By Amy Wenk
From the purple stainless-steel sign outside to the sleek, contemporary furniture inside, little about Huff Furniture & Design is ordinary.
Operating in the same location since 1956, the store at 3178 Peachtree Road is the longest-running business in the retail district of Buckhead.
A true family endeavor, the furniture store was begun by Earl and Nan Huff and their son, Jim, who came down from Tennessee more than five decades ago.
“At that time, we were doing anything we could do to start the business,” said Jimmy Huff, son of Jim and current operator of Huff Furniture. “We were selling lawn furniture and wood stuff.”
The store began concentrating on contemporary furnishings like funky, low-rise sofas and acrylic four-post beds in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Jimmy said, and it has remained in that niche.
“I find it so fascinating, being that we are contemporary in this traditional town,” Julie Huff, Jimmy’s wife, said about the store’s longevity. “This is the world of antiques, woods and chenille. Most Southerners don’t understand or appreciate contemporary furnishings. This just doesn’t appeal to the masses.”
But those unusual, often custom-designed pieces have made Huff Furniture such a success. Jim Sr. was schooled in architecture and interior design at Parsons School of Design in New York and has created contemporary designs that sell nationwide. He is still involved with major design jobs.
“We don’t want to be a Rooms To Go or something that is mass-produced,” Jimmy said. “We want to be so unique and so defined that people come into a room and say, ‘You had to have gotten that at Huff.’ Our motto is you won’t see furniture like this in your friend’s home, but they might see it in yours.”
With that philosophy, the Huffs many times manufacture a certain item only a few times, ensuring their clients will have a rare piece. It’s no wonder then that the business caters to many celebrities, including singers T.I., Akon and Missy Elliot and former Atlanta Brave and Atlanta Falcon Brian Jordan.
Recently the Huffs decorated R&B singer Ne-Yo’s Buckhead condominium in The Gallery. In 2½ months, the Huffs fully furnished Ne-Yo’s three-bedroom penthouse, supplying everything from liquor for the cabinets to rugs for the bathrooms.
“Once they come with us, we will spoil them,” Julie said.
Jimmy added: “We leave it with toilet paper on the roll. We put food in the refrigerator, get the linens and make the bed for them. We want them just to walk in. We’ll put their clothes out for them, whatever it takes.”
The Huffs said the family atmosphere and personal attention they offer help set them apart.
“We are mostly a repeat and referral business,” Jimmy said. “We really become part of their family. Once we get to know them and start doing their design work, we become more personal with them and form that type of relationship. It continues to grow even after the design job has been handled.”
That is certainly the case with rapper T.I. The Huffs have decorated two homes for him, including a six-bedroom house on Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles. The Huffs also threw a baby shower for his family in their store and furnished his latest birthday bash.
“Another part of that equation is most of the people that buy from us or come in don’t expect an owner to be sitting here or a family member being here at all times,” Jimmy said. “When they come in, we are here. They see us; they are not seeing an unfamiliar face.”
Clients often see Jimmy and Julie’s three children: Peyton, 11; Emily, 10; and Jenna, 3. Their dog, Bruno, is another familiar sight in the 6,000-square-foot showroom.
“The response we get back from people, whether they buy from us or not, is this is so refreshing to come in and see a true family business — to see the dog, to see the kids,” Julie said. “That’s a huge compliment to us.”
Although the aging Peachtree Plaza shopping center where Huff Furniture is located seems poised for redevelopment, Jimmy said there is no chance the store will relocate.
“We own this space,” he said. “There is a possibility that there will be a time when we might let somebody come in and buy us and develop, where we would still have this spot. They would probably build up, and we would be on the first floor as a retailer.
“We are always open to new things, but we enjoy being in Buckhead and in this spot. This is where everybody knows about us. It is our storefront that brings so many people in.”