The story behind my relationship with Therapy and its owner Wayne Whelan is an interesting one, an anecdote shared by many beyond just myself and one that carries with it both the heart and the future of this seemingly middle of the road furniture store. You see, if you were to step inside my house today and ask me where I got this love seat, that table, the beautiful floor rug or maybe that lamp, and so on, the truth would be that nearly all of it I purchased from Wayne. It’s thousands of dollars worth of quality product, even if not overtly high end. But I didn’t buy it a piece at a time, as would have been the case if I were paying purely out of pocket. Because Wayne and Therapy offers something pretty special in this day and age – a take it all home today layaway plan based purely on – get this – good faith. “One of our goals is to be as inclusive as possible. We don’t want to exclude people,” Wayne explained. “So if we could only sell things for a thousand dollars or more to people who have a thousand dollars worth of available credit anymore, we’d have a lot less available customers. So by us being able to trust people and work with them, we’re able to sell a lot more stuff, and a lot more people are able to participate in our business model. My experience is that people are so blown away but, then, they realize they’re being trusted, and they don’t want to disappoint that trust.” Because of this relationship, I was able to completely transform my entire apartment in about two weeks, as opposed to the course of two years or so. This has brought me back into the shop on a regular basis in the many years since. If Wayne is there, I can at least count on a good conversation. And Therapy is always loaded (and on some days, one might say overloaded) with great new finds. They range from newer, higher end pieces, like the gorgeous Cologne dining table, to rarer or more affordable vintage finds, such as the very awesome looking vintage fan lamp.
At the heart of this diversity, for Wayne, is one core principle – value, which Wayne defines as “something that tends to look like it’s worth more than what we sell it for. One of the challenges we have being on Valencia Street, we come in contact with a lot of affluent people and we also come in contact with a lot of bright, hardworking artists and waitresses and bartenders. Folks that don’t make bundles of money, but they have really great taste and want to shop with us. And so we have to make this work for them too.” Being very much a part of the latter group, it works for me. As did the Riverdale lamp that I very much have my eyes on. That lamp in particular could be included as part of the current trend in home furnishings toward the industrial and the repurposed. Wayne’s job in Manhattan back in 1979, well before Therapy opened its doors in May 1994, was to sheetrock factories into live work lofts. “Now, 30 years later, they want the furniture back. It’s kinda sad, that all of this stuff would be obsolete. I think it’s a good thing, by and large. But I’m also always trying to concentrate on the best value, so if things get too out of hand and trendy, I have to step back and invent a new trend.” For now that appears to be a shift away from “that cold metallic, rusty, crusty vibe of factory and inject carnival wheels and sideshow banners”. Like the series of lighted carnival letters, or the totally bizarre man under glass decoration piece. Stuff that is more whimsical and fun. “When talking about work, all of us think about, at some point, quitting our job and running away to join the circus.” I am also included that group. It’s a funny point to make, but what stands out is how very much Wayne, before anything else, is a people person.
As I walked through his shop with him, taking notice of beauties like the wood art by Dave Marcoullier, the quietly vibrant set of Garcia chairs, the fantastic set of metal and wood basket ceiling lamps or the uber rustic cool and epic antler shield, Wayne told me what’s next for him and Therapy. And it is most certainly all about the people. Something of a philanthropist in a shop keeper’s clothing, Wayne discussed his idea to build his own sustainable line of furniture in the Bay Area which would employ inner city youth that don’t have the means to go to college. “I’d like to get them some skills to where they’re not beating themselves up all day because they don’t know how to program or haven’t gone to school. I don’t think it’s going to be lucrative for us, but that would be rewarding for me.” And this is that interesting connective tissue that makes the layaway plan so much more valuable, where things come full circle. “I have the luxury of knowing through our payment plan sales, my rent is going to be paid. But from the intrinsic perspective, I want to give back more.” That’s something. As it is, Wayne and his partner and wife Jing Chen, who runs their chain of clothing stores, already give one per cent of their sales to charities, usually focusing on underdeveloped schools that have suffered hardship. Nothing makes me happier than giving $500 or $1000 to a teacher and saying, ‘this will help you with your supplies’. And the letters that I get back from those teachers are enough to make me cry.” And that’s the gold. That’s the payback. “If we ever did have a message, it’s thats you get the one per cent back.” Thanks, Wayne, for that.