Scandinavian Sweet Spot
Photos by Joyce Marshall
Streamlined iconic forms and Danish Modern pedigrees speak to Henrik Dufresne — and his customers. The longtime owner of a one-off Arlington furniture store tells us why.
Modern furniture, though central to an ever-popular and highly photogenic aesthetic beloved by magazine editors and home stagers, is in real life not for everyone. A store selling authentic Eames chairs and Noguchi tables came and went quickly in Southlake Town Square some years ago. So it’s worth celebrating a remarkable success story in north Arlington. Tucked away in a blocky strip-mall building whose exterior doesn’t signal the sleek beauty that awaits inside, By Design Contemporary Furniture carries the same beautifully crafted modern lines found in the Dallas Design District’s finest showrooms. The reason for this happy circumstance is owner Henrik Dufresne, a Danish-born Grand Prairie resident who moved to Texas years ago when his former wife took a job in Fort Worth. After a few years of learning the furniture business from the ground up in Kansas City and then at Danish Inspirations in Dallas, he opened his own shop on North Collins Street 17 years ago. Since then, he has built a relationship with about 40 different suppliers and clientele who come from near and far for the Scandinavian and Scandi-influenced designs he offers. We asked Henrik, who still speaks with a light Danish accent, about the secrets to his success.
817HOME How did you develop your interest in modern and contemporary furnishings?
Henrik Dufresne When I finished high school in Denmark, I started a three-and-a-half-year apprenticeship in furniture making, and that’s how long I’ve been interested in furniture and design. After I finished my apprenticeship, I didn’t really have plans, so I joined the military and was in the Danish army, the Queen’s Regiment, and after that I wanted to travel. I saw an ad looking for a furniture maker in Kansas City, so I called. I came to the U.S. about 30 years ago and worked in custom [furniture] building. I did deliveries and warehouse work, and ended up getting into sales. I became an assistant manager and, later, manager. And so, 17 years ago I decided to open up [this store].
817 How do you describe what you offer, and how is it different?
HD For the people who are interested in design, they don’t see many stores like mine. It is different, you know, the Scandinavian, the contemporary. I grew up with it, so it’s normal for me. But there are people who come through the door who don’t understand it. It’s a small niche that likes contemporary Scandinavian.
817 Who are your customers? Are they primarily in Arlington?
HD They are coming from all over the Metroplex, and I do have customers from out of state. I have a lot of loyal customers — like last week I delivered to Oklahoma City. I have people calling from Hot Springs, Arkansas, looking for contemporary and Scandinavian. I get some people who look at our website, and from there they come into the store.
817 How do you decide what to carry?
HD I try, most of all, to get stuff I like myself, because it is always easier to sell things you like yourself. But I personally lean more toward Scandinavian and Danish design. It’s from my upbringing, you know, seeing it around growing up.
817 Tell us about some of your favorite lines.
HD One of my favorites is a company called Fjords, out of Norway, and I have another Scandinavian company called Skovby. And also BDI, a U.S. company, and Copeland Furniture. All of them make really nice quality products. I tell people I like dealing with manufacturers like that because I’m getting too old for headaches. Because [with them] there’s no problems, you know?
817 What are you especially excited about right now?
HD The one thing I’m kind of excited about now is the Fjords dual-motor recliners. You always see recliners where everything moves at the same time. With these, you can move the back and the footrest separately.
817 Tell us about your furniture at home.
HD A lot of the stuff I have at home is stuff I built myself. I have this strange thing where if something comes damaged, I like doing some repairs. It’s just something I do on the side because there’s not much money in it. It’s like having a hobby you get paid for. I always like to fix stuff; I always like to improve things. I have customers who come in and say, ‘I like this sofa but I want it four inches taller.’ I like that challenge.
817 Thinking about all the knockoff modern products that are out there — that are having a moment, maybe — how do you see that affecting your business and your future?
HD The thing is, I like — with my being in a niche — that I will always have customers who want that style. My clientele is a higher-end clientele. There’s a lot of customers out there who don’t understand the contemporary Scandinavian look. They think it’s too simple. Sometimes I have customers who will say, ‘Why is your dining chair $400?’ you know? I have to tell people it’s like cars. They make Fiats and they make Ferraris — they both come with four wheels, but there’s a difference. Customers who look at a price tag on a dining chair and expect that to be the [price of the] whole set — that’s not the clientele I’m looking for. That’s just not me.