy the molds and then you would …

Beylerian:
Right, pay them off over the …

Arkitektura:
Over the course of the over time.

Beylerian:
Right.

Arkitektura:
Then manufacture these things here, which brought the price down significantly by manufacturing on American soil?

Beylerian:
Exactly, right.

Arkitektura:
Then sell it at that price that was.

Beylerian:
Right.

Arkitektura:
When you can sell something at a more affordable price you can sell more.

Beylerian:
Yes. In the meantime, I was upgrading the collection by adding other pieces for the home furnishing industry. Adding chairs and sofas and so I wound up taking on a couple of major collections as well.

Arkitektura:
Italian?

Beylerian:
Italian. One was Arflex. One was Bellato. One was Ceramics by Gabianelli, which is very elegant. Another furniture line of lacquered wood, all that for the designer trade, not for Bloomingdales. The Bloomingdales concept was very young, colorful, cash and carry. I split up my business basically into two phases. The retail shop, I got rid off finally after nine years. I wasn't going to worry about who came, who-

Arkitektura:
The retail, the one close to Serendipity?

Beylerian:
Yes, Jackie Kennedy, all these people would come and were customers.

Arkitektura:
But you closed it?

Beylerian:
On the 9th year, I got enough to sell the 10th year lease, which I did.

Arkitektura:
Yeah, an offer you couldn't refuse.

Beylerian:
Yeah, there's no reason to buy stuff from the market and resell them just to get a markup, you know.

Arkitektura:
Yeah. These other collections that you acquired, they were not at a super accessible price point, they were more high end?

Beylerian:
Yeah, yeah, Arflex is like $3000 at least for sofa.

Arkitektura:
What was the competition like at that time? You mentioned Stendig, what was your relation?

Beylerian:
Stendig was AI, Atelier International, who happen to be my good friends now.

Arkitektura:
At the time?

Beylerian:
Yeah. But after I sold my company to Steelcase, a few years later, AI sold to Steelcase and now it doesn't exist.

Arkitektura:
AI doesn't exist, Steelcase does.

Beylerian:
Yeah. AI doesn't exist anymore. A lot of people but I was nudged into Steelcase right away. The Beylerian name ceased as such as a commercial brand and it became part of Steelcase.

Arkitektura:
I hear about that, for instance one being in the Bay Area, companies are constantly, sometimes it can be a goal for a company to be acquired.

Beylerian:
Yes.

Arkitektura:
When a company does get acquired, say by Google, let's take a typical thing and I meet the owner of the company that was acquired. They usually, they're not happy with the fact that they've now, despite the fact that they've become very rich, that they've lost- they often mention how they've lost something.

Beylerian:
Bullshit, bullshit.

Arkitektura:
Bullshit. You didn't feel that way at all?

Beylerian:
No, no.

Arkitektura:
Yeah.

Beylerian:
Times have changed. They were very thorough with me. In fact, I was the only one who lasted because it was obvious that my company became the Beylerian Collection at Steelcase, so what's the difference? I just wasn't particularly dying to have my name out there. Most people have that kind of mentality, but in fact, I was too small a company for Steelcase to say, "We own Beylerian." They had another large company called Vector and Vector was in Texas. Again, it was a company that they had bought many years prior.

Arkitektura:
Steelcase? Good for them.

Beylerian:
Yes. They merged me. I said, "I don't want to become a Steelcase company," which is not what I'm- I'm interested in design, marketing, proliferation of the opportunities.

Arkitektura:
That's what you're interested in, that's what you're passionate about.

Beylerian:
Yes, yes. There's a lot more that can be done today, even things have changed since. I was never bought and massacred. Whereas AI was bought and the owner is now my friend and he's actually living in Rome, nice American Jewish boy and not doing well at all because he got paid out, and that's it. Whereas my relationship lasted into other relationships and I became a contractor to Steelcase for their cultural side. I became their cultural guru because their only object to buy us out was to befriend their company to the design community, who only saw Steelcase as a giant, big guys, lot of furniture, steel.

Even all that changed. There's no filing cabinets anymore. There are no desks like that anymore. The business changed. That's 10 years later. At the outset, I didn't want to be sold to and then become- because my products were just too charming to become serialized.

Arkitektura:
Yeah, yeah.

Beylerian:
That's how that …

Arkitektura:
But it didn't work as well for AI?

Beylerian:
No.

Arkitektura:
What was the mistake he made?

Beylerian:
AI had a license to use the Cassina brands. AI was composed of famous Italian brands, which got covered up because AI put their own name on it, whereas I didn't do that. I was Kartell and kept Kartell, when I sold it alleviated Kartell to be known as Kartell.

Arkitektura:
Do you think that was his mistake?

Beylerian:
Well, no, it was the right thing to do at the time, but I guess I had foresight.

Arkitektura:
In the end, that worked against him?

Beylerian:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Everybody is out to get their name out.

Arkitektura:
Yeah, so Cassina for instance, got upset about that let's say?

Beylerian:
Sure, it was their money, their product, their design, and their name was just barely on the bottom, so to speak.

Arkitektura:
This is interesting. This aspect of putting- I'm sure it was very controversial for some of these companies to like say for AI to take Cassina's name away and put their name on it. It's a tough thing to do.

Beylerian:
Well, don't forget, years have passed. This branding thing is extremely sensitive to all these appropriation, branding, who owns the name, and what is the name worth. In a way, we were importing a new look. We were importing a new product, we were importing. At the time of all this happening, we did have a whole set of suppliers for the American companies, buyers like the Bloomingdales, the Macy's, all these people. There were so many accounts.

In Chicago the store was [unclear] Harris. There was stores all over America that had this noble quality of high design. When we came in with all the Italian stuff, it was totally out of the question to try to sell them to Bloomingdales. The prices would be so different. Besides, intentionally, how would we want Mr. Architect, his name is Phillip Johnson, to want to come and buy that beautiful Cassina stuff from Bloomingdales? It didn't make sense, because the Blooming Dale stuff was certainly 40 off once a year or twice a year, as everything else they sell.

They weren't priced that way. The Cassina things were priced at maximum. If you were a decorator, you'd get 10% off. It was a different level of doing business. By and large, the industry has changed quite a bit. I still love High Point because I had some wonderful years, I even bought a house there. We had parties.

Arkitektura:
Where?

Beylerian:
High Point on Club Road.

Arkitektura:
Oh my gosh.

Beylerian:
Are you familiar with it?

Arkitektura:
No.

Beylerian:
It's a charming little town. I had a house that was filled with my Italian imports and we had a lovely maid who came and prepared, put everything together, the dinner and all, and these were all magazine friends, the editors and publishers. There were no restaurants in town, so to speak, maybe one Turkey place. They loved coming to my house because it was really joyful, and yet it was none of the high end Italian stuff that I later took over to distribute, because the stuff that I was selling to Bloomingdales. They were all little things, you know stack in this, stack in drawers, stack in chairs.

Arkitektura:
Things that were beautiful but not necessarily …

Beylerian:
And inexpensive.

Arkitektura:
Yeah, they weren't exclusive.

Beylerian:
No, they were in the midst of being launched in America and everybody saw them in the newspapers and the magazines.

Arkitektura:
People would come to your house and see these things before they had actually been launched?

Beylerian:
Yes, no, during.

Arkitektura:
Amazing. They would get like a sneak peek?

Beylerian:
Voila. The food was so interesting. We used to go to- it was local coffee shops, I forgot the name now, like Checkers, whites all ceramic tiles with a counter, and they had the divine chocolate cake. We would buy three, four cakes and bring them and serve them. People would go nuts, if they only knew it came from the five and ten coffee shop.

Arkitektura:
My gosh. Where is High Point?

Beylerian:
High Point is south of here. High Point is in North Carolina.

Arkitektura:
Okay, it's in North Carolina, so it's a whole different state?

Beylerian:
Yes, it's 11 hours by driving.

Arkitektura:
I didn't know that North Carolina was a place that could attract journalists and designers and …

Beylerian:
Yes, it had its heavy onslaught in the '70s because the market used to be in Chicago. There's a merchandise mart in Chicago. Not the one you probably know, the big merchandise mart building, there's a furniture exchange, where people go twice a year to buy furniture, and that's it at showrooms.

Arkitektura:
When you were doing this in the heyday, your relationship with places like AI or Stendig, were you-

Beylerian:
Competitors.

Arkitektura:
You were in competition with them?

Beylerian:
But now he's my best friend. We call, we talk, write to each other. He lives in Rome now.

Arkitektura:
At the time, you were competitors?

Beylerian:
Yes.

Arkitektura:
Then how did you become friends then?

Beylerian:
We were friends, courteous friends. We weren't going to kill each other, no. They were much more imposing because they showed their brand, the name AI was like so chic because you sold the Cassina pieces. It was very impressive, whereas I wasn't going to do that. I had Affix, which is another big brand.

Arkitektura:
Yeah.

Beylerian:
Of course, if you ask, everybody wants their name in big areas.

Arkitektura:
Yes. What do you think was the secret to your success then?

Beylerian:
My charm.

Arkitektura:
Yeah, that's a great, no, that's true.

Beylerian:
Well, I don't know. Actually, I had very- the other guys were architects who opened this business. I was not an architect.

Arkitektura:
You're a businessman?

Beylerian:
Merchant, I called myself.

Arkitektura:
Yeah.

Beylerian:
That was the difference. I was looking at it. Plus they were a little standoffish to the rest of the world, because who they were, they had a big brand name. They had great product. They had Cassina, was certainly the top brand, which was in due course really the best of the best.

Arkitektura:
And still is, in some ways.

Beylerian:
Yes, and I had brand that was quite wonderful but because I wasn't around anymore to take care of it, it just went away. What happened is that when I sold to Steelcase, I went along with a contract for 10 years to work for them.

Arkitektura:
Yeah, 10, that's significant. How much time was there between closing the store next to Serendipity and selling to Steelcase, how many years?

Beylerian:
That's a good question. '73, the lease must have expired, '64 is when I had my shop. '64 and I sold to- only four years, three, four years.

Arkitektura:
Not that long?

Beylerian:
Right.

Arkitektura:
Something about having a shop that's special and certainly it sounds like your shop was this.

Beylerian:
Fabulous.

Arkitektura:
That it becomes and particularly depending on the kind of things you sell, it becomes a cultural center in the way people …

Beylerian:
It does, it does.

Arkitektura:
From some of the stories you said, what you were talking earlier about Jackie Kennedy coming in with her children and …

Beylerian:
Yes, you wouldn't remember Dr. Kildare, would you?

Arkitektura:
No.

Beylerian:
It was a television series. Young, handsome medical guy, and he would come at Christmas time and stay there for three hours. The line would just continue on the street because he was inside buying. My wife was going nuts and she was so excited.

Arkitektura:
Your mum would come and visit, you said?

Beylerian:
She would come to watch the pickpockets and I said, "Mum, don't worry, these are not people who are going to …" His Armenian style.

Arkitektura:
Yeah.

Beylerian:
My mum was elegant lady, but she had this sudden- she took over like she was in charge of …

Arkitektura:
Or protective.

Beylerian:
… jail.

Arkitektura:
Yeah, yeah, she was protective. I understand the logic of closing it. Financially, it doesn't make sense.

Beylerian:
I never went there anymore, and this girl who's a good friend whose wife became a designer was a pest now, my friend. She's opened, finally she's run my business for seven years, because after the third year, all these Beylerian stuff became born.

Arkitektura:
The Kartell stuff?

Beylerian:
Right. The store lost me. I was kind of the spirit of the place, the creativity.

Arkitektura:
Yeah, I completely understand. After selling to Steelcase, were you effectively a Steelcase employee for 10 years?

Beylerian:
No, I was not. They bought Beylerian productions. They bought Beylerian.

Arkitektura:
For 10 years, something, you had to do something with them for 10 years?

Beylerian:
Yes. I became a new person. My career changed again and I put them in a slot where they could have done that only without having to buy us out one by one, the companies, because what in reality, I haven't told this to anybody else. But the reason they bought us out is because of the reputation and the goods that we brought along. The goods as we see now can change. You can design from scratch, but you have to bring the mentality into the company.

Arkitektura:
The reason Steelcase bought you is because of the beautiful designs that brought from Italy, and the Kartell stuff?

Beylerian:
Right, and the Kartell stuff.

Arkitektura:
Or I should say Kartell pieces?

Beylerian:
No, stuff.

Arkitektura:
Stuff is fine.

Beylerian:
Basically, my contribution to the Steelcase enterprise, which was a three billion dollar company, that was like a little worm, was the agility to address at the time, we had famous architects, even then, now that Richard Meyer and people like that are my friends, is that at the time we also had Phillip Johnson and other names that were not only customers of the products, but they owned that in their own homes. There was kind of a penetration.

Arkitektura:
Interesting. This personal and professional, that this kind of, yeah, not only did they love these products intellectually …

Beylerian:
Steelcase didn't give a shit, except that high up they understood that what is moving the goods and stuff, the turnover was because of that magic design concepts that went into the products. The fact that they had Italian origin.

Arkitektura:
They really just saw it as business, they didn't care about design is what you're saying.

Beylerian:
Well, the companies like Steelcase, didn't give a shit. Didn't know what they're at, didn't even understand why the designers wanted that, even though later on they were convinced. Because this decision to buy me out and to buy the others was not on the spur of the moment, it had been visiting them. Suddenly, the put a few people in charge to go and buy them out. They were clever people.

Arkitektura:
Obviously, look, they're still so strong. When was Material Connexion born then?

Beylerian:
Material Connexion was born somewhere in 19 …

Arkitektura:
You're answering the question essentially, yeah. It was soon after you had sold your business to Steelcase that Material Connexion was born.

Beylerian:
Yes, I'll tell you what, it was 10 years after I sold to Steelcase and they have me a five year contract and another five year contract, extended. It was just at the end of the second year.

Arkitektura:
Second contract.

Beylerian:
Second contract that I decided that I'll open this place.

Arkitektura:
Yeah. It was a place or was a business?

Beylerian:
Both. They were so generous that they owned that building on 6th Avenue and Central Park South, there's a corner, white building, right by that Carl's building, the big building. You're not from here.

Arkitektura:
That's okay. I did live here.

Beylerian:
I see. Anyway, I had been given a space in that building to launch Material Connexion. They liked the idea enough and they knew it would bring people, architects, because in the older days, the central focus of where architects came were in the '40s and '50, like Madison Avenue and … Again, all those companies that were there whether it was AI, Cassina, and all, were there because that was the place to shop for high end furniture.

Arkitektura:
In the interest of time, I think that what I'm gathering is that you've recreated yourself several times, within the same context but …

Beylerian:
More or less is.

Arkitektura:
It happened to be that it was design, and maybe that got introduced to you, this is a conjuncture now, but maybe that got introduced to you in that MoMa Show, that was the MoMa Show about Italian design, I don't know if that was the Moma…

Beylerian:
That was there, at the very beginning.

Arkitektura:
Yeah, I don't know if that would spark the interest at the very beginning.

Beylerian:
Yeah, well, it's partially.

Arkitektura:
Maybe something. Fundamentally, it could have been something else. You could have ended up being interested in jewelry, or you could have been …

Beylerian:
I am.

Arkitektura:
Okay, fine. You could have been an art dealer.

Beylerian:
I am.

Arkitektura:
It could have been, it just so happens that it was Italian design, but fundamentally, it's not that your passion about design, but your passion about commerce.

Beylerian:
Very good observation.

Arkitektura:
You think that's- is that accurate?

Beylerian:
Yes, it is.

Arkitektura:
Yeah. Really, you could …

Beylerian:
But I happen to be interested in that commerce of things that I like. If you told me to commerce with automobiles, Ferrari, I wouldn't be so turned on.

Arkitektura:
What were the biggest challenges at the time? What was the backlash?

Beylerian:
Money.

Arkitektura:
Money?

Beylerian:
Yes, to make a chair of Colombo, you know the famous chair with a hole in the backseat, number 4868, I still remember the number. That chair would have been $135 retail public price. If you were at Bloomingdales and you'll see that price on it.

Arkitektura:
135, that's not bad.

Beylerian:
No, it's not bad but now it's not, I don't know how much it is. When I was selling it, the price at the time was $35, understand.

Arkitektura:
Yeah.

Beylerian:
So that people bought it at 17.50.

Arkitektura:
Right.

Beylerian:
If it's a big store, you got another 10% in this industry. Eventually the unit price was quite low. Don't forget this is 25 plus years ago.

Arkitektura:
The margins were really …

Beylerian:
Right and there was just enough room for a retailer to buy and double the price and then … Now, retail, everything has changed so much. You can't go to Bloomingdales unless it's so in demand, that chair, the Colombo chair, I'd say. It so in demand that people will buy it and there are some things left over from Kartell that are still sold now at Bloomingdales.

Arkitektura:
Amazing.

Beylerian:
Even though the store look terrible now and is a piece of shit.

Arkitektura:
Let's hope that the Bloomingdales owner isn't listening to this. Money was the biggest challenge. Was there backlash from your colleagues?

Beylerian:
No, why would there be backlash?

Arkitektura:
No, there isn't, I don't think there …

Beylerian:
No, no, there were obviously envious because when I brought Kartell, I brought the whole thing as much as possible, whereas when they brought sofas from Cassina and sold it for X thousands of dollars, they maintained a very high level, which it deserved. But the resellers were not the same. In the case of Cassina, Richard Meyer, the architects picked it up. He didn't have to go to retail shop. Of course, there was showroom he could go to. He didn't have to go to Bloomingdales to look at it.

The things we had, because of the plastic price points, which were much less than the sofas were basically, it was a different distribution. The only other way to kill that was to have your own retail stores, which now it has.

Arkitektura:
Yes, I saw that, we have one in San Francisco. Now, you're still working because you probably love to.

Beylerian:
Well, right now I'm not working so to speak. I did this collection last year.

Arkitektura:
Yeah. That's still working.

Beylerian:
Is it the San Francisco Museum or whatever?

Arkitektura:
Yeah.

Beylerian:
Basically, I'm a merchant, passion Armenian merchant.

Arkitektura:
Exactly, [foreign language].

Beylerian:
It's like from Konyasti.

Arkitektura:
[Foreign language].

Beylerian:
We're basically …

Arkitektura:
It's in your blood.

Beylerian:
Yeah, I should close it down but basically this was the last stab at getting together with all my friends. I know every one of these people personally.

Arkitektura:
When we're saying this we're talking about De Gustibus …

Beylerian:
De Gustibus.

Arkitektura:
… exhibition or collection, which is food related products by leading designers like …

Beylerian:
They're all in the back.

Arkitektura:
… Dordoni and Castiglioni and all of the best, Ettore Sosstass and Capellini and all the big names.

Beylerian:
Two or three of these died just recently.

Arkitektura:
The biggest. All of the names that end in I apparently. Yeah, so this was the one that really was to bring your good friends together.

Beylerian:
Yeah, it was very, a lot of work. Really, it's not for the money. In fact, it cost me several hundred thousand dollars to do that. Just to let you know it's not always money.

Arkitektura:
Now I know.

Beylerian:
I don't know what to do with it now, but I need another George Beylerian who can take it off my hands and I don't have to worry. I have a partner, who's a mid westerner. He's American guy and he does all the distribution, the billing and he even produces many of these things for me in China.

Arkitektura:
Well, let's put it this way, and I think this will be a good way to end, I think it's a testament to your character that you're- what you think might be your last real collection isn't about finance, but is about friendship.

Beylerian:
Yes, of course.

Arkitektura:
Ultimately, that's what we can say fundamentally might mean the most to you.

Beylerian:
Absolutely. Yes, actually, people like Alan Heller, who always coveted what I did but then eventually, it's marginalized. He ended up doing the Vignelli dishes, which were nothing new. He's not well now and he kind of, we make fun of each other, who's going to die first and things like that, which is terrible.