Hey Jhonny… Ready For Urban Chic?

Date February 28, 2006 at 9:59 PM

Author Rena Distasio

Publication localflavor magazine

Categories Lodging & Travel

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What's in a name? If you own a retail establishment, almost everything. Whether overtly descriptive, cutely whimsical, or a clever play on words, the name you choose can be a major clue to your identity.

So what, then, is up with Hey Jhonny, the name given to two of Albuquerque's most spirited home accessory and furniture shops? Its meaning isn't obvious and it can't be puzzled out. You have to ask. But in asking, you get not only meaning, but also a great story. The name (their spelling) is an homage to co-owner Tom Ford's late father, a man who spent his life serving the public as a Long Island truck driver, police officer and fireman. His trademark salutation to the people he'd meet while on his rounds? "Hey, Johnny!"€

"He was a great man with a big heart,"€ says Ford's partner, Carl Latino. "And his spirit is with us every day."€

Once you know this, it tells you all you need to know about Hey Jhonny's identity. That is, long on fun and friendliness and very, very short on snobbish attitude.

Not that owners Tom Ford and Carl Latino haven't earned the right to some attitude. Consider their resume. Over fifty years of combined design industry experience, fifteen of those years spent running a highly successful Manhattan and Catskills-based wholesale business. There, Carl and Tom provided hand designed and manufactured home furnishings and accessories to clients like Armani, Bergdorf's, Sundance, and the Nature Company.

Then, ten years ago, a move to New Mexico for the wide skies and warm days. But unlike most expatriate Eastern Seaboard artists and designers, they didn't set their sights on Santa Fe. Instead, they set up shop in Albuquerque.

"By the time we got here, Santa Fe was already done,"€ says Tom, referring to that city's number of retail furniture and accessory shops. In comparison, Albuquerque ten years ago was pretty much tabula rasa when it came to contemporary interior design not in the southwestern mold. Which meant it was ripe to accept Tom and Carl's particular aesthetic: worldly, urban chic, presented in an atmosphere both sophisticated and insouciant, with a highly knowledgeable staff devoted to personalized attention.

Last July, the pair developed a similar sensibility at their new venture, Hey Jhonny Home. With its high-end international contemporary home furnishings and accessories, the shop has proven such a welcome alternative to the norm that even Architectural Digest stood up and took notice. In an October 2005 article "Unexpected in Albuquerque"€ the magazine called Hey Jhonny an eclectic oasis in the middle of so much Southwestern style.

Says Tom, "We opened the shop primarily in response to our Hey Jhonny clientele who love our aesthetic and wanted it reflected in home furnishings. Hey Jhonny Home has a similar philosophy but different products."€

And, like Hey Jhonny, offers an eclectic mix of cultures and styles from contemporary to modern to antique. Says Tom, "That sensibility rolls over from the other store. That and how we try to show people how they can mix it all together to create a really comfortable atmosphere to live in."€

For Tom and Carl, there's no reason a 19th century Chinese armoire shouldn't share space with a steel and glass coffee table. It's all in how you present it. "I'd say our unified design principle is just that-how we actually see it all coming together, all these different parts. Careful editing is what ties it all together."€

And if customers can't see it before coming in, they do once they're inside. For Hey Jhonny Home isn't a showroom so much as it is a design studio, a how-to guide backed by knowledgeable, friendly sales people dedicated to helping customers achieve a unique look.

Thanks to Tom and Carl's years of experience and carefully cultivated relationships with wholesalers in the industry, the shop is a treasure trove of options, representing dozens of artisans and manufacturers from around the world. The main pieces for the most part are contemporary and modern with clean, functional lines, designed to mix seamlessly with other styles. For instance, their upholstered furniture lines, which include California's Charles Carol and Chicago's CTC, can be customized via fabric, color and texture to a variety of different looks, from hard-edged industrial to country casual.

"That has always been a conscious decision on our part,"€ says Tom, "Not to go in any one direction, which is so limiting, but to provide a variety of palettes to work from."€

Many of the pieces are also highly functional. For instance, a "peek-a-boo"€ coffee table made from American cottonwood whose ends pull apart to reveal storage space for magazines and remote controls. Likewise, CTC features Velcro-ed slipcovers, which not only facilitate cleaning, but also provide options for different looks. Tom and Carl are also excited about a product called Flor, a series of square carpet "tiles"€ which glue to any smooth surface to create the look of an area rug or wall-to-wall carpeting.

To these basics can be added a range of accessories, which further develop and liven a client's particular look. Lamps range from German-made hanging mosaic globes to sleek stainless steel floor lamps with a decided "€˜50s feel. Antique African weavings share space with European ceramics, South African "telephone wire"€ baskets with Murano glass. For the wall, there are contemporary prints, photographs, and abstract paintings by Santa Fe's Kevin Tolman. And of course, Tom and Carl's on-going love affair with fine glass is reflected in stunning pieces by NYC's Michael Anchin, Vancouver's Robert Held, as well as emerging artisans from Poland and Italy.

With such a wide range of products, one has to wonder if the pair's individual tastes ever clash. "Sure. We disagree all the time,"€ says Carl, laughing. "It can get very black and white around here. But we try not to make it all that important. If Tom wants the green one and I want the orange one, we'll get both and be done with it. In the end, it's just an object."€

Another thing the pair looks for when buying? "We also concentrate on what we've called in the past, "€˜affordable art for the masses,'"€ says Tom. "We've worked very hard on that, to keep a range of prices so that everyone can shop here."€

Which means there is no such thing as a typical Hey Jhonny customer.

"We get designers from Santa Fe and home owners from Albuquerque,"€ says Carl. "We also get little kids who come in at Christmas who know their mothers like the store. They'll buy her a pair of chopsticks for $1.95 and we gift wrap it and they leave just beaming. Sometimes they don't care what it is they buy, so long as it comes in a Hey Jhonny box."€

It's at that point when the relationship between owner and customer becomes less about buying and selling and more about a fluid exchange of ideas designed to fulfill a want or meet a need.

And in the hail-fellow-well-met spirit of Tom's father, that's just what Hey Jhonny aims to do: bring their brand of contemporary, modern, and eclectic design to a growing customer base who appreciates a unique aesthetic as well as a sense of fun.

Says Tom: "We've watched the city evolve over the time we've been here and we like to think we've been responsible for some of that evolution, retail and design wise. I think it's Albuquerque's time now and we're very happy to be a part of that."€

Hey Jhonny is located at 3418-B Central Ave SE in Albuquerque. Hey Jhonny Home is just around the corner at 118 Tulane SE. 505-256-9244 or toll free 877-954-6669. www.heyjhonny.com

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