Heart and Soul: Annie Selke’s Design Companies
January 10, 2014
Text by Dan Shaw
Annie Selke’s passion is the spirited home textiles her global company offers. Her pride is that she’s still headquartered in her lifelong home, the Berkshires of Massachusetts.
Annie Selke and her home-furnishings empire are both products of Norman Rockwell’s New England. A native of the picture-postcard town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where the iconic artist lived for the last twenty-six years of his life, Selke and her Berkshires-based businesses—Pine Cone Hill and the Dash & Albert Rug Company—share Rockwell’s optimistic, wholesome spirit. “I subscribe to the notion that no matter what your personality, your home must sustain and reflect your truest self,” she says. “In other words, your home should make you happy.”
With her fresh-scrubbed looks and sassy attitude, Selke personifies the company she founded twenty years ago with her now-former husband at their dining table. Pine Cone Hill’s earliest offerings were patchwork quilts that Selke wholesaled to catalog companies like Garnet Hill and L.L. Bean. The quilts were a natural synthesis of her passions and personal history. She studied textile technology at the University of Vermont, and keeps a “library” with more than 10,000 swatches of fabrics she loves. “I have been collecting vintage fabrics since I was a child,” she says.
Selke honed her merchandising skills during the decade after college when she held jobs at Conran’s, Lord & Taylor, the Museum of American Folk Art, and Saks Fifth Avenue. “I came to believe that good design is good business,” she says.
For Selke, authentic American style is not a marketing concept but an expression of her roots. Like Ralph Lauren, she started with a preppy New England aesthetic, and as she traveled the country to trade shows and visited her retail accounts, she realized that American taste was diverse and based on climate and geography.
She expanded her offerings to include quilts and other bed and table linens in a riot of exuberant patterns and colors that would be appropriate for, say, a beach house on the Gulf Coast or a ski chalet in the Rockies. “I love the West,” says Selke. “My favorite vacation spot is a dude ranch in Colorado.”
Still, her heart and soul are in the Berkshires.
The key to the company’s success has been staying local while going global. “We have about eighty employees in Pittsfield and forty full-time workers in India,” says Selke, who takes pride in the fact that she’s a major employer in Berkshire County even though her products are manufactured overseas. She owns the nineteenth-century textile mill that she renovated as her improbably glamorous headquarters with lofty office spaces and large windows. It is home not only to her marketing team and in-house photo studio, but also her quality-control and distribution departments, as well the site of the Pine Cone Hill Outlet Store.
The success of the Dash & Albert Rug Company, which she started in 2003, is especially satisfying to her because it has challenged her to offer consumers hooked, hand-loomed, handwoven, and tufted rugs at reasonable prices while being a socially responsible third-world manufacturer. Initially a line of striped carpets with a folksy, country-house charm, Dash & Albert now produces rugs in styles to suit almost any American lifestyle and sells them at more than 2,000 retailers across the country. “I have a clear understanding that decorating houses is contextual, cultural, and personal,” Selke says. “We really are all things to all people.”
Her own taste has evolved over the years. When she was married, she lived in a rambling Victorian farmhouse on sixty acres in Pittsfield furnished in a whimsical country style. A few years ago, she renovated a midcentury modern house in Lenox and decorated it with streamlined period pieces. She recently sold that house and moved into her late mother’s Cape Cod–style home in Lenox, gutting the interior with the help of Palm Springs architect John Gilmer, who made it feel like a swank boutique hotel. Unlike her color-saturated previous homes, this house is a nuanced melange of neutrals, a sign of how she and her company have evolved. (Another sign is her recent deal with legendary New York decorator Bunny Williams, who is designing a line of all-weather carpets for Dash & Albert.)
Disciplined and driven, Selke believes Pine Cone Hill’s success is based on sincerity and integrity, noting there isn’t a single product she sells that she would not live with herself. “Design is my life,” she says. “It’s my form of expression, my way of communicating with the world and vice versa.” •
The Annie Selke Companies