Bew White, the innovator behind the Summer Classics brand, shares what drives him, inspires him, and where he finds time to enjoy the moments he cherishes most.
Summer Classics is based in Birmingham, Alabama, but you travel to Asia a lot for work. What is one of the most interesting things you have learned about that culture?
BEW: One of the coolest experiences we enjoy with the Chinese people we work with is eating meals together. The Chinese say Americans eat to live, while they like to say they live to eat. Most meals take several hours and are an incredible ordeal. It’s a shared feast. These meals usually comprise 12 courses and include all the meats: beef, pork, chicken, fish.
When visiting, the other event I always look forward to is the Chinese version of a spa. A massage will last for 2 1/2 hours and cost about $15. The therapist will soak your feet in a wooden bucket full of very hot salted water, before spending 30 minutes to an hour on a just the foot massage. Not as glamorous as US spas with aromatherapy and soft music, the Chinese have the television on during the whole process.
What is your personal favorite style of architecture? Why?
BEW: I don’t think I have a personal favorite architecture (for exteriors). But if I had to choose one, I would say Georgian. Better yet, if there were a modern version of Georgian architecture or French Baroque architecture I would more than likely pick that. But generally it’s what happens on the inside of a house that’s more important.
I recently visited a home on Lake Martin in Alabama designed by architect Jeffrey Dungan. The inside specifications were fabulous. The windows and doorways and openings and perspectives were, quite frankly, amazing. His previous business partner, architect Louis Nequette has the same abilities. I would refer to the designs Dungan and Nequette create as nouveau architecture. It’s almost as if there is a new evolution (revolution) going on in architecture where these design talents are creating nuances that have never been seen before by mixing materials like stone with plaster with wood.
What is your personal favorite collection with Summer Classics? Why?
What is your personal favorite collection with Gabby? Why?
Gabby is more difficult because there are so many categories to choose from. For lighting, I would say the Ellis Chandelier. For seating, I like the King Barstool. On the why for Ellis … I love the metal script that’s formed around the middle around the lighting. For the King Barstool, it’s the elegance and simplicity of a clear acrylic seat and back with metal legs attached to a simple frame.
What is your favorite personal piece of furniture? Why?
What is your role when it comes to creating new product / new lines? What is that process like?
BEW: My role is to lead the design department into the next genre. That requires a lot of thinking about color, product materials, nuances and what direction the market is taking—the market direction being the most important by far. Leading the fabric design team is also very important. Fabric is the pattern and color definition that goes into your outdoor space. And fabric softens the hardness of outdoor furniture which is usually wrought iron, wrought aluminum, teak or N’Dura resin woven wicker.
What you are excited about next?
BEW: Our fabric line for 2018 is… Well, it’s out of this world. We design our own fabrics and this time, we are really taking a totally different approach than what we’ve done in the past. You’ll see a lot more color and texture and variation. We’re also introducing a new pillow line which my daughter Wynne is working on. She is aspiring to create a pillow that will reach a whole new level of quality and comfort.
Where do you find inspiration?
BEW: Inspiration comes from many places. When I travel, I visit museums and explore shops. In clothing stores, I usually find myself in the women’s department to look at color and patterns in apparel. Fashion is my most inspirational guide.
Do you find ideas online?
BEW: Pinterest or Houzz is present design, we are future design. Architecture to some degree, has a lot to do with the feel of your next ideation. Occasionally I will see something or remember something from the past that gives me the idea that maybe it would be acceptable in the market again in the future. Right now we’re circling back around to Mid century modern designs.
Best spot for rest and relaxation?
BEW: Closer to home, I spend a lot of downtime at our farm in Boligee, Alabama. At the farm, we can take our Boykin spaniels, Boo and Sam, walk along the Tombigbee River, where we hunt and fish. It’s a great getaway for our family and for entertaining.
Best vacation ever? Where did you stay? Trip highlights?
BEW: When I was a sales rep in the early 80s, my wife and I spent a long vacation traveling across France and Italy. In France, we visited Paris and Lyon. We drove through the alps to Monte Carlo and stayed at the Grand Hotel and wore formal dress to the casino at night. We drove along the seashore to Portofino, Italy and stayed at Hotel Splendido. After that, we went to Florence for several days and stayed at Hotel Excelsior and visited many of the tourist attractions along the way. The food and wine was incredible and the architecture magnificent. Europe’s architecture is so inspiring because it is unchanged. It’s not like the United States where there are tons of new houses.
How would you describe your personal style? What are your must-haves when it comes to your wardrobe?
BEW: I think people would probably say I’m a Ralph Lauren nut, but I don’t have a ton of his clothes. I admire him because he has an incredibly eclectic but classic style mixed with color and technique that is defined by subtle details. For design inspiration, I like to visit his stores to get a feel for the architecture and finishes and floor coverings and wall colors and fabric colors and the details on RL products. Most of his products are timeless which is something we strive for at Summer Classics.
For my personal wardrobe, I always enjoy designing my own clothes when I travel to Hong Kong for work. There, I am able to create my own shirts with white collars, white cuffs, and a button down style. (Bew worked in apparel before becoming a furniture designer.) I have a lot of sportcoats and the ones I’ve been able to design myself in Hong Kong are my favorites—probably because they fit better. The fabric and button material and styles and linings make subtle design statements.
My favorite outfit is a sports jacket with blue and white shirt, gray pants or gray tattersall or windowpane pants, and loafers.
Currently reading? Listening to?
BEW: I’m really interested in history right now. I just finished Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow. It’s a long read but the man is probably the most incredible person that ever lived in the United States and we wouldn’t be here without him. I also read both books in the series of Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and The War Years. Other history books I’m reading: White Trash by Nancy Isenberg and Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. I also read a lot of business books. Currently I’m reading Start With Why by Simon Sinek and rereading Good to Great by Jim Collins.
Best piece of advice you have ever received?
BEW: You get the future you plan for. Never run out of money!