Kevin McPherson, owner of Mohr and McPherson, recalls his journey to building the store we know today. He also shares insights on design, eastern culture, and his passion for travel and discovery.
When did you first make the decision to start the company? What brought you to that decision?
In the early 80’s, I operated a small furniture retail business selling factory produced contemporary furnishings. In 1990, I was doing small renovations and general contracting with my business partner, John Mohr. I had the idea of returning to something related to home furnishings.
This time around, I wanted to sell things that were hand crafted with some real provenance… something genuine & authentic. I felt that I had a calling in that realm and we decided to open a small shop in Cambridge. After each borrowing $5,000 on personal credit cards, John and I opened Mohr & McPherson’s doors on a shoestring budget in March 1991.
Photos from our original Cambridge location in 1991.
Did you start traveling in search of exotic furniture before you opened or after?
The original inventory was crafted by American artisans, and we acted as their agents. Most of our sales were custom items based on the samples we had in our shop. After 2 years in that business, I bought out my partner and started traveling to the west coast. There, I purchased furniture from China, Indonesia, Japan and Morocco and had these items trucked to Cambridge. My interest in rugs from the rug producing countries also took shape after meeting two Afghan brothers in San Fransisco, who helped me establish a rug business. In 1995, we were doing enough business for me to make my first trip to Asia to buy a 40 ft sea container of goods to ship directly to the store.
Where were the previous store/s located?
The original store was on Concord Avenue in Cambridge. We also rented another location across the street that acted as our warehouse annex. We’ve lived a nomadic experience in the past 22 years, with locations in Charlestown, Alewife & Moulton St in Cambridge, and Arlington St, Boylston St & Dry Dock Ave in Boston, before consolidating at our current location at 460 Harrison Avenue in Boston.
460 Harrison Ave in Boston’s South End
What do you love about Eastern Design?
I was in love with the aeshetic From the moment I can first remember seeing asian design. It has always called out to me. The simple Japanese zen wabi sabi approach was the most interesting to me, but the over-the-top, highly ornate approach from India and China also caught my eye. I was also intrigued by the idea that these uncommon things came from the other side of the world.
What are your favorite materials used in Eastern Design?
Asian textiles are fascinating to me. I also love the wood carvings from Java, India and China. Ceramics from Japan, China and Vietnam are amazing. Rattan, bamboo and other materials from Thailand, Phillipines, Burma and China are great examples of the efficient use of simple local materials to produce durable lightweight furniture, baskets, etc.
What can a piece of furniture from the east add to a western home décor?
A home decorated with only modern, machine-made goods lacks a human touch and can feel a little like an office environment. A hand-crafted rug, antique cabinet or tribal carving brings humanity back into the environment.
Also, Asian color sense, especially in textiles, is different than the current western movement towards black, white and gray. It adds color where it is sorely needed.
If someone could add one Eastern item or piece of furniture to their home, what would it be? What about attitude/philosophy? Are there any cultural outlooks on homelife you have witnessed in your travels you think westerners should adopt?
Many modern home interiors look a little like a museum or a hospital. There is something calming about the lack of clutter and sense of order in the modernist aesthetic. What it lacks is any reference to the passing of time. It is frozen in the moment and does not allow for the patina that is a part of the natural process. Modern homes and furnishing were not designed to show age well.
The zen term wabi sabi (literally translated means humility and rust) is the zen acknowledgment that nothing is permanent, that all things age and deteriorate and that we must accept or even grow comfortable with this fact. I believe that the eary modernists were inspired by the spare aesthetic of the Japanese zen aesthetic, but left out the important reference to the passing of time.
Mohr & McPherson Timeline:
1991: Opened Mohr & McPherson in Cambridge
1993: Started selling Asian pieces
1994: Opened annex
1995: Rented warehouse in Charlestown, Started traveling to Asia to buy
1997: Opened on Arlington St, Boston, Moved warehouse to Seaport
1999: Opened 20,000 sq ft Moulton St warehouse in Cambridge
2001: Opened Alewife location
2004: Opened Boylson St location
2008: Moved to 460 Harrison Ave
2011: Opened warehouse at 460c Harrison Ave