Otis, my man.

Some of the most heated discussions I’ve been involved in at DWR have been over naming products. People take this very seriously, and yet, we all know that the name is forgotten as soon as the customer gets the product home. I seriously doubt that anyone says “Andrew, how many times do I have to ask you to get your elbows off the Spanna Extension Table and put your Fog Linen Napkin on your lap? Shape up or I’ll send you to your Matera Bed with Storage without dinner.”

Dare to dream, DWR.

At least I don’t have to name cars. This morning I idled behind a Toyota Rogue (are they kidding?) and pitied the poor bastard who came up with that one. Actually, make that two poor bastards. Toyota used the name in the 1980s and Nissan recently slapped it on the back tailgate of their compact SUV.

Nail polish colors would be fun to name, and I’d suggest the name “Less is more,” in case anyone from Revlon is reading. Naming lingerie would also be enjoyable (again, I suggest “Less is more” as the name).

At DWR, the name “Otis” was recently suggested for a new table we’ll be introducing. My mind immediately went to elevators and “Otis, my man!” in Animal House. Generally, we try to avoid using personal names because: 1. It’s too much like other retailers, and 2. If a customer has a bad association with a name – an ex-boyfriend or a mean boss, for example – then that product is not going to elicit feelings of serenity and relaxation.

Of course, we make exceptions, so you can stay seated in your Ray Club Chair and keep reading rather than emailing me to point out this fact. (That goes for you lounging on the Albert Sofa as well.) So, I gave some thought to Otis. Mostly I wondered how Otis Elevators got their name. It turns out that Otis was the last name of the man who founded the company in 1853. Elisha Graves Otis did not invent the elevator, but rather, he invented a safety mechanism that prevented these “lifting platforms” from plummeting to the ground. (Kudos to them for not choosing to use his middle name.)

The company made its first elevator sale to a furniture factory at 275 Hudson Street in New York City. The price was $300, and it was partially paid for with a cannon. Otis elevators were originally powered by steam, in the 1870s they switched to hydraulic elevators that relied on water pressure, and in 1889 the first electric elevator was installed. This innovative company also solved the problem of how to install an elevator into the curved lower legs of the Eiffel Tower. The solution was a hybrid of sorts – part elevator, part inclined railroad similar to funicular lifts used on steep hillsides. The Otis machines went into service in 1889 in the north and south pillars, only to be dismounted in 1910. The relationship between the Otis Company and Gustave Eiffel had its ups and downs (forgive the pun), causing dramatic statements like, “we have borne and suffered and achieved on your behalf,” to be written to one another. Read more about it on the Otis website.

As far as naming conventions, the elevator had its awkward moments, from “ascending rooms” (apparently they did not descend) to “hoisting apparatus” which was the name Otis used in his 1861 patent. For our table at DWR, we named it the Metric Table – look for it in June. The name Otis will remain in my tickler file, in the event that we introduce a table or chair that’s height adjustable. For insights about our own name – Design Within Reach – read a recent blog post by our CEO.

Gwendolyn Horton