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Supermodel Cindy Crawford works with Rooms to Go and J.C. Penney on home furnishings

The celebrity spokesman can be tricky business for businesses.

With some savvy in the selection and then some good luck, companies can create moneymaking goodwill and an iconic connection with consumers. On the flip side, they end up fervently hoping the public won't connect the company with the celebrity's latest arrest, boorish awards show behavior or profane rant at a tennis tournament.

Rooms to Go, the Seffner furniture company with 130 locations in the South and Puerto Rico, created one of the gold standards of celebrity involvement when it hired supermodel Cindy Crawford. Company founder and CEO Jeff Seaman approached Crawford because he thought she represented every woman, every mom, "good taste and practicality." Crawford, for three decades an iconic image and voice of style (she was the original host of MTV's House of Style for six years, beginning in 1989), signed on, with the caveat that she be involved in the conception and design of the furniture that would carry her name.

The successful five-year relationship that is the Cindy Crawford Collection of living room, bedroom and dining room furniture continues to evolve. Its latest aspect is the Cindy Crawford Colors Collection, which features living room designs in seven colors for decorating flexibility.

Crawford, 43, recently met with fans at a Rooms to Go store on N Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa and made her first visit to company headquarters. Two days later, she was back home in Malibu, Calif., and talked with the St. Petersburg Times by phone about her visit, her design philosophies and influences, and her new collaboration with the J.C. Penney Co., Cindy Crawford Style, which focuses on bedding, bath and window treatments.

When you do appearances, do people ask design questions, or do they want just an autograph and a picture?

We get all sorts. We get the die-hard fans, and they're usually first in line because they've been waiting, like, two hours. And then we get people who are just in the store, and they see a line, and they're like "What's going on?"

How does your collaboration with Rooms to Go work? Do you work by phone, by e-mail, by meetings to design the furniture?

All of the above. When we first started, the different designers, they came up to my house in Malibu so that they could kind of see how I lived so that they could have that in the back of their head, but also so that we could kind of develop a common language about texture and scale. . . . And then the process usually works that I'll maybe talk about what direction we want to go in, where we think there's holes in the line, what was really successful that we might want to expand on. And the next step is, once we agree on that, then I'll get (drawings). . . . It's hard for me to understand a line drawing from furniture, but I can usually tell what I don't like. And then I'll see a sample. And at that point I can still makes changes. And then the final product.

What are your main influences and priorities when you design? I read once where you said the fabric needs to be able to stand up to a sick child. (Crawford has two children, Presley, 10, and Kaia, 8, with husband Rande Gerber.)

(Laughs) Obviously, I think of someone who comes from the world of design and fashion world, and travel, I'm influenced by all of that. So that's part of it. But also, my mother's mind never really turns off. I think, "How do people live with this?" Or, "What if you get pen on it, what do you do?" . . . Style is the most important thing. I'm not supermodern or anything like that. I'm rooted in traditional but with a fresh look at that. And then, working with Rooms to Go, (a priority) is value. And quality. Those three things are important not only to us, but to your customers.

What's the most popular in the line?

What's working is the color (collection) we have. The reason I think it's successful is that it's kind of a fun, easy way to liven up your room. And I think when people are maybe just adding pieces . . . they want to make it a statement, or have fun with it. But also with the color we did, we have several different options on color and shape of the sofa, on accent pillows. I think people feel like they get to customize it a little bit more, but at a not customized price line.

What are your favorite pieces in the collection?

I love a lot of our leather. I love leather. Again, it's back to the mom thing. It just looks better with age. It looks great and very stylish, but it's also very user-friendly. . . . What I really love, and it's something that's super easy for people to decorate around, we have a denim sofa, it's called Beachside. It's slip-covered, soft denim, and we have it in a lighter color as well (khaki and butter). But I like the denim color.

Do you have pieces from the line in your homes?

I have the denim sofa in the playroom. I don't actually have the bed from Cindy Crawford Home, but we have a bed in Cindy Crawford Home that is inspired by a bed that I had made for my house. It is pretty much the same, except that when you pay to have one made, it's a lot more expensive. We make a lot for Rooms to Go, so actually we were able to tweak it to make it better. It's like the first pancake (you make); if you don't get it right . . . (Laughs)

When you decorate your home, do you do it yourself or do you hire people?

I've done both. The house that I live in in Malibu, and the two places I had lived in prior, an apartment in New York and a house in Brentwood (Calif.), I worked with a decorator whose name is Michael Smith (based in Los Angeles). And he is a great friend, but he's also been in the news the past year because he got hired by the Obamas to do the private quarters of the White House. Now I can barely get him on the phone. (Laughs) But the thing that I learned most from him is to trust my own taste.

When people on a budget want to refurnish or are furnishing their first home or apartment, what should their priorities be in choosing furniture?

Obviously, you need the necessities, the core pieces, like that bed, a great sofa. . . . I would invest in those pieces, and then slowly you can add the little things. And those should be fun. It's like adding jewelry to your outfit. You can do it over time.

How did your collaboration with J.C. Penney Co. come about?

It's really an evolution of my collaboration with Rooms to Go. . . . While doing the furniture is fun, there is so much more to home — top of bed, tabletop, window — and that's not what Rooms to Go does. They're not in that business, and they don't want to be in that business. So, to tell the whole lifestyle story, I looked for a partner that does all those other things and that, of course, Rooms to Go was supportive of. And they thought that J.C Penney's could coexist even more than peacefully, there would be a halo effect for the two brands, because J.C. Penney's is concerned about that same three things: style, and value and quality.

Sharon Fink can be reached at fink@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8525.

Supermodel Cindy Crawford works with Rooms to Go and J.C. Penney on home furnishings 10/02/09 [Last modified: Friday, October 2, 2009 5:30am]

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