by Jordan Green
Two designers who relocated from Brooklyn to High Point open a year-round studio and retail space in a burgeoning district dedicated to high-end design-driven goods and antiques.
Jason Oliver Nixon was onstage at High Point Theatre on Monday morning for a panel discussion with fellow interior designers Julia Buckingham and Timothy Corrigan. Buckingham’s offices are based in Chicago; Corrigan does business in Los Angeles and Paris.
Mona Delia, vice president of communications for the High Point Market Authority, mentioned for the second time in her introduction that Madcap Cottage, a business owned by Nixon and his partner, is located in High Point.
“Let me hear it again: Yay!” she said.
Nixon, who recently relocated from Brooklyn with his partner John Loecke, didn’t hesitate to talk up his new hometown during the panel discussion, entitled “Tales from the Design Trenches: Highs, Lows, and How to Embrace High Point — Design Industry Vets Swap War Stories and Share Winning Strategies.”
“High Point has the most amazing capabilities,” Nixon said. “Coming from New York, where for 25 years in New York I did not have refinishers, re-upholsterers, furniture makers, quilters and workrooms, within a mile of my showroom [as I do] in downtown High Point. I don’t think of High Point as just a place you come to twice a year. The untapped resources in this city, I can send something to be reupholstered and have it back in an hour and a half….”
Buckingham and Corrigan erupted in groans of envy and appreciation.
“Relocating to High Point from New York, we were able to make our dreams come true somewhere else — I love New York,” Nixon continued. “In New York we would have to spend thousands of dollars on warehouse space to move a piece of furniture around town. I think a lot of chefs coming from New York, Chicago and LA and moving elsewhere, who are discovering the same thing. People can move anywhere and do anything. There can be chapters in your life…. Don’t be afraid to change metaphorically and physically, and to take a leap sometimes, and there’s magic that can result.”
When Nixon and Loecke were based in New York, Nixon recalled that he would have to spend time on Skype to have furniture pieces manufactured in Los Angeles. Now, their furniture is made in High Point. They also source smaller items like handbags, dog collars and pillows to craftspeople in High Point.
Nixon and Loecke opened Madcap Cottage a in recycled pharmacy on Church Avenue on Oct. 17, on the eve of the biannual fall furniture market. Part design studio and part retail store, Madcap Cottage was conceived by Nixon and Loecke as a year-round business that will engage the local community. Its emergence signals a contrast with the major showrooms that typically close up for 50 weeks out of the year when the market isn’t in town.
Church Avenue runs along the northern periphery of the showroom district, closer to High Point Regional Hospital than the International Home Furnishings Center. The cracked asphalt of the street suggests a place that is a transition between the city’s points of emphasis. The oversized parking lot of First Baptist Church across the street and a modest law office next door fill out the mix of uses on the street.
Loecke said he and Nixon are part of a trend of interior designers returning to studio spaces that are open to the public. They collect vintage items in their travels as near as Asheboro and as far away as India, while providing wallpaper and fabric that customers can purchase by the yard.
“We’re trying to engage the community,” Loecke said. “You could spend anywhere from $25 to $5,000 here. We have custom dog collars and travel bags. We’re going back to a retail model; this is also our office, so we’re here anyway.
“We think Winston-Salem has a great downtown and Greensboro does, too,” Loecke continued. “There’s no reason High Point can’t as well. We want to be a space that teaches people about design. We’re planning to have a lecture series and workshop for people to come in for a minimal cost. It’s sort of demystifying the design process.”
A steady stream of friends — mainly fellow designers from around the country — breezed into Madcap Cottage on Sunday morning, congratulating Nixon and Loecke, many of them remarking that they wanted to beat the crowd in advance of the store’s grand-opening party later that night.
“They have such wonderful personalities,” said Pat Plaxico, a 74-year-old retired designer who restored Market Square. “They’re so passionate about what they do. They have a whole lot of energy. They’re free spirits.”
Madcap Cottage is part of an embryonic area of High Point, more operative for the two weeks of market than the rest of the year, called the North Elm District, or NED. The showrooms and studios clustering in the area tend to focus on vintage and higher-end design driven products.
“It adds a one-of-a-kind aspect,” said Chad Stogner, co-owner of Alabama-based Elegant Earth. “It’s very walkable. Next market, in April, we plan to develop the concept with food trucks and a live music. It’s easy to get lost in those big showrooms. We open a day earlier, so the idea is you can come to market early and pick up those one-of-a-kind items.”
Elegant Earth is showcasing outdoor furniture, including chairs and fountains, in a converted tire distributor that retains the garage doors at the corner of North Elm Street and West Kivett Drive. Stogner said Elegant Earth’s furniture uses of wood, steel, concrete and other materials sourced from the United States dovetails with a return to craftsmanship and a production process that engages the creativity of designers, in contrast to the mass production of mid-to-low-end home furnishings.
Randall Tysinger, Bobo and Golden Oldies complete the industry cluster emerging as the North Elm District.
For Nixon, who has been coming to High Point for 20 years, furniture market is about both networking and scouting new pieces for design projects.
“It’s about looking for new products and antiques,” Nixon continued. “It’s really just about keeping your eyes open. I had lunch at the Dog House. I was contrasting a ’50s luncheonette with a sofa. At Elegant Earth, I saw a fountain with a scallop shape, so I started thinking about how I could use that concept with a couch.”