Entrepreneur infuses homes with modern art

Bonnie Fogel has always been fascinated by modern art and design, so it was a natural fit when she and her husband founded Unicahome, a contemporary home design store, in Michigan in 1998.

When it came to decorating their own home, the couple realized that a lot of stores lacked the sensible, modern aspect of decorative arts.

Unicahome’s 19,000-square-foot showroom at 3901 W. Russell Road targets people who want to furnish and decorate their home in unique, yet elegant fashion.

“The focus of our business is to provide a wide range of choices,” Fogel said. “We don’t stock everything, but at least the choice is there for the consumer.”

From curved-plywood chairs made famous by Herman Miller in the 1950s to a $158 set of teacups designed by Masahiro Mori, Unicahome sells more than 250 brands of products made by well-known designers and manufacturers throughout the world.

The store carries 9,000 items in its showroom and 49,000 items online at www.unicahome.com, including rugs, bags and place mats from Chilewich and furniture from Moroso and Cappellini.

Most of the products can’t be found at other stores around town.

“We deal with manufacturers, so for the most part, our vendors are not making knockoffs from China,” Fogel said. “So while other companies sell modern furniture, often it’s a knockoff of this kind of furniture. This is the original company, the original design and the original specifications. Most of the furniture here has a history.”

Fogel and her husband, Hugh, were both antique dealers who shared a passion for unique decorative art. They met at an antiques show.

In 2002, the Fogels moved their store to Las Vegas, originally on Dean Martin Drive. While the city was growing rapidly, there was no “modern presence” in home décor stores, she said.

Question: Why did you move to Las Vegas? Was it for personal or business reasons?

Answer: To bring the business here. My husband didn’t like Michigan. He’s not from there. We were at a crossroads. Our rent (contract) is up, we need more space. We can either go here or someplace else. As a lark, I said Las Vegas, only half-seriously, but we thought about it. The economy was good, there was no competition from other stores, the cost of living was affordable.

Question: How has the recession affected business? You picked a tough time to expand, didn’t you?

Answer: A year ago Christmas, we saw what was going on and we prepared for it. We downsized our staff. We’re operating out of one building instead of two. We bought (inventory) very conservatively for Christmas.

Question: Why don’t you just do business online?

Answer: A lot of our vendors require a storefront. Also, everything we carry is fairly unusual. You want people to be able to see it and touch it. There was never a question of not having a showroom component of the business.

Question: Who is your target customer?

Answer: It’s never been a demographic. It’s a psychographic. It’s a very narrow, focused market. Not everyone likes modern accessories, but it spans several income and education levels. It’s more about a lifestyle product than a demographic product. Like the (Mori) teacups. You have to feel them and interact with them. It’s not your basic teacup with a handle.

Question: How is doing business in Las Vegas different from doing business in Michigan?

Answer: It’s more of an educational process here. In Michigan, we were dealing with people who were designers. We had designers in the car industry, we had two design schools nearby, so customers were very aware of modern design. For example, that chair was made by Charles and Ray Eames and they were students at Cranbrook (Academy of Art).

Question: What is special about your business?

Answer: We offer the consumer so much choice. We don’t cherry-pick our lines. If we have a line available, we make all of their products available. I don’t choose three popular items. Sometimes you have to wait for it, but you’re not going to find it anywhere else in town or oftentimes in the country. It’s a very niche market.

Question: What are your strengths as a businesswoman?

Answer: I think I just have a good historical knowledge of the product. Both my husband and I do. Just a broad-based knowledge of design history since the mid-1800s. It’s always been an interest of mine. It wasn’t until after college when I found antique shows with modern things … because I always liked interior design, but I liked a certain period, a certain look. My interior-design history courses were more interesting than lighting.

Question: What about your weaknesses?

Answer: Math. There are certain things in the business he (Hugh) does and certain things I do and we trust each other to do them.

Question: How did you come up with the business’s name?

Answer: Hugh is an expert in art glass and certain Scandinavian pieces would be signed “unik” for unique and we just played with that concept graphically. Unica … the root is one, unique or singular.

Contact reporter Hubble Smith at hsmith@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0491.

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