Designer turns expensive bloopers into bargains

July 07, 1991|By Knight-Ridder News Service

They're called "bloopers," mistakes interior designers sometimes make when ordering furnishings for their clients.

Often, these mistakes are not exactly the designer's fault. Clients may change their minds. They decide that the elegant game table doesn't fit their budget after all.

Or, they despise the green sofa their designer had custom made, and request blue instead. That leaves the designer with the problem of disposing of the green sofa.

This is where Michael Bernstein comes in. He accepts these "bloopers" and sells them at low prices. For example, he offers an elegant La Barge mirror, originally $4,000, for $1,500.

Mr. Bernstein, a designer himself, opened Interior Designers Bloopers in a Pompano Beach, Fla., warehouse nine months ago. Business has been good.

L "I've made a profit from the first day," Mr. Bernstein said.

He started by renting 2,000 square feet in a warehouse off Interstate 95. Within a few weeks he had to expand to 4,000 square feet. This week he's taking another 2,000 square feet adjacent to his store, giving him a total of 6,000 square feet. He said he's negotiating for another 4,000, possibly by August.

Why has his business taken off like a skyrocket, particularly during a sluggish economy?

"I think it's because people can find such bargains here," Mr. Bernstein said. "You can always buy cheap stuff cheap, but to buy expensive stuff cheap is difficult. And everybody loves a bargain. I've even had customers arrive in Rolls-Royces."

Bloopers' merchandise is not arranged; it's heaped. Customers must prowl about to find their treasure.

"That makes it fun," Mr. Bernstein said. "Everyone's joking and laughing. It makes the whole thing a game. If business becomes too serious, it kills it."

One of the big attractions is his fabric department. All fabric, suitable for draperies, curtains, upholstery and pillows, sells for 10 cents an inch. That's $3.60 a yard, an incredible bargain to anyone who buys fabric.

"I buy 20,000 yards of overruns every month from mills," Mr. Bernstein said. "I have Robert Allen, Waverly, Schumacher and David & Dash fabrics."

Mr. Bernstein has Chinese silk in 18 colors. Usually it sells for $30 or $40 a yard. Ultrasuede, $125 a yard usually, can be had for 10 cents an inch. There are satins, moires, sheers, brocades, damasks, weaves, prints and voiles.

Bloopers operates like a consignment shop. Mr. Bernstein accepts furniture and accessories from designers and furniture showrooms and tags them with a price both parties agree on. Sometimes the pricing is very casual. Mr. Bernstein was heard to say to a customer: "Thirty dollars for that table. Is that OK with you?"

"That happens when the stuff is coming in and going out so fast that I haven't had time to put a proper tag on it," Mr. Bernstein said with a laugh. "New stuff comes in every Friday, so Saturday is a busy day."

During the week Mr. Bernstein sells by himself but plans to add employees soon. His wife, Marylyn, does the inventory at home via computer.

Most of the goods come from Boca Raton and Delray Beach designers, but three showrooms in the Design Center of the Americas in Dania also send merchandise.

Their names remain a secret with Mr. Bernstein. "I would never tell because I wouldn't want it known who made these so-called mistakes," he said.

But designer Donald Workman, a member of the International Society of Interior Designers, wasn't shy when he was seen at the shop and asked, "Have you ever had a blooper?"

"Sure," he replied. "I have one here now. It's a perfectly lovely game table. The client just didn't want it after it was ordered."

Some of the items on display one day carried these price tags:

*Brass inlaid round table in perfect condition, $595, marked down from $1,850.

*White lacquered dining table, originally $2,250, now $750; matching buffet, $750, marked down from $2,500.

*Black leather modular seating unit, now $1,650, down from $6,000.

*Ottoman, upholstered in silk, originally $285, now $69.

*A set of three twisted wood and brass candlesticks, originally $465, now $175.

Merchandise from manufacturers includes overruns of bedspreads made for a hotel, $39 for any size, and upholstered headboards, $99 each. Sleep sofas made for time-sharing apartments are $350 each. Bloopers offers paintings for $99 and prints for $35. All cushions, regardless of size, are $9 each.

Mr. Bernstein was born in London and studied design at St. Martin's School of Art. He worked for a design company after graduating, specializing in antique fabrics. Later, he worked for Roche-Bobois in London, Paris and Chicago.

Three years ago, the Bernsteins vacationed in South Florida, liked it and decided to move here. He started the Lords of London line for Sleeper Makers, a Boca Raton manufacturer of sleep sofas.

"Then I got the idea for Bloopers and thought I'd give it a try," he said. "I took all the stuff from a designer shop going out of business in Boca Raton and unloaded it in three months. I had connections with the mills, so it was like a jigsaw puzzle, just waiting to be put together."

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