In the field of interior design, Michael Pepper’s pedigree is well-established. His parents, Lenore and Edwin Pepper, started Edwin Pepper Interiors half a century ago. The youngest of three, Michael remembers talk about furniture and design dominating the dinner table. Now president of the company built by his parents, he hopes the passion they instilled in him continues for generations to come.
LN: How was Edwin Pepper Interiors conceived?
MP: My parents were newly married when my mother started a drapery business out of their apartment on Kingsland Avenue in University City. She would sew custom draperies, bedding and pillows. My father used to build rathskellers, and as he’d go out on these jobs, people would ask him, What do you think about this room? or What should I do about this furniture? He soon realized he had a knack for interior design. At one point, he worked as a drapery installer, but he didn’t really know what he was doing. Once he was installing drapes before a client’s holiday party. Well, he didn’t know how to work with their plaster walls, and the more he hammered, the more the plaster fell out. Somehow, he was able to hang the drapes, but half of them fell right in the middle of the party! His boss yelled at him, and that’s when he decided to leave and do something on his own. With the help of one of their clients, who fronted them some money, my parents started the business. Fifty years later, my 75-year-old father and 74-year-old mother are still actively involved with Edwin Pepper Interiors.
LN: Did you always know you’d end up in the family business?
MP: I didn’t know for quite a while. At one point, I even wanted to be a doctor. It was in the heat of the Vietnam War in the ‘60s, and I was told that doctors didn’t have to go and fight. Another reason: I always wanted to be called ‘Dr. Pepper’ (laughs). I graduated with a finance degree from Indiana University and worked as a credit analyst for Mercantile Bank for a year. Then, I started at Edwin Pepper as general manager. I’ve been president since 1985.
LN: What are your day-to-day responsibilities as president?
MP: I work in various capacities, from overseeing the management and operation to marketing and meeting with vendors.
LN: How is it working with your family?
MP: My parents and sister are with the company, and my brother is a designer in Florida. Family businesses are very unique. You’re balancing family and the other relationships you have in the office. That’s why I wanted to work for somebody else before establishing myself at Edwin Pepper, to see how other people work and conduct their business.
LN: What is most challenging about being a second-generation business owner?
MP: My parents established a foundation of time, talent and service. That shouldn’t change; however, new ideas, technology and client needs should be part of an ongoing evaluative process. We want to continue to evolve. My challenge to is to continue that process while maintaining the formula that has made us successful.
LN: Do you have an artistic and creative side?
MP: I don’t function as a designer, but I do help friends with their interior design. I bought a house to rehab right around the time the stock market crashed in 1987. I remember having all these empty walls to fill. I saw some contemporary art at a gallery and thought to myself, ‘I can do that.’ So I started buying supplies, oils and pastels, and created art that I eventually put on the walls. Some of them I even sold through our store! I haven’t done anything recently, but I still enjoy it.
LN: Where do you draw inspiration?
MP: My wife Julie and 9-year-old daughter Elizabeth have both inspired me to do, and be, my best. I also feel a strong sense of responsibility to the associates working for Edwin Pepper Interiors, so I make sure I do a good job of managing the company. And finally my parents, who are not only successful business partners but happily married. They’ve also shown me how important it is to give back to the community, and that’s something I truly believe in.
LN: Would you say Edwin Pepper Interiors has an overall signature look?
MP: We have always represented high-end furnishings, but each of our six staff designers has their own style. When it comes to my father, being around him all my life, I could walk into a designer showcase house and immediately pick out which room is his.
LN: How would you describe your own style?
MP: I call it ‘eclectic casual’, a mixture of different styles leaning toward the casual side. We’ve recently done a little bit of renovation at our house in Clayton, turning our old dining room and kitchen into a wonderful new kitchen/living space. My wife has great vision, and she’s definitely the driving force behind any personal projects I have.
LN: How has design changed over the years?
MP: Everything about interior design has grown in the last 10 years. We have more interior designers out of college and design-related programs on cable and regular TV. Furniture markets are now catering to the interior design trade, and a lot of the companies are hiring well-known interior designers to create collections for them. There are also so many more resources available online, and almost every magazine you pick up these days will have an interior design section. The public’s fascination with design is definitely growing. They have shows featuring homes of famous people, and even for me, it’s intriguing to look at the different styles and tastes. Designs have become more interesting, and styles are more accessible. You could say there’s an open canvas for design today.