A discreet driveway off Perez Road is noticeable from the street only by a purple, couch-shaped sign reading “Furniture Exchange.” At the end sits what has, for many years, been commonly known as Resale Row. But the boldly painted facade of this retail strip — all orange, green, and blue — hints that something different is abuzz in this land traditionally marked by Cathedral City car dealerships and flooring showrooms. And it is. Just one look inside any of the stores here and customers begin to appreciate this new hotbed of home furnishings — one that’s far more layered and sophisticated than the bright paint suggests. The credit goes to three up-and-coming stores that have recently set the stage for hanging a new sign up someday: Welcome to Perez Home Center.
But maybe that would diminish the enclave’s diamond-in-the-rough charms. As they are now, the stores achieve something rare in this region without even trying: They allow their customers the proud feeling of having stumbled upon a little-known urban shopping destination — which is funny, because the structure has been on the map for years.
Back in the day, this strip of buildings housed stores with a decidedly resale slant. Seen-better-days furniture took up whatever floor space wasn’t claimed by tall shelves of tchotchkes, bins of vinyl, racks of cast-off clothing, and other odds and ends of questionable worth. Treasures could be found, but it nearly took a pirate’s map to navigate the aisles of bric-a-brac items in search of the elusive gold.
Times have changed, and a new generation has taken over and blown a breath of fresh air into these nearly outdated spaces. They’ve cleaned house, played up the Brooklyn-style warehouse atmosphere, and are turning the area into a hipster’s home-décor paradise one square foot at a time.
Owner Lee Thomas is doing his part to usher in that wave of change inside his sprawling store, Furniture Exchange. The store that bears the couch-shaped sign originally went by the name of Furniture Recycling before Thomas took it over from his aunt, Nancy Thomas, in 2001. In these parts, Furniture Recycling was a legend, explains Thomas’ business partner, Scott Nelson. “Nancy could find you anything,” he says. “If you wanted a purple, three-legged chair, she would get it.” Thomas and Nelson have spent the last five years renovating the space, retaining the eclecticism and loft-inspired interior of Nancy’s day, while intermixing lots of new items in the classic contemporary vein. Thomas says he strives to represent “great design, well-priced,” and a tour through the store lives up to that aim.
Furniture Exchange is the type of store that could be equally at home in New York or Los Angeles, a remark the duo hears often from their customers. It preserves a rough-around-the-edges vibe and the outstanding prices from its resale roots. But the brand-new modern furnishings, original art, kitschy accents, and global curiosities make it a refreshing maze of unexpected finds.
We want people to have something great for their homes and to have fun. We always want to evolve,” says Nelson. That’s why he and Thomas are constantly searching out new inventory and changing the landscape of the store, which also serves as the base for Thomas’ home-staging business, At Home. An oversized marlin that once rested on the walls of the shop moved to Nelson’s house for a year. Now it’s back and ready for new digs. A 14-foot canoe sits atop the doorway, and patio sets and random chairs are found upstairs in the loft. One thing that doesn’t change however, are the massive shelves of books for sale. Hardcovers are $2, paperbacks are a buck: prices that have been set since Nancy ran the store decades ago.
Inside this largely industrial district is a neighborly feeling and sense of community. Eddie Sanchez is a store regular, but not in the consumer sense of the word. Back when Furniture Recycling got its start, Sanchez walked in and offered to watch the store for 10 cents after learning the owner needed to leave the store on business. He now stops in at least once a week to say hi and to chat with the owners, asking about their lives, their families, and the store — which boasts an increasingly appealing and hard-to-find inventory.
“If we don’t have something, we’ll send our customers next door,” says Nelson. Here in the row, “We’re one big, happy family.”
Next door resides Hedge, a store that doubles as headquarters for Charles Pearson’s nationally recognized landscape design company. Soon after opening, the storefront and interior of the landsscape firm intrigued visitors so much that the office was pushed to the back end of the shop to make room for a boutique-style furnishings store, now run by Pearson and his partner, Thomas Sharkey.
Hedge has been open only since Thanksgiving 2005, but is already being sought out by design-savvy customers from New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco: a testament to the creative eye of its owners.
The two started their store mainly selling outdoor furniture (to complement Pearson’s landscape designs). Now the space dispalys a diverse range of stylized art, furniture, and décor. Sharkey has a penchant for lamps, Pearson for studio pottery. Variations of both items are interspersed throughout the staged living areas of the store. A Paul McCobb mid-century dresser stands beneath local artist John Munchmore’s paintings. A refurblished 1970s metal desk now screams out in electric blue, a finish that shines thanks to auto paint. And Pearson’s own designs, including industrialized steel bowls, rest next to a vintage Army medical dresser. “What we’re trying to do differently is the actual shopping experience,” Pearson explains. “We want people to come in, sit down, ask questions, and just talk about life.”
To welcome browsers, Sharkey likes to offer them a sparkling water or a cappuccino. Measuring tapes are lined up for customers to use and take home — to ensure their purchases are a good fit. One woman was so thankful for the quick delivery of a desk that she showed up at the door with a freshly baked cake a few days later.
“Being in Cathedral City, people don’t necessarily think of great stores,” says Sharkey. “But there is a whole buzz of a great artistic community around here.” Painter Robert Bracketti’s studio gallery is next door, while a well-known photographer is housed behind the shop. And completing the regeneration trifecta, Leftovers recently opened adjacent to Furniture Exchange.
Owners David Studer and Donald Schmidt have been up and down the California coast, selling goods in Healdsburg, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco. Self-admitted compulsive buyers, the pair decided to open the Cathedral City store after their semi-retirement: They had run out of room to store all of their stuff.
That’s good news for the public. Leftovers displays century-spanning furniture and ornate home goods, offering an alternative design schema to patrons. “Everything I’ve ever had in my life has been leftover from someone else,” says Schmidt. That’s a big reason the items here have such character and stories to tell. “We’re an eclectic mix of traditional antiques, 1930s Art Deco, midcentury modern, Art Nouveau, and born-yesterday merchandise that has a flair,” says Studer. Customers may see a 19th century French armoire and upholstered chairs from the ’70s and ’80s in stock on the same day. “We’re totally open to anything and everything; we’re not restrained to any certain style,” Studer says. Also an artist of sorts, Studer creates kitschy lamps from otherwise forgotten items — a broken porcelain monkey or a camel from a long-ago discarded manger set. He also works in watercolors and oils, painting contemporary art pieces that hang throughout the store.
The artistic creativity of the two, no doubt, led them to the row on Perez Road. Studer likes to picture the strip less as a resale row and more as a developing artist colony — one of the reasons the pair signed an extended lease up front. They wanted to be there to witness — and be a part of — the evolution. “Cathedral City is always changing,” says Studer. “And this is going to be a hot little area.”
Furniture Exchange, Hedge, and Leftovers are located at 68-929 Perez Road in Cathedral City.