DesignerInc had the privilege of speaking with the Niermann sisters Eleanor and Claire, who are the VP of Operations and Merchandising of Niermann Weeks. The ladies were gracious enough to share an inside look to their father’s legacy of a furniture business where almost half of the business is custom-designed to meet the special needs of professional architect and designer clients resource for interior designers.
What makes Niermann Weeks unique?
We have a broad range of designs throughout our lighting and furniture collections. Also,our father, Joe Niermann, has a background in antique restoration, so our finishes have a lot of depth to give them the feel of actual antiques. Since we make everything to order in Maryland, we have the ability to customize almost any aspect of the construction and finish of our items.
Where did the name Niermann Weeks come from?
Joe Niermann, designer and finisher, founded the company with Mike Weeks, a blacksmith. Mike decided to leave the partnership about twenty years ago, so Joe bought him out at that time but decided to keep the company name of Niermann Weeks.
What are your biggest sources of inspiration?
We are definitely inspired by antique pieces. Claire and I grew up trailing along behind our parents, Joe Niermann and Eleanor McKay, through numerous museums, antique shops, estate sales, flea markets, salvage yards, etc. We still do visit those types of place, but now, with the power of the internet, we browse any number of websites online. We have also found that when we design pieces for our own homes to fit specific needs, those pieces tend to sell very well. If we have a need for that item, chances are good that lots of other people do, too. For example, Claire wanted a ceiling fixture for her office that fit her eight-foot ceiling height and that was also very easy to change out the light bulbs. The Palissy Ceiling Fixture is now one of our most popular items, and we are constantly making different custom versions of it. I'll include a photo of it with this message.
What led you to want to go beyond interior design and begin designing/creating your own furniture?
None of us has any background in interior design. Our father is a self-taught artist and finisher. He used to buy antiques and repair them for resale, which is part of what makes our finishes so unique. His experience in building back layers of repaired finish to match old patina is why all our finishes have so many steps and layers to give them the feeling of real age. When he had an antique chandelier that required repair to the metal work, he met Mike Weeks, the blacksmith, and they started working together on other repairs. At a certain point, Joe realized that if he could repair these pieces, he could go one step further and start making them entirely. Thus our first chandelier design, the Iron & Crystal Chandelier, was born in 1978.
What is your favorite part about designing furniture?
We really enjoy fulfilling a need that people don't even realize that they have. Joe needed a super skinny sofa table to fit into a tight spot. So he sketched out a thin console with three glass shelves that was only about 8" wide and made of thin metal bar. We call it the Fantome (ghost) Console, and it has developed into an entire collection of occasional tables, coffee tables, etageres, and seating.
Can you walk me through the customization process?
We offer many levels of customization, from minor size or finish changes, to total custom configurations of a standard piece or a completely custom finish requiring a strike-off, to a totally custom piece based on an interior designer's concept. For example, a local designer came to us to make a totally custom chandelier with LED bulbs based on a tree sculpture her client had seen. We went back and forth with computer renderings of the chandelier for approval, and the designer came to see the piece when the metal shop had fabricated it. She asked for a few changes to the tree "roots", which we made before proceeding to finishing. We finished a section, and she came back to the studio again for approval. Her client then decided that she really wanted it to look like a white birch instead of the brown tree bark originally chosen. So we refinished the brown section and applied a white and gray birch-like finish instead. Claire went out with the chandelier delivery and a couple of our artisans to oversee the installation and to supervise the tweaking of the finish and attaching crystals on site. I've attached some photos of the tree in various stages for reference.
A little extra fun fact about yourself…
Niermann Weeks is celebrating our fortieth year in business this year, and our twenty-four-year-old office is undergoing a major renovation. We're looking forward to its completion this summer and plan to have an open house party and anniversary sale for our local designers when it's completed.