Mike Rust, Rust & Martin president, is busy coordinating the transition to its new location in the Regents Parc building at 1610 N. Kingshighway. Rust is carrying on the family business, started by his grandfather, that continually evolves as styles change.
Q: Tell me about the background of your business.
A: My grandfather, Wayne Rust, started Rust & Martin as a drapery and reupholstery shop in 1933. When my dad, Harry Rust, came back from New York School of Interior Design around 1957 he wanted to add furniture. We put our first furniture store down on Broadway. In 1965 they built their first big furniture store on South Kingshighway. We sold pretty much everything that goes in your home, including floor coverings and appliances. We opened this store in 1990 and now we're moving again.
Q: At what point did you become involved with the business?
A: I've worked here all my life. Somewhere there is a picture of me pushing a vacuum in the store and it was taller than I was. I've cleaned, I've worked in reupholstery, I've done every single job in this store except the accounting. I really started working here when I was about 15 in the display department. I went to [Southeast Missouri State University] and later to the same design school my father went to. I've been here full time ever since then.
Q: How has Rust & Martin changed and evolved over the years?
A: Our business used to be about 50 percent showroom and 50 percent special order. Our business now is almost 99 percent special order. We special order virtually everything we do for our clients. You want exactly what you want. The days of cookie-cutter customers are gone. Look how everybody dresses. Is there really one consistency? What can't you wear? Everything is kind of accepted. People have become comfortable with what their own style is, not keeping up with the Joneses. Every single job is 100 percent different than the next one. We're seeing a movement toward contemporary styles. About 85 percent of our business is traditional. But we're seeing an edge of contemporary because if you go to a city and eat at a restaurant, it's contemporary. If you stay at a nice hotel, it's contemporary. People are seeing that contemporary doesn't have to be this cold awful place. It really can give a warm feeling with very clean, simple lines. Now, we do almost everything for your house except heating and air conditioning. We do outside landscaping, we remodel the outside of houses, we work on and sell everything that goes in your house except for heating and air and electrical.
Q: Tell us about your new location opening this fall in the Regents Parc building.
A: We're moving because this space we are in now is too big. Part of what drew me to Regents Parc was the windows. We're on the second floor. There are windows wrapping the entire thing. We've never had this much natural light in our showroom before. Of course, in exchange you lose some of your premium wall space to artwork and things like that, but with the stock that we're going to go down it's OK. We'll still have a fair amount of furniture but nothing like we had.
Q: Tell me about Rust & Martin's sister business, Ashley Bailey Custom Cabinets.
A: It was pushed by our customers. Every change we've [made] is from listening to our customers. We work in cabinetry because they asked us to. People couldn't get the finishes they wanted. They couldn't get people to design it how they wanted it. They could get the basic cookie-cutter same old cabinetry. ... [But] they wanted someone to ask them how they cook and ask them what happens when their family comes in. What a kitchen is really about is how it functions for the person who lives in that place.
Q: Is there a particular project you are most proud of being involved with?
A: I am the luckiest guy in the world because my staff and I continually get to do new things every day. I'm working in a retail strip area right now and that's interesting. I got to do a wine shop. That was fun. I've done every type of home you can think of from contemporary to French to English. Everyone of them I'm proud of. I love them at the time, and [when they[']re finished] ... I'm glad to be done and move on.
Q: What do you enjoy most about what you do?
A: It changes every moment of the day. I never get bored. My week goes boom ... it's by so fast. I wake up on Monday and it seems like the next day is Friday. I'm always saying to my staff, is it the weekend again already?
Q: What do you enjoy doing when you're not working?
A: I love to entertain and I love to cook. I love everything that has to do with living a life of luxury and it doesn't take money to do that. It's as simple as cloth napkins and the right wine glass and the right group of friends sitting around the dinner table. All my disposable income goes toward eating and having great wine.