Small IC business sells unique home goods

BY BEN MARKS | OCTOBER 16, 2014 5:00 AM

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Each week The Daily Iowan will provide an in-depth look at one Iowa City business.

When Design Ranch owner Chris Gnade was a child growing up in Cedar Rapids, she found a home in an Eames Lounge chair.

“When I sat in that chair for the first time, it was memorable to me,” she said. “I was probably 8 years old, but it kind of changed my life. Whenever I had the opportunity after that I would go to the lounge to sit in that chair and wait for my mom.”

Gnade now sells almost the exact same model of the Eames Lounge that she sat in as a child at her store, Design Ranch.

Design Ranch, 701 E. Davenport St., is a home-goods store that sells furniture, lighting, and gifts.

Chuck Swanson, a longtime patron of Design Ranch, said he has shopped there since it first opened.

“The selection of items is almost big-city-like,” he said. “It’s a different experience, with really unusual items, and what you buy there once, you have forever.”

Jodi Connolly, the owner of Buzz Salon, has been a customer of Design Ranch for the past 16 years and has purchased items for her business as well as for personal use.

“I like to support local business; I try to always purchase whatever I can locally, and I’ve been a lover of classic design all my life,” she said. “[Design Ranch] has remarkable product lines, and classic design never goes out of style.”

Design Ranch’s merchandise ranges from designer chairs to cheese knives to a lamp designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

“Our products are very specialized and unique,” Gnade said. “A lot of our customers have found us because they were specifically looking for those products.”

Although she says people of all ages enjoy browsing through the store for inspiration, most of their customers are older than 30.

“A lot of these products are a little expensive for a student budget, but we find a lot of students love to come in and see what we have and find things for gifts or something special to decorate their apartment,” she said.

Design Ranch is small, so besides one seasonal and one part-time worker, the Gnades are the only full-time staff.

The challenges of running a small business are huge, Gnade said. Balancing work and home is often the biggest issue; however, another challenge is changing business models to fit the growing popularity of online shopping.

Their location on Highway 1, Gnade said, gives the store the steady stream of customers it needs, but besides occasional days during the holiday season, not too many that it compromises their intimate and personal service.

Gnade said her ultimate goal with the business is to provide enlightenment to people’s lives through the everyday products in their home.

“Whether it’s the water kettle you heat your water with, or the cup you drink from, or the chair you sit on, life is so filled with ordinary moments, and we sort of lose our consciousness through the regularity of it,” she said. “And I love being woken up.”

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