Stafford: Gaier’s furniture customers relive memories as estate is sold

Bob Gaier was an intensely creative man.

In an interview four years ago, he said he was always “working ahead” on new furniture designs, crafting pieces that inspired him and trusting that, in the years to come, the perfect client from the perfect house would walk in the door.

Organizer Saundra Deards wouldn’t be surprised if the imagined customers and their matching furniture have come together in the ongoing estate sale at Gaier’s Furnishings & Interiors.

Says Deards, “The essence of Bob is in everything we see and touch here.”

Gaier, who died at 83 in March, came to the upstairs living quarters of building in the 1930s as the adopted son of Laurence and Elizabeth Gaier, who founded the store.

Though serviceable, Gaier called their offerings “very standard” and resolved to set a higher one.

“I was just a kid. I was a teenager,” Gaier said. “But I had big ideas” and “I was very aggressive.”

In an earlier Springfield, he transformed the store into one of the “go-to” places for both furniture and design, developing a curious way of doing business.

Assuming that what became his “lifetime study” of design, he advised his clients in the way attorney might – with the assurance that he knew more about the field. Valuing his reputation, he often would refuse to bend to clients’ wishes.

Before selling something he considered “awful or incorrect,” he said, “I’ll eat it. And I have on many occasions.”

Along the way, while offering pricier furniture, he developed a following.

“I think he was a genius, said realtor Sue Smedley, a longtime customer who compared the shuttered store to “a grandmother’s attic” filled with “beautiful, beautiful things.”

Except the attic was closer to the size of a barn.

“It just goes on and on,” said her husband Jerry, who during a tour of the rooms, was anxious to take a visitor for a “quick peek” at an overstuffed attic.

Annie Kusma, a customer of 30-plus years, walked through her home on the phone taking inventory of what she’d purchased from Gaier: “That coffee table, that little area rug was from Bob. The parsonage chairs are his. Every room has a lamp of his.”

She’d said yes to the blinds (“cool and modern”), bookcases and love couch as well.

But Ed and Diane Pullins, who still own what she calls “a very nice dining suite” they bought from Gaier 50 years ago, said yes to one more thing: a road trip.

Showing him plans for the house they were building, Ed Pullins said, Gaier told him “I’m going to Chicago, why don’t you go with me?”

The destination was Merchandise Mart, where, after a ride in his truck and nights at “this quirky little hotel in a not-too-nice neighborhood” – they picked out their furniture.

Diane Pullins said that to connect a green foyer in the house to a red living room, “he took this green malachite paper, (ran) it under the cornice in the living room and then, under that, put a tiny strip of brass. And, of course, it’s still stunning.”

Gaier’s close friend Sonny Blevins was a child when he first went into the story and said Gaier’s mother “would bring out a basket of toys and stuffed animals,” both for him and later for his children.

He hired Gaier to create “an absolutely beautiful” conference room at Mercy Medical Center, remembers Gaier for the cubby holes in a wardrobe in which Blevins stores his bow ties, and remembers Gaier one day placing a seat at the end of the bed that matched the room perfectly and saying “I made this for you.”

“Such a loving, loving person,” Blevins said. “And he was always so grateful for anything you’d ask him to do,” like running Oriental carpets to Columbus to have them cleaned.

Like so many who love what they do, Gaier was often preoccupied by his occupation.

“I get up in the in the middle of the night and think about this stuff all the time,” he said. “I’m driven.”

“He was always stressed out, because he was always working,” said son Robbie, now 27. “But he loved work.”

But both Robbie and Sandy Gaier, Bob’s wife of 36 years, had an opportunity to more fully appreciate the work that often separated them in Bob’s later years.

Robbie helped his computer-challenged father digitize records of before-and-after photos of client homes, sometimes featuring his father’s first designs, then the result after he’d recovered the furniture and redesign the room years later.

“If he had a customer hadn’t seen in 20 years, he could click on a folder and look at the pictures”

“He’d memorized every single thing – where it came from, what the price is, what it’s made of.”

Sandy Gaier became involved five or six years ago, when Bob’s stamina began to lag and, unlike in his youth, forgetting to eat would catch up with him.

“I was absolutely insistent that he eat breakfast every day.”

And while she always had tended after the house, she began to drive him to North Carolina and Chicago on business trips because she worried about his driving.

Along the way, “I got to see exactly how he looked at things,” she said. “I really enjoyed that time with him because I could see what he could do.”

After some required rearrangement in the store, what he did over the years has been obvious to those attending the sale.

Seven years in her business, Deards says the Gaier sale stands out because “people are happy when they come in” and “everyone has a good story.”

“So many of them remember being here as children.”

More than one woman said she’d gone through the store, never intending to buy anything, just to get away and have a look.

Another came and remarked that a bench with honeybee fabric on it was a replica of a piece Gaier had made for her and liked so much he’d reproduced it.

Others “have come in and said, ‘I want something that reminds me of Bob,’” Deards said.

Those who have found that now possess more than a furnishing; they have a piece of Bob Gaier’s essence.

Note: The sale will continue from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. the weekend of Dec. 5 and 6. Sales of related materials will be scheduled in January.