A Tale of Two Families: The Stickleys and the Audis – PART TWO

A Tale of Two Families: The Stickleys and the Audis – PART TWO

E.J. Audi Fine Furniture was one of the dealers that stuck by Stickley even as times got tough. Alfred Audi had graduated from Colgate in 1960 and joined the family business. In a testament to the close relationships his father has fostered with the top brands, Alfred was sent to Baker Furniture’s factory in Michigan for intensive study of finishes.

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In 1963, he married Aminy Inati, a student and writer, after meeting her on a visit to relatives in Lebanon; they settled in Brooklyn Heights and started their family. In time, Alfred, who had grown to share his father’s passion for exceptionally well-crafted furniture—and for Stickley in particular—became President of E.J. Audi.

For Louise Stickley, difficulties came to a head in 1974, when she was faced with either selling the Stickley business or closing it for good. She was unimpressed with the potential buyers and feared for what would become of her husband’s beloved brand. But she knew of one person she could trust. In an exchange that has gone down in company lore, she phoned Alfred Audi in New York and said, “Alfred, you are the only one who loves Stickley enough to keep its quality. Will you buy it?” As Mrs. Audi describes it, “I remember Alfred saying, ‘Oh, would I? It would be a dream come true if only I can afford it.’ Being the eternal optimist, I said, ‘Of course you can.’”

Before making such a huge decision, Alfred called upon his father’s friend Tom Kindel of Kindel Furniture, who came to Fayetteville to tour the factory with the Audis. They looked over the facility and machinery, which had seen better days, and met the workers. Afterward, Kindel advised that they could make it work—but that it would cost a lot of money! (Alfred joked, “You mean $50,000?”) Though not entirely sure of the enormous task that lay ahead of them, Alfred and Aminy Audi purchased L. & J.G. Stickley in 1974. The company at this time had 25 employees and yearly sales of $235,000. The Audis set about getting it back on its feet.

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The Audis came to Fayetteville for what they thought would be a six-month stay, after which they would hire someone to run the plant. But as Mrs. Audi recalls, they soon realized that “it would take every ounce of energy we both had.” They made the decision to relocate their family permanently to Central New York, investing not only in the business but in the community that was its home for so many years.

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Among the many challenges that faced them was to convince dealers to take a chance on them, and to convince their employees as well; Alfred famously promised the workers, “If you stick with me, I'll stick with you, and we're going to make this place move.” Veteran and retired craftsmen were called upon for a program to train new employees, while the Audis scrambled to find capital for inventory and supplies—with Aminy occasionally raiding her own dressers for hardware for a piece that needed to ship! And it was Alfred who rose early each day to stoke the factory’s boiler before the workers arrived.

The hard work continued, but in just a few short years there was evidence that it was paying off. Staffing and production had increased, new dealers were engaged and some old ones returned, and orders poured in from Stickley’s loyal and patient customers. In 1977, Congressman James Hanley paid a visit to the factory and was deeply impressed with the Audis achievement in reviving the languishing company. He paid tribute to this success on the floor of the House on September 15, 1977, telling the story of the Stickleys and the Audis and entering it in the Congressional Record. It was a remarkable moment for Stickley’s young second family, and just the first of many to come. [gallery size="medium" link="file" ids="46702,46705"]  

The true turning point came with the reissue of Mission furniture in April, 1989, which put the name Stickley firmly back on the map. In 2008, a year after his death, Alfred Audi was inducted into the American Furniture Hall of Fame, and Aminy Audi, who continues to lead the brand, earned her own place in the renamed American Home Furnishings Hall of Fame in 2015. There they join Gustav Stickley himself, bringing the history of these two remarkable families full circle.  

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Additional sources:

Mrs. Aminy Audi, CEO and Chair of the Board

American Furniture Hall of Fame, “Oral History Interview with Aminy Audi,” April 14, 2016.

Amanda Clifford, Director, The Stickley Museum