I’ve been hip-deep in some aspect of design since my parents got me the coveted Barbie Dream House when I was eight. And I’ve explored every nook and cranny of the Dallas design world over the past too many years to name. So, I’m picky about what I think is worthwhile to share with y’all. I can’t think of a better resource or a better story than that of the Childress family.
A lot of people think of Childress as the go-to resource for fabrics, and it is. But it’s also a lot more. Over the course of my career, they have created the most beautiful draperies, pillows, and bedding as well as built custom sofas, chairs, and headboards for me and for my clients. Frankly, I don’t know what Dallas would do without Childress.
The first time I ventured into the big warehouse on Ferris Street was not without trepidation. I’d heard about this fantasyland of fabric and trim, years ago, from a fellow photo stylist who said, “It’s in a funky part of town, but just as you begin to think you should be worried, you’ll turn a corner and see a bunch of interior designers’ Mercedes and you’ll know you’ve found it.”
When I walked through the giant dock doors in 1989, in the heat of the Dallas summer, the fact there was no air conditioning back then did not even register. All I could do was stare in awe at roll after roll of lush velvets, crisp linens, soft silks, and luxurious leathers. Then a man with the broadest smile I’ve ever seen came up to me and asked if he could help. That man was Kenny Childress, one of the six Childress kids.
The Dallas chapter of the Childress story begins in 1958. Barbara and Eugene Childress drove out of Chattanooga, Tennessee, headed to find work in California. Their car broke down on Grand Avenue. The repairs took longer than expected so they rented a small apartment.
“We decided Dallas was good,” Barbara said. “There was a lot of work here, so we stayed and found jobs at a furniture company, Olive & Myers Manufacturing.”
For you, history buffs, that building at 2200 Young Street has been landmarked by the City of Dallas as one of the last remaining factory buildings in downtown Dallas.
It did not take Barbara and Eugene long to figure out having their own business was the way to move forward. They found a small building on Forest Avenue where they could live in the back and start what would become the family business in the front As they grew the family and the business, they moved from Peak to Main to Canton. “We had an electrical fire on Canton Street,” Barbara said. “The day of the fire, we relocated to Walton Street and were up and operating that same day.” That tells you all you need to know about the work ethic of this family.
Growing The Business
Five of the six Childress offspring work in the company, Mike, Brian, Sherry Debbie, Kenny, and Kristi. Mike passed away suddenly in 2017. Until the late ’80s Mike would go out and show fabric samples to customers in their homes. Debbie recalled Mike coming in one day and telling her it was time to do something new. He thought clients wanted to see a big piece of fabric and feel it.
It was Mikes’s idea to add a fabric store into the family upholstery business. In 1989, 2512 Ferris Street became available. They knew it was the right move, but it was daunting.
“We were petrified,” Kenny said. “Every move we made was scary. When we bought the Ferris building we weren’t even sure we would be able to make the mortgage payment. But we opened up on a Saturday morning and had four customers! We closed at 1 o’clock that day and my brother Mike and I were sitting on the dock pretty happy. Four customers came that morning. That was a lot back then. Within three or four months our biggest problem was parking places!”
The Childress company took up the back part of the warehouse fronting Ferris Street. Pilgrim’s Pride and Buy Rite Auto Supply shared the Good Latimer side of the building — with all the parking. You know what’s coming, don’t you? As soon as they could, they acquired the front portion of the warehouse. They started knocking down walls and painting so that Good Latimer frontage could become the new store entrance. This expansion allowed the family to showcase another aspect of their business, the furniture building side.
“We were remodeling half of the furniture we reupholstered,” Kenny said. “After a few years, we thought what the heck? We had sketches and pictures, but no samples yet. A customer would come in and order a custom sofa and ask if it would be comfortable. We knew it would be and our customers trusted us and gave us a chance. Mike came up with the idea of having samples upholstered in white. The frames are timeless and it made it easy for a customer to have their own vision.”
Woven Together Through Hardship
Over the years they have taken over Fabric Factory, then closed it and opened and closed a store in Frisco. There have been hardships and losses along with the celebrations and successes. But they have dealt with everything together.
This is a close-knit group. There are challenges working with a family, of course, but everyone has found their fit within the company. Kenny manages the Dallas store, Brian oversees the workroom, Debbie runs the Addison store, and Kristie does the bookkeeping. Eugene passed on in 2001 but Barbara still keeps a watchful eye over the family business.
“I think you are harder on your family,” Kenny said.”But you know, you can’t be that hard. We all get along great. We each have our own niche. Every day is different, we take a lot of pride in what we do, and we’ve had customers for years. They become friends. It’s been a heck of a lot of fun!”
If you head over to the Dallas store on Good Latimer you’re likely to find Kenny’s wife, Nancy, or Kottun Cottongame ( I know, it’s a great name!), who is practically family, having been with the store since 2004. If you are really lucky you might be there on a day when Turbo or Kaizer are visiting.
The success of Childress is built on a can-do attitude, hard work, strong family values and a real dedication to customer service. I also suspect these folks really do like each other … and their dogs!