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From idea to startup: Plaza Midwood decorator launches pet-friendly furniture line

By Caroline McMillan Portillo
cmcmillan@charlotteobserver.com

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After 20 years as an interior decorator, Barbara Green was all too familiar with the sentiment:

“People would say, ‘I would love to hire you, but I can’t because I have a dog and it would trash it,’ or ‘I would love to hire you, but I’ve got kids,’ ” Green recalled.

That’s why she carved a niche for her Sensibly Chic Designs for Life business in 2012: decorating – with a custom line of low-maintenance furniture – designed to withstand pets, kids, spills and all of life’s messes.

Green, 50, recently opened a 2,000-square-foot showroom at 830 Lamar Ave., in Plaza Midwood, and she invites people to test her wares.

Unlike many showrooms forbidding drinks, food, and pets, Green serves wine, coffee and dog treats. Her two kittens, Ellie and Emma, are usually perched on the furniture.

“That’s the whole point: showing people (not) to sweat the small stuff, if you have the right stuff in place,” Green said.

A shifting clientele: Green moved to Charlotte in 2004, and immediately connected with furniture-makers across the state.

One asked if she’d like to create her own line, but Green declined, thinking that without a big name, her furniture line would flop.

But her clientele began to morph. Rather than mostly working with downsizing retirees and C-level executives, Green began working with a lot of two-income couples with children or pets, or both. That’s why she dedicated one of her “Ask the Design Diva” weekly radio shows on local AM radio station WAVO, to pet-friendly decorating.

That week she interviewed a Detroit-based couple who had created a line of fabrics for nursing homes and healthcare facilities that could withstand any spills. The fabric, manufactured in Kings Mountain, came in eight different textures, from suede to chenille to a linen-like fabric.

Their product inspired her to reconsider that furniture line and the pet industry, worth more than $50 billion a year, Green said.

‘All the animals in your life’: In 2012, Green launched her own line, DivaPets Furniture with the tagline, “pet-friendly decorating for all the animals in your life.” Her logo is a cartoon drawing of a cigar-smoking, beer-drinking man, crawling baby, cat, dog, and young girl eating an ice-cream cone on a pink couch.

Her prices vary based on the piece, but it usually costs about $2,500 for a sofa and $4,500 for a sectional. Since her line debuted, she has shipped pieces to families all over the country.

The best way to draw in customers is to prove the claims about the decor, Green says. That’s why she’s got videos on YouTube and Facebook of her pouring a glass of red wine on a chair and wiping it up with no residue. There’s another video of her wiping dog pee off a carpet with ease.

Paw prints: Green is sponsoring upcoming pet-related fundraisers, including the “Bark for Life” pet walk-a-thon April 19 in Birkdale Village , and the “Pawz Too Run” event April 12 in Davidson. For a total of $2,000, her business name will appear on the T-shirts from both events.

She’s even hosting a Humane Society fundraiser 11 a.m.-5 p.m. March 29, at her showroom. For a $10 donation, people can take dip their pets’ paws in paint, and stamp them on a painted canvas that says: “You left Paw Prints on my Heart.”

“If people see that I’m willing to have dogs with paint on their paws in my showroom,” Green said, “that’s proof to them that I believe my stuff can stand just about anything.”

McMillan Portillo: 704-358-6045
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