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Ruffell and Brown: 25 years

Interior-design business specializes in a full-range of window coverings

Ruffell and Brown Interiors is celebrating 25 years in business this year, enduring as the economy and housing markets wax and wane.

Business partners Debra Ruffell and Nigel Brown are used to adapting to change. They relish the arrival of everything from new drapery fabrics to high-tech advances that operate new window coverings. Brown is anticipating more solar-power options to do such tasks as opening and closing drapes and raising and lowering blinds.

"The learning curve is constant," Brown said Friday.

Window fashions encompass a vast array of draperies, blinds, interior shutters, valances and coverings for a variety of window types. Ruffell and Brown, at 2745 Bridge St., also offers matching bedding, furniture upholstery, decorative rods, and repairs and service. Options are displayed in the shop, and staff will also visit a customer's home to help with choices.

Ruffell and Brown met in the 1980s while working at another business that also specialized in window coverings. Ruffell has a background in interior design. Today, she mainly works with interior designers and personal clients.

Brown concentrates on business development and negotiating contracts.

In 2010, the company received the Business of the Year award, in the category for firms with between 11 and 25 employees, from the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce.

The firm and its owners support non-profit causes in the community.

In Ruffell and Brown's early days, institutional and commercial clients, including several large hotels, accounted for about 70 per cent of business.

These days, residential work represents about 75 per cent of sales. The owners credit experienced staff for helping to advance the housing segment of the business.

They have worked with designers at several of the large condominium projects that have been rolled out in the city in recent years.

The company opened its doors on Government Street, later moving to the Bridge Street building that they own with Don Beatty.

The three are partners in Pacific Rollshutters & Awnings, located in the same building and managed by Beatty. That company specializes in residential shade and security products.

Ruffell said that sometimes people think that interior window fashion is for high-end clients only, but that is not the case. "It can be anywhere from $100 and up."

The firm has served some of its customers for many years. "We are very competitive price-wise," she said.

Customers are asked about their needs, to help guide them through options. Factors such as planned length of time in a home, the purpose of a covering, such as sun control and privacy, and budgets are taken into account. The parties forge a connection, and company representatives commonly return to view the finished product, creating a shared experience, Ruffell said.

"Window treatments can be the wow factor in your home," Brown said.

During the boom years in the housing market, Ruffell and Brown had eight sales people, but they have now scaled back to six. "We are definitely a different business than we were three or four years ago," Brown said.

Ruffell adds: "We are doing more home renovation work than new construction," as homeowners are more likely to improve one room at a time.

As far as design preferences, clean, simple lines are popular these days, as is the natural look in colours and fabric, Ruffell said.

Mechanized window coverings can be powered by batteries, hard-wired in or run by solar energy using a small device installed in the corner of a window. Staff attend training programs to sell the mechanized features, also used in home theatres.

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