Photos: Ethan Allen, Disney bring the Magic Kingdom to your castle
Updated 10:48 am, Tuesday, April 18, 2017
It takes a minute, but then you see him — his black ears, the white-buttoned red shorts and the bright yellow shoes. It’s not your typical image of Mickey, but it’s a clever and subtle depiction of what might happen if the world’s most famous mouse transformed into an entryway storage hutch.
Well, not exactly. It’s more like what would happen if a piece of furniture took on the spirit of Mickey or his longtime companion Minnie, or, for that matter, the spirit of the brand that created the duo so many decades ago.
“We were not interested in developing products,” says Farooq Kathwari, CEO of Ethan Allen Interiors Inc., the Danbury-based home furnishings manufacturer and retailer. “We wanted to create a magical home.”
Kathwari wanders through vignettes created in the company’s Danbury Design Center on a recent morning to show off the new Ethan Allen | Disney line. Timed to launch with Mickey Mouse’s birthday (he turned 88 on Nov. 18, 2016), Ethan Allen showrooms across the United States and Canada are home to a collection that spans from pillows to a sectional couch (with the prices to match, ranging from about $30 to $5,000). On March 31, 2017, the collection became available at disneystore.com.
Would Mickey and Minnie furnish their pad with some of the pieces? Probably, though in truth the designers created pieces with a younger clientele in mind. It goes from the nursery to the family hub.
This is Ethan Allen’s first collaboration in its 84-year history, and it all came from a small cruise that sparked Kathwari to think big.
“We were going around in those little boats, you know,” he says smiling, as he recalls his jaunt about a year ago along the Seven Seaways Waterway in the “It’s a Small World” ride at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. There with his family to celebrate his granddaughter’s fifth birthday, he gamely sang along with the animatronic children of the world, who expressed feelings of universal harmony in their native tongue. “They said, ‘You don’t know how to sing it right,’” he says, laughing, of his grandchildren’s ribbing. “And I said, ‘Yeah, I am not a good singer.’ ”
Kathwari may not have hit all the notes, but he hit on something else. Seeing the park through his granddaughter’s eyes brought on the wonder and awe she was experiencing with every character she met, and all the surprises she discovered around every corner. Could cribs and bookshelves, desks and settees, chests of drawers and wingback chairs be imbued with that joy and magic? He thought they could.
When Kathwari, who has been the company’s chief executive for nearly 30 years, returned home, it took but one call to Disney. Soon the two iconic brands were working on a furniture and home décor line. Ethan Allen’s in-house design team was not only inspired by the images of Mickey and Minnie, but also by the rich history and tradition of the Walt Disney Co. There is a delight, for instance, in seeing that storage containers were inspired by film canisters and a chest of drawers evokes a certain wardrobe from the 1991 Disney film, “Beauty and the Beast.” Still, this is not about living in a cartoon.
“The question really was how far do we go,” he says, walking toward a bedroom display awash in pink, grey and white in homage to Minnie. “There were lots of discussions about that. It had to be effective, but we still needed to manage it.”
With the archives of Disney at their disposal, the designers could have been lured toward a far larger palette —far more characters, more colors and far more storylines — but as any good storyteller will tell you, too many plots and subplots can muddy the central theme. This line is about clean lines, fresh shapes, classic colors and a functionality that is fashionable. There is serious whimsy in the design. “Hidden Mickeys” abound: Just look at the animator’s chair and try to spot that iconic silhouette. Sophisticated, yes; stuffy, no.
Part of the design challenge was creating a line that ensured the DNA of the Ethan Allen brand was elegantly spliced with the genetic makeup of Disney. That classic, yet modern perspective of Ethan Allen is there, as one can see with the trio of oak nesting tables known as “It All Started With a Mouse.” But then in a wink and with a wink, you can make a Mickey appear by pulling out those smaller tables. The pieces also will work with furniture from the rest of the Ethan Allen collection, which is its own form of magic to anyone decorating his or her home.
“I can now see it in your eyes,” Kathwari tells his guest, whose eyes are beginning to see those big, wide ears everywhere — not to mention the polka dots and bow that so established Minnie’s look for more than 80 years. “We are all children at heart, right?”
–firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @xtinahennessy