Lions

Anna Brockway ’92 Makes Herself Comfortable in Online Furniture Sales

Anna Brockway ’92 remembers the first items that sold on Chairish, the online marketplace for décor, furniture and art that she and her husband, Gregg Brockway, co-founded in 2013. The pieces were hers: slipper chairs in, as she describes the fabric, “the most beautiful cut yellow linen.”

Brockway — a self-described compulsive decorator — was sad to let them go but didn’t have room anymore; she isn’t even sure her husband knew they owned them. A good price helped, but still, six years later, she says, “I’m a little homesick for them.”

The chairs may be gone, but the company they helped launch is here to stay. Chairish debuted as a website for private individuals to buy and sell prized vintage pieces, and a solution to the problem Brockway herself faced many times: what to do with beloved but unnecessary home decor items. Since then, it has become a destination for professional buyers and sellers. In 2016, the company created another platform, DECASO, for modernist and antique furnishings, and earlier this year it acquired Dering Hall, which specializes in online sales of contemporary brands. Together, the sites have nearly half a million products and a monthly audience of more than 2.5 million.

Chairish was founded on the idea that quality is just as important as quantity, something Brockway and her husband argued over during the site’s early days. For Gregg, whose background is in private equity and technology, “more is always better,” says Brockway, who grew up going to furnishings trade shows with her father, who worked in design, including as VP at Baker Furniture.

“I felt very strongly from the beginning that if you don’t have curation and an editorial perspective on what you’re offering, there is no brand and there is no reason for being,” she says. “If you want to buy junky stuff online, there are a million places to do that. I wasn’t interested in competing with the behemoths.”

Each piece on Chairish is personally approved by a member of the company’s eight-person curatorial team, which turns away about 30 percent of submissions, Brockway says. The marketplace also stands out for its use of technology, or what Brockway calls the “secret sauce.” In 2017, Chairish launched “View In My Space,” an augmented reality app that lets people see what a piece will look like in their home. And Brockway says Chairish logs everything from size, style and material, to maker and location, to create a “lightning-fast and super-specific search.”

One of the company’s goals is to expand the 10 percent of the furniture market that buys online. Brockway is sure that share will grow. “With millennials coming into home ownership and affluence, it’s sort of a freight train you can’t stop,” she says.

Brockway credits the art history degree she earned at the College with helping her understand style and design, a talent she took with her to Levi Strauss & Co., where she worked for seven years pre-Chairish, including as VP of worldwide marketing. She also says engaging with top-notch faculty gave her a confidence she continues to draw on today.

“Columbia pushed me to find my voice and not be intimidated,” she says. “That’s so invaluable.”