Steve Elton, Chief Brand Curator for Brown Jordan, and Larry Smith, owner of Village Green Home and Garden in Rockford, IL, are recipients of the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the International Casual Furnishings Association (ICFA). Both men are aptly described as visionaries in the casual furnishings industry.
Elton had just begun law school in New Jersey when he took a summer job selling outdoor furniture in a local store. While serving the store’s high-end clientele, Elton became familiar with Brown Jordan furniture. However, since the store was not a stocking dealer, he had access only to the catalog. By the end of the summer, he was so enamored with the line and its unique design aesthetic that he left law school and set his sights on a career with the iconic outdoor brand.
Elton was hired as a Brown Jordan sales representative in 1990 and began his proselytizing. His unique ability to articulate his precise vision and pure passion for the brand was unparalleled in the company. For the last 28 years, he has played an integral role in furthering the Brown Jordan legacy established by its founders. He distilled the brand into three distinct pillars – heirloom quality, design innovation and jewel-like precision – and became its chief curator. Elton has completed design projects at The Ritz-Carlton Paris, the White House, the Oscars Green Room, Smithsonian Gardens, Winterthur, Sandy Lane Barbados, Camden Yards, Yankee Stadium and the Beverly Hills Hotel, among others. To expand the brand, he has secured collaborations with category-defining product designers like industry icons Richard Frinier and Michael Smith. Known for his tireless work ethic, humility and dynamic creativity, Elton’s enthusiasm for the Brown Jordan brand remains contagious.
Rockford, IL-native Larry Smith had visions of literary greatness when he headed to Marquette University in 1957. After graduation, he moved to Chicago to work for a literary magazine … his dream job. But in 1962, his father died, leaving his mother and sisters to run his father’s small seed store. Smith returned home to help manage the business, but soon realized the business was too small to provide a meaningful income. He reached out to a fellow Marquette grad and friend, Bill Swadley, and together the two launched Village Green, a retail garden center. They soon expanded to a second location, then added a lawn service, but competition from large discount stores began impacting both sales and margins.
In 1980, Smith built a beautiful flagship store in a developing area of the city near the Interstate 90 corridor and began selling casual furniture to offset the shrinking lawn-and-garden business. Village Green Home and Garden now offers an eight-acre outdoor living experience of plants and products with an expanded outdoor furniture display that includes a dramatic 15,000-square-foot atrium. Customers meander along changing elevations of patios and decks under natural light as they shop more than 100 furniture groups. The store received the 2016 ICFA Apollo Award for retail excellence and received the first Mary Fruehauf Retail Genius Award at the January 2018 ICFA Education Conference in Fort Lauderdale.
Elton and Smith will be honored during the ICFA Awards Gala at Swissotel Chicago on Thursday, September 27, during Casual Market Chicago. The event gathers all segments of the outdoor furnishings industry together to recognize and celebrate the Lifetime Achievement Award recipients, as well as top retail stores, manufacturers, sales representatives and product designs.
Tickets for the event are available at www.ICFAnet.org.