Furniture in the Raw owner Harriet Greenlee is a woman who doesn’t have a lot of down time. She’s a mother, an equestrian, and a chief executive of one of the largest unfinished furniture retailers in the South.
“I was raised by a father who went to work at 4 a.m. each day and worked in to the evening hours. If the employees were loading trucks, he loaded trucks right along with them. He taught me to never ask anyone to do anything you didn’t do too,” Greenlee said.
Harriet and her husband Steve bought the Furniture in the Raw location on Burnet Road in 1997. Since then, the Greenlee’s have expanded the business. They opened a San Antonio showroom in 2009. They also operate a warehouse in Austin and custom manufacturing and finishing shop in Buda.
Furniture in the Raw is considered one of Austin’s iconic local businesses. It opened in 1977, but as the years went by, the business environment became more challenging. The Greenlee’s saw an opportunity.
“We both knew we wanted to work for ourselves. I had always worked in the furniture business since moving to Austin in 1984. Steve had managed Furniture in the Raw for the previous owners for many years and is an awesome business person. Together we make a good partners,” said Greenlee.
Harriet’s career path isn’t all that surprising. Her grandfather owned mattress factories near Chicago and Rock Island, Illinois. It was truly a family business. As a teenager she worked alongside her grandfather, father, uncles, and cousins.
“Furniture is in my blood. I saw my grandfather and father take their small business and turn it in to an international franchise,” said Greenlee.
“As a child I would work in the factory handing out orders to the ladies in the sewing room and moved up in the ranks through the years. In high school I helped in the front office.”
That experience in business paid off after the Greenlee’s bought Furniture in the Raw. The “naked” furniture craze of the 1970s and 80s had worn off by the late 90s. The Greenlee’s knew they had to hit the reset button.
“The previous owner had a built reputation as a typical inexpensive unfinished store,’ said Greenlee. “But the market had changed. We recognized that customers wanted good quality, real wood furniture at a reasonable price. And we also knew we had to offer customers finished furniture too.”
Today Furniture in the Raw carries a number of lines of finished and unfinished furniture. But the primary focus is on offering furniture that is authentic. The company now offers customers the option of painting or staining their furniture in any color they choose. That means the days of 400 grit sandpaper and messy oil stain all over the garage are gone.
“The market and the desire for real wood furniture has grown dramatically in recent years. A lot of our customers are people who have previously purchased furniture from “big box” stores that carry inexpensive particle board furniture. They’ve found it just doesn’t hold up. They want a better value and higher quality at a reasonable price. They are also concerned where the furniture is built. That’s what we offer, real wood, much of it built right here in Texas.”
When Harriet isn’t running between showrooms, she can be found riding her favorite horse Sneaky. She tirelessly advocates for animals and children.
“I have been riding horses since I’ve been walking. It helps keep me focused.”