The Fine Art of Adapting

Furniture designer’s pivot during the pandemic yielded a more well-rounded company

April Gahagan-Fore, co-owner of Furniture Specialties,
radiates positive change.
Portrait by Brooke Hudgins

Furniture Specialties’ clientele ranges from individuals to exclusive housing developments to hospitality businesses. They even build upholstered pieces for U.S. embassies and U.S. State Department facilities — “a great contract,” says April Gahagan-Fore, a mother of four who owns the company with her husband Bryan.

And yet the pandemic profoundly affected how Furniture Specialties did business. “We can’t deny how scary it’s been,” she says. “It changed everything for us, but most of the changes ended up being positive. We came together more as a staff.”

The company is divided into three broad categories: custom-made upholstered furniture and reupholstering services, full design services (Furniture Specialties Design Group), and a five-state division that repairs under-warranty furniture from major retailers like La-Z-Boy (Furniture Pros). 

As part of the altered game plan, “we intensified our client focus and upped efficiency,” says Gahagan-Fore. “Thankfully, we’re the busiest we’ve ever been.”

It goes without saying that you wear many hats … 

Business owners need to. You must be willing to do the tasks you truly love — in my case, the design work — along with mundane ones, like cleaning the office bathroom. We’ve learned to hire folks who are better than us at doing their respective jobs, so we complement each other. 

Your work ethic is stellar. How did it develop?

I come from a long line of contractors — my great-grandfather, grandfather, and father, so it’s in my blood! I was helping out by the time I was 16. 

Do you have a hand in the “nuts and bolts” manufacturing end of the business, as well as the design part? 

Before 2019, the majority of our work was in furniture fabrication. By 2019, we were doing much more design, and now it’s 50-50 manufacturing and design, with a similar mixture of residential and commercial clients. I had a sit-down with Bryan that year about wanting to do more of what I was good at, the design work. That birthed Furniture Specialties Design Group. Now I’m 100 percent focused on design and implementation.

What happened when the pandemic hit full force?  

When I say we were lucky, I mean it. Two clients had just signed off with us on big projects in January 2020, before the world shut down. … We redesigned the Wingate University Student Center, and the Sun City Carolina Lakes community in South Carolina asked us to infuse their community lake house with a more contemporary vibe. We updated this ’90s space with lots of burgundy, green, and pine, giving it a high-end hotel look. Both projects have great before-and-after pics. 

It sounds like you pivoted a lot, too.

Absolutely. First, we sent everyone home for two weeks so we could develop a game plan. We feared we’d have to lay everyone off. Thankfully we didn’t have to. … We learned to become more efficient. For example, rather than visiting job sites daily, we now do that only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and spend the rest of the time in the office. It’s much saner. … Also, we and many staff have school-aged kids. We hired a tutor, turned our conference room into a classroom during the mornings, and it became a workspace again in the afternoons.  

How do you build strong relationships with clients? 

We take a funnel approach basically, by listening to a client’s needs and wants, and then balancing those with functionality. Combining the two is critical in both residential and commercial projects. You can make anything look pretty, but if it’s not functional, you haven’t succeeded. … We want to offer clients a concierge experience, from when the plans are drawn to when they enter their space for the first time. We aim to listen, put out fires quickly, and use the client’s money wisely to produce great results. This approach led us to an exciting partnership with Osada Construction for a project at the Cliffs [at Walnut Cove].

Supply-chain shortages are still causing lengthy delays. How do you deal with that? 

We’ve developed relationships with local craftspeople and North Carolina-based vendors, which keeps lead time down and helps us access lumber, foam, and springs faster. Unlike many other manufacturers, our sofa orders right now are ready in just 12-16 weeks. The norm is 30-40 weeks.  

Any interiors trends you’re happy to see?

I’m glad all the grays and whites are receding. It’s nice to see earth tones — greens, blue, and reds returning to interiors after this dreary couple of years.

Furniture Specialties, 7 Ramsey Road, Asheville, 828-683-1177,, open by appointment only.

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