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AD HOC FINDS A BETTER GALLERY FOR ITS MODERNIST MIX.

NEW YORK-It all started with three simple, basic, yet perfectly designed product lines. When Julia McFarlane and Judy Auchincloss opened the doors of Ad Hoc Softwares in 1976, industrial design was just beginning to gain a modicum of popularity among the Manhattan cognoscenti. So the pair built their store's array around Metro wire shelving, Hall restaurant china and Kimble chemical glass.

"We looked around and found that some of the best designs at the time were institutional and industrial, and at the same time everyone was starting to live in lofts and buying lots of things on the Bowery at restaurant supply stores. So it was a confluence of things," McFarlane said. "It was a new spirit."

Now, nearly 25 years later, those products have proven to be modernist classics. And Ad Hoc, which recently moved to a 3,700-square-foot space on Wooster Street in SoHo, has accomplished the handy trick of becoming an institution while at the same time remaining at the cutting edge of home furnishings.

At the new space, a former art gallery that retains its pristine white walls, customers can still find the wire shelving and the Kimble glass -- and occasionally the Hall china as well, although the company "doesn't make as many shapes as they used to," Auchincloss said. But the assortment is by no means limited to these items. The store's inventory of approximately 10,000 products spans numerous categories, including tabletop, bed, bath, stationery, hardware, lighting, toys, gifts and furniture.

The tabletop department currently leads in terms of sales, featuring dishware from Lindt-Stymeist and flatware by Hackman, among many other brands. In home textiles, SDH, Palais Royale, Area and Cobra are all represented. The furniture department showcases handcrafted steel beds and tables (prices range from $95 to $1,600), which have been an Ad Hoc staple for many years, along with molded plastic chairs by Mario Bellini ($85) and felt ottoman cubes ($500).

While both partners buy for the store, they each have slightly different preferences. "Julia is more of a modernist," Auchincloss said.

"And Judy has to remind me what sells," McFarlane added.

Although the original Ad Hoc store was located on Lexington Avenue, the store's sensibility has always been inextricably linked to SoHo and the loft lifestyle that emerged there in the 1970s. But it wasn't until 1982 that the partners took their business downtown with a store on SoHo's West Broadway. Eventually, they closed the Lexington shop and expanded the SoHo store, which remained open until the recent move to Wooster Street, only a few minutes' walk away.

"SoHo is where our business really started to take off," Auchincloss said, but the partners admit that SoHo today is a very different neighborhood than it was in the '80s. Most of the art galleries have moved to Chelsea. In their place are national chain stores, such as J. Crew and Restoration Hardware.

"SoHo has changed a lot, and I don't know how it's going to work. It's become more fashion, more Madison Avenue, and less of an adventure. But this is where our customer base has always been, so we'll see," Auchincloss said.

On the up side, today's SoHo draws more tourist traffic, which is good for business. But the new competition has brought occasional problems with vendors. "Sometimes we can't get products because someone else is carrying them in the neighborhood. And price becomes an issue if someone undersells us. Someone like Restoration Hardware can buy huge quantities and buy things cheaper, " Auchincloss said.

As an independent, Ad Hoc finds that vendor relations present an ongoing challenge. "It's a struggle sometimes to keep vendors. They do want to maintain good relationships with us, but then sometimes they want to enforce large minimums, so it's hard," said Auchincloss.

Over their years in the business, Auchincloss and McFarlane have seen the public's consciousness of good design increase exponentially. "The new materials and the rage for modernism have opened people up to design," McFarlane said. And with fashion trends playing a larger role in home furnishings, the partners attend fashion shows in addition to the usual circuit of trade shows.

Always the modernists, Auchincloss and McFarlane embrace the changes in a don't-look-back fashion. "It makes it more of a challenge when you have to keep moving," McFarlane said. "It's enlivening."
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Author:Nicksin, Carole
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Date:Aug 14, 2000
Words:717
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