We’re two things at Chestnut Hall, and that’s customer-focused and design-driven. But how did we arrive at this mission? What’s kept us here through the years? The answers to these questions form a straight path to Karen Baty Rice.
When she opened Chestnut Hall with her brother, Michael Baty, in 1989, Karen was an established interior designer renowned in the Mid-South for her confident use of color and pattern in traditional design. Spaces by Karen were known for their warmth, their comfort and their easygoing elegance. From the beginning, it was Karen’s goal to sell products that reflected her signature style while putting her design expertise to work in every element of the customer experience – from product selection to ambiance to staff to service.
“Most furniture stores primarily have a furniture focus, and they acquire some design expertise to augment their furniture expertise,” says Michael Baty, Chestnut Hall co-owner and general manager. “Our core, what we do emanates from design.” Customers who step inside Chestnut Hall’s showroom enter a warm, approachable environment where questions are welcome and every design problem has a solution. “Great design creates a feel,” Baty says. “Something less than that creates a look. I do think Chestnut Hall has a feel, and I think it emanates from being design-driven. Karen gave us that.”
Karen’s legacy of making interior design comfortable, fun and approachable continues today. When she retired from active participation in the day-to-day operations of Chestnut Hall in 2012, she handed over the reins not only to her brother, but also to the shop’s educated, experienced and friendly staff of interior designers. “There is an energy and a creativity that all really good interior designers have and our designers have that,” says Karen.
Karen earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Memphis and studied at the University of Dijon, France, before working as an interior designer for Ethan Allen and then as director of home furnishings and interior design for Goldsmith’s (now Macy’s) in East Memphis. When she opened Chestnut Hall – first in a modest space in Market Square and later in our current showroom at 3075 Forest Hill-Irene Road – she used her love and understanding of French culture to influence the design sensibilities of the store. Now, as then, we offer classic style that’s sophisticated and fashion-forward, with a strong emphasis on service.
“Karen has very high regard for customer service,” Baty says. “She embraced exceeding customer expectations before that was a concept.” And that’s precisely why our talented staff is such an integral part of Chestnut Hall; our designers are artists, style setters and experts on all aspects of interior design and home furnishings. “The heart and soul of our store is design,” Baty says. “It’s a difference you can feel.”