HD Buttercup: Furniture Retailer to Hollywood

SLIDESHOW: Inside some of HD Buttercup’s stores in California and the new store in Hong Kong.

Best known as the former chief executive of Manhattan’s ABC Carpet and Home, Evan Cole has ‘a nose’ for good furniture. Cole just launched his laid back California brand, HD Buttercup, in Hong Kong.

Founded in 2006 with seven stores in Los Angeles and San Francisco, HD Buttercup’s furniture emporium is already the largest independent home furnishings retailer in California. It has thousands of globally curated pieces, from classic to modern luxury, vintage to industrial, ranging from jewel-coloured artisan over-dyed Turkish rugs, to minimalist geometric chairs by Midj’s Beatriz Sempre, to hardy handmade pieces by Jason Chauncey’s Community Manufacturing.

It was set up by Evan Cole, a US entrepreneur who attended Boston University at the age of 16. HD Buttercup is Cole’s second venture after ABC Carpet and Home, which, under his helm as CEO, saw annual revenues reportedly soar from US$3 million in 1982 when he joined, to US$170 million in 2004 when he left.

Cole also works for a real-estate trust as ‘a sniffer’, finding undervalued property and transforming it into stunning turnkey apartments. In 2007, he reportedly paid US$4.8 million for a 2,500-square-foot apartment near Central Park, and in 2011 he put it on the market for US$9 million.

Billionaire: What is the story behind the name HD Buttercup?
Evan Cole:
It’s my nom de plume. I never thought my name was interesting. Twenty-five years ago I saw a name above a doorbell in London — HD Buttercup. I thought, that is a great name, I’d like to be HD Buttercup. Then we bought my daughter a canary and we called it HD Buttercup. I didn’t want to call the company my own name as it would be weird seeing your name plastered everywhere. And so HD Buttercup is a name that sticks: it’s soulful, interesting and people remember it.

How did you launch the company and why the launch in Asia now?
Thirty-five years ago I saw a big building in New York that was empty and I looked at it and I said “we’re going to build the world’s greatest home furnishings store”. After selling my stake in ABC Carpet and Home, I decided that the California style would be super-important to the whole furnishings business, because it’s important in fashion; it’s important in automobiles; it’s important in lifestyle. So I created HD Buttercup in 2006 and now we have seven stores in California, which show people how to live more casually, more freely, more at ease. I came to Hong Kong two years ago and I was surprised that Hong Kong didn’t have anywhere to buy furnishings that was quality, comfortable and priced well.

What is this ‘California style’ that you think is so important?
California style is the most comfortable pair of jeans that you own. The chair that you just love sitting in. California style is not about an over-the-top aesthetic; it’s settled, understated, comfortable, live-able and love-able. The look we’re curating has long legs. I think the next generation will find more and more that comfort is more important than looks.

What does the affluent Generation Y want from furniture?
The next generation are taking up a completely different outlook on furniture from their parents. Whereas their baby-boomer parents would buy a couch for 25 years, the millennial generation are buying for five years, maybe, and move on. This is the way it’s going. Young people have more money and are more nomadic.

What about your ultra-wealthy property clients — what do they want from real estate?
Property buying — now that’s my real job. I just did a property deal in New York in a really good building that took three years, and we’re building some spec houses in Los Angeles. Billionaires and super-rich people really just want a turnkey property. At super-wealthy level, it’s hard to be ‘left brain and right brain’, they want you to make it easy for them.

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