“Work wives” is what Melissa Ness and Martha Rutherford have dubbed one another. The creative professionals make a tight team representing Four Corners Home and Mobilia, Asheville’s powerful one-two punch of retail home goods and in-house design services.
The two stores offer exquisite furnishings and accessories, but with different aesthetic bents: Four Corners radiates Zen-like calm, with natural tones, rustic finishes, and a handcrafted vibe, while Mobilia’s known for its decidedly mid-century-influenced pieces, bright color pops, and a healthy dose of metallic bling. The women’s work days include running back and forth between stores (when they’re not at clients’ homes), and they say they love every minute of it. The pair also take on home staging and various commercial projects.
In the beginning, before both stores, owners Michael Forde and Bill Griffin took a trip around the world. Their discovery of a South African women’s fair-trade group, who made Zulu water baskets and intricate safety-pin bracelets, proved inspirational — both Mobilia and Four Corners still carry the line.
But Ness and Rutherford are helping usher the businesses into a new era by taking on larger roles in day-to-day store management, while Forde and Griffin take a step back.
How were each of you drawn to design?
Martha Rutherford: My politically oriented Arkansas family encouraged my creativity tremendously. My mother had excellent taste and loved home projects. She redid my dad’s study as a surprise for him, and one day I found her and some friends putting everything together; they let me place art and furniture pieces and took my advice, which made such an impact on me! Recently Mom was recovering from hip surgery and announced she wanted to redo her kitchen, and we went for it … I spent the week repainting, installing hardware, and replacing the backsplash; we bonded and had such fun.
Melissa Ness: I grew up in Alabama. My love of design started when I was very young. Instead of playing with Barbie dolls, I redid the Barbie Dream Home rooms, to my sister’s dismay. I changed out wallpaper and carpet regularly in my handcrafted dollhouse, and installed mini-draperies that my grandmother, a master seamstress for the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, made.
What unique skills do you bring to the table?
MR: I have an extensive management background; that coupled with my design training and experience complement Melissa’s skill set.
MN: I have a design-school background and worked in Atlanta doing commercial design and custom cabinetry.
What services do you offer?
MN: We help clients whether they’re looking for a trio of vases or a top-to-bottom home design.
MR: And it could take an hour or more to pick those three perfect vases, so that assignment is just as important to us as designing an entire home.
How do you find and keep clients?
MN: Our clients find us, often through word of mouth.
MR: We educate by giving our clients the story behind the product: how it’s made, what it’s made from, where it comes from … [but] we get that everything doesn’t happen at once. If clients purchase a sofa but aren’t prepared to address the entertainment center, we’ll see them two years later when they’re ready. We want our client relationships to be long-term.
How do you sense a client’s style?
MN: Since we’re in Asheville, we work on many second homes and with down-sizers who start from scratch after relocating. We’ll do a process of elimination … throw down five different rugs with different color palettes and ask, “What don’t you like?” Their answers direct us.
What are several hot trends you saw at the recent Atlanta trade show you attended?
MR: Lots of black and white — Melissa had to rein me in with the black-and-white items. I also noticed shinier: less muted gold and brass accents.
MN: Wood tones are getting lighter. I saw washed oaks and natural elements mixed with industrial materials, like teak and resin, concrete and metal.
What’s your favorite place besides the stores to find treasures?
MR: I’m a die-hard yard sale-er and love scoring finds. They always add uniqueness to my rooms.
MN: I really like flea markets. Recently I got a great $18 framed 1940s Vanity Fair political cartoon from the Regeneration Station that I put in a grouping with Mobilia metal artwork, very Old World meets New World.