Family Affair: Sherle WagnerAuthor:Lindsey Shook
Sherle Wagner’s granddaughter Marissa Geoffroy shares how she and her family are ushering the 75-year-old company into the future while preserving the family’s heritage
–How does your grandfather’s legacy continue to drive the success of the company today? My grandparents founded the company more than 75 years ago, and through their hard work and creative vision they established the brand as the premier source of bath fittings, bath fixtures and hardware. It is that passion, commitment and uncompromising standard of quality that enables the company’s continued success. Every decision I make as creative director of Sherle Wagner International is informed by the desire to continue their legacy and do right by their vision.
We think of each Sherle Wagner International object as a part of our ongoing legacy, and that holds us to the highest standard. And each of those pieces get to be a part of the client’s legacy—often Sherle Wagner pieces are handed down through the generations, retained and reused even when the rest of a home is overhauled and redesigned.
–What family values have remained at the core of the business from the beginning until now?
A simple core value of our family has always been to conduct yourself in work and in life in a way you can be proud of, and I see that reflected across all facets of the business. Our artisans have a lot to be proud of—they are highly skilled in their specialized crafts and create gorgeous objects every day. Our sales team is really committed to and proud of the brand they represent—they truly believe in the product and enjoy sharing how special it is. My family also believes deeply in making a contribution to the world, both through making things of beauty and quality and through philanthropic acts. My grandfather was committed to human rights and the well-being of others, and it was his expectation that the benefit of any success extended beyond ourselves.
–Your grandfather saw an opportunity to elevate bathroom design. How do you maintain his vision and luxurious aesthetic in the current collections? My grandfather was an innovator and artist. In addition to elevating the bath from a purely utilitarian space to one with style and beauty, he played a significant role in advancing modern design more broadly. Many of his original designs maintain a place in our line today. The pieces he developed in the mid-20th century, such as the Apollo or Saturn collections, remain unmatched and highly unique and feel fresh and covetable today.
Each new collection that we develop has to hold its own next to my grandfather’s original masterpieces. It has to have quality you can feel, and style that sets it apart. We don’t ever want to make product that is interchangeable with anyone else’s as our customers know that when they purchase a Sherle Wagner piece, they are getting something special. When we develop new collections, we keep an eye on industry trends and identify what people are looking for, but we always keep it distinctively Sherle Wagner. Even sleek minimalist designs are stylistically unique and have details that make them extra special. One of the ways we are able to achieve this is by continuing to utilize the precious materials that my grandfather first introduced to the bath. We offer 19 metal finishes, including platinum and 24-karat gold, and many of our designs incorporate semiprecious stones or ceramic details.
–From the beginning, craftsmanship and manufacturing locally have been essential to the brand. Why is this still so important for the company’s overall mission?
Sherle Wagner manufactures in the U.S. at our own dedicated factory in Fall River, Massachusetts. By exercising complete control over a product, from design conception to completion, we are able to maintain an unmatched degree of quality. Our factory utilizes the most cutting-edge technology while also preserving old-world techniques. Beyond providing the highest quality and most beautiful products to our customers, we also consider ourselves custodians of these specialized practices. For some processes there is no substitute for the human hand—our skilled artisans hand plate, hand chase, hand paint, and so on. The making of each object is an artistic endeavor.
Doing our own manufacturing also means that we have extensive custom capabilities. Our line is already vast—we offer a huge range of styles across bath fittings, fixtures and accessories, door and cabinet hardware, and lighting, all in a wide variety of metal finishes and ceramic colors and more. But we also do a lot of custom work, from altering an existing design to creating something new entirely from scratch! We are also able to do historic renovations, matching existing antique hardware, for example. We pride ourselves on helping designers and homeowners realize their design dreams, even if that means making something that doesn’t yet exist!
-Being the third generation of your family that now runs Sherle Wagner, how do you separate family and work time?
The company was founded by my maternal grandparents in 1945. After my parents got married, my father joined my grandfather in the business, first working in the warehouse and eventually becoming my grandfather’s right hand. In the years since, pretty much every member of my immediate family has contributed to some degree at some time. And the company is a great source of pride for my family, directly involved or not, so we are all emotionally invested in its success. Working with family can be tough, especially when one’s family is full of passionate and opinionated people, but it is also wonderful. Getting to work for something and with people who I care about on many levels is a true privilege.
Family time and work time definitely overlap, but my family is close outside of the business, and we have a lot of fun together. We all enjoy being on the water, and Cape Cod is a special place for us. Some of my favorite times have been big, boisterous lobster dinners on the lawn at my parents’ house on the Cape. Having my nephew and nieces around diverts us from talking business—they tend to steer the conversation away from the boring grown-up stuff. Although as they get older their creative and entrepreneurial sides are starting to show, so they might be joining us in the work-talk pretty soon. My grandmother, Rose Wagner, is always in attendance at these family gatherings. Now 102 years old, she is as stylish and impressive as ever. She is a great source of inspiration for me both in work and in life.
–Did your grandfather have a particular saying or belief that inspires your leadership today? I am constantly inspired and motivated by my grandfather’s pursuit of excellence. In his eyes, even the best could still be improved. I aspire to produce each and every item in a way that would meet with his approval. I am also inspired by his appreciation for beauty and his refusal of the mundane. It was that mindset that led him to revolutionize the way people view the bath—even the most utilitarian object was an opportunity to create something beautiful. He recognized that this is a room where most people start the day, so it set the tone for what the day would bring. And this belief carried down to the most minute and often ignored details. I love to direct people to look under a Sherle Wagner counter, or behind a pedestal sink, where the supplies and shutoffs live. If anything is purely functional, it would be this plumbing, but ours is plated to match the fittings and can be outfitted with beautiful knobs, sometimes even featuring semiprecious stones! Our collections extend beyond the main objects in the room to encompass every detail. That is what my grandfather envisioned, and what we work to continue every day.
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