Karen Arakelian, owner of White House “Designs for Life,” entered the furniture business somewhat accidentally, but has made it her domain.
While in college pursuing her dream to become a doctor, Arakelian started selling imported Mexican products, which led her to her mentor, Edith Tyler, an antiques dealer in Little Falls. After working with Tyler and realizing the business was not for her, Arakelian opened her first retail furniture store, Red Barn Furniture, with the help of mother, Gloria, in 1978. Arakelian started selling American-made products under the jingle: “Pine! Oak! Maple! Cherry! Get your orders in a hurry.” Years later the demand for formal furniture peaked, and Arakelian was ready to deliver when she opened White House Furniture in Fairfield in 1982.
In 1988, a fire destroyed the 12,000 square feet of the historic barn that housed Red Barn Furniture. The remaining portion of the building continued to operate until 2004. In 1994, Arakelian opened Uptown Country in Fairfield, an upscale, Hamptons-style country store. In 2004, Uptown Country moved to the Wayne location and Arakelian rebranded the new location by calling it White House Living— a shop for more relaxed lifestyles and casual homeowners.
In 2007, seeing a need for interior designers to have access to a local one-stop shopping location, Arakelian opened the trade-only division, To the Trade Design Resource. Unfortunately, the location was plagued by flooding and after 3 floods in 18 months Arakelian decided to move this division to the rear of the Luxe store and add it under the White House Designs umbrella by calling it White House Design Resource. It is now considered home-base by many of the area’s talented interior designers.
In 2013, grateful for having survived the fire, floods and recessions, Arakelian decided to give back by founding The Gloria Foundation, a 501(C)3 for the benefit of domestic violence victims. Rather than selling the flood-plagued building that the trade division was in, Arakelian transformed the location to house Design Consign, a luxury consignment shop, with profits benefiting the Gloria Foundation.
In 2014, Arakelian wanted to create more synergy among her brands and developed the umbrella White House “Designs for Life” to encompass all five entities since they all work together for the benefit of the public.
In addition to presiding over these businesses, Karen still takes time to do what she loves, interior design. She has designed homes in Hunter Mountain, Lake George, Beverly Hills, and all around the tri-state area.
Arakelian has been honored with a number of awards, including most recently the 2018 Home Furnishings Association Trailblazer Award and was named Retailer of the Year by the Greater Metropolitan Home Furnishings Association. She was named the Citizen of the Year by the Montville Chamber of Commerce and the Lakeland Hills YMCA. Her philanthropic work with the Gloria Foundation was recognized most recently by the Jersey Battered Women’s Service in 2019 and she was awarded a Partner in Hope Award by Partners for Women and Justice in 2018.
Arakelian’s businesses have been recognized as well. White House Furniture was named Suburban Essex Magazine’s Reader’s Choice 2014 Best of Essex for Home Furnishings (Gold) and Design Consign (Silver) for Best Consignment Shop; and, Best Website and Billboard from the Metropolitan Builder’s Association. Recently White House “Designs for Life” was named by Furniture Today, the business newspaper of the furniture industry, as part of “Beyond the Top 100” home furnishing stores in the nation.
Karen is a proud mother of two sons, Dennis Arakelian, a marketing and hospitality professional in NYC, and Zachary Kahn, an aspiring hip-hop artist and music industry professional.