Garber’s Interior Decorating owners believe in Elkhart

By Marshall V. King Tribune Columnist Dec 11, 2017

ELKHART — The Garber Boys aren’t actually Garbers Interior Design at all.

Brad Priest and Jonathan Tuff own and operate Garber’s Interior Decorating along with Jonathan’s sister Cynthia.

Toward the end of 2007, on the brink of the Great Recession, the Tuff family bought Garber’s as it was closing. That business had been operating in Elkhart since 1935. The family had worked in housing and design for years and saw an opportunity to rescue the business at the end of its run under the fourth owner. A few years later, they bought Horizon Flooring under similar circumstances.

They made a commitment to work with local vendors and contractors and carry the Garber’s name forward. A decade later, they’re working with most of the same folks to do projects from concept to completion.

In those early years, the Tuffs did a lot of remodeling projects as clients focused on fixing what they had. After the economy improved, they were designing for new construction, for those flipping houses, for those putting on major additions. For one client, they redo a room at a time when the family is in Florida. For another, they redesigned an entire house for a client who sold it and asked them to redesign the new one.

Cynthia and Jonathan worked for their father, Jack, at Tops Mobile Home Center and then Tuff Properties LLC in Elkhart. In 1987, they constructed what became the Home of the Year for Redbook Magazine. Jonathan had a staff before he could legally drive and managed construction of new housing communities for the family business, he said.

From 1990 to 1995, he operated J.B. Brent, a men’s clothing store in downtown Elkhart. A few years later, he was in Chicago designing for Ralph Lauren. He returned in 2004 when his mother was ill. She died in 2005. He stayed and opened Jonathan Tuff Associates to do design.

Cynthia had worked as Indiana building commissioner and had left Tuff after the company had gone public.

When the siblings learned of Garber’s imminent closing in 2007 they began talking about it. They were discussing it over dinner and cocktails when Jack told them, “Shut up or go do something about it.” A week later the business was theirs.

Priest, who is now married to Jonathan, left the airline industry to join Garber’s. In December 2011 the three moved the business from downtown to C.R. 17, which opened up business to clients from Granger, South Bend, Plymouth, Warsaw and Michigan.

Jonathan, who has his own line of furniture, does the design for all types of projects and clients.

Cynthia handles the structural and code issues as well as finances. After materials and design are selected, they put together a quote and timetable. Priest said his role is to pull back the reins on the siblings.

The storefront at 655 C.R. 17 is a Christmas spectacle this time of year, but is always full of furnishings, furniture and their dogs, Miss Piper and Miss Lacie. Some customers come in just to give the dogs a treat or say hello.

“It’s one big ‘Cheers’ episode,” Priest said.

The store and showroom, which is in the same plaza as Lucchese’s, has actually become a spot for parties, particularly at this time of year. There may be a program on trending colors or how to decorate a Christmas tree. Or sometimes it’s just a gathering.

“We are honorary members of a women’s martini club,” Jonathan said. “My mother would be so proud.”

Garber’s Interior Design often receives accolades in the industry and trade press. Its owners track trends and offer them to clients. Thanks to popular remodeling and construction shows on television, customers and potential ones come in asking about what they saw and whether it can be done here. They have to explain the cost and timing may differ from a show.

“I think it’s been both good and bad,” Cynthia said.

The design they often do in this area isn’t as traditional as you think, according to Jonathan. Clients are often willing to let him take risks.

“Elkhart doesn’t get the credit it deserves,” Priest said.

They rely on referrals and word of mouth to drive a business that almost went away. They’re seeing a new generation of clients. A decade after saving a longtime local business, the Garber Boys and Cynthia Tuff believe in Elkhart more than ever.

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