Inspired by the unique arts and crafts of San Migel de Allende, Mexico in the early nineties, River City natives Bob Berry and Lucy Woodson had a vision. They took a risk on a few designs they thought would have mass appeal. A single Moravian star chandelier would put them on the interior design map for the next 30 years. In 1992, with a couple of prototypes in hand, Berry blew up the phone of direct marketing retailer Spiegel until finally a call back came with an order for 1500 stars. The couple gathered friends and family to finance the production, and the rest is history. It was just a star until it was the international design business, Worlds Away.
Berry and Woodson would bring back more crafts from Mexico including hand-painted tole decorative items and iconic antique mirrored pieces that they continue to produce. The mirrors, wastebaskets and accessories are lovingly finished by hand in their warehouse on Hollywood. “Our strength is our employees,” says Berry of the 60 men and women they employ. “It’s a small business. We are like a family.” Much of the staff has been with the company for over 20 years.
As the team grew, so did the offerings. Berry and Woodson have consistently pushed design boundaries, adding furnishings, lighting and textiles over the years. While production began in Mexico, in 2006 the founders were forced to make the difficult decision to move most of it to China. “We really tried not to move there,” said Berry, “but we could not compete with India.” As seasoned travelers though, Asia was an adventure. The partners continue to travel at least one week each month to different markets including High Point, Atlanta and Dallas and even opened their first showroom in New York in the iconic D & D Building in 2019. The timing was not ideal as the COVID-19 pandemic was just beginning.
That showroom is now thriving, but the heart of the business remains in Memphis with 100,000 square feet of warehouse and retail space in Midtown. They have always felt strongly about being part of a neighborhood, not in an industrial park, says Berry. In addition to the wholesale business, they have opened two retail showrooms, beginning with Worlds Apart which offers full design services. “You can come in here and have a room done in 30 minutes,” says Woodson. From fabrics and wallpaper and bedding and curtains to lighting and furnishings. Design Director Cristina Jabbour adds that the team enjoys, “seeing the way our customers implement our products to fit their unique projects. It is constant inspiration to continue designing and raising the bar.” And more recently they opened Worlds Apart 2, run by Lucy’s daughter Peyton Woodson, a charming neighborhood storefront “where people can grab a gift for any occasion,” says Lucy Woodson. The shop combines Worlds Away furnishings with candles and cards and decorative accessories and a cheeky sense of humor.
The team has always followed trends and innovation like Hollywood Regency and Mid-Century modern, always looking for a “new look” but stay true to their roots in authentic craftmanship. Jabbour says that the current look is inspired by clients seeking “a simplified, less formal lifestyle and they are drawn to more organic finishes and casual configurations. Light airy colors mixed with natural materials like cane, rattan, and grass cloth are current favorites, especially when combined with swanky details of antique brass or acrylic.” The formula has appealed to retailers from coast to coast and landed Worlds Away in catalogs including Neiman Marcus and Wayfair as well as partnerships with design powerhouses like Studio McGee in Utah.
One of the many innovative international businesses based in Memphis, Worlds Away continues to evolve and excite in a uniquely Southern way. The secret to their success according to Berry is, “we love what we do,” and the partnership endures as, “we are friends first,” says Berry.