OCEAN CITY – For nearly 50 years, Causal Designs Unique Furnishings, a family owned and operated business, has been providing aesthetically pleasing furniture and home designs for the lower Eastern Shore. Buyer and designer Terry Ludlam Bell sat down with The Dispatch to discuss the ins and outs of the furniture business and the changes the company has seen over the past 50 years.
The business began with Bell’s father, Dick Ludlam, who opened a small furniture store on Main Street in Berlin almost 50 years ago. “Thirty-eight years ago, he moved the store to Route 50. Everyone thought he was crazy for leaving Berlin,” Bell said.
The move ended up being a success, coinciding with a time when Ocean City began to blossom. The result was a string of traffic along Route 50 into Ocean City and a boom in business for Casual Designs. A few years later, business expanded to a second show room on Route 1 in Selbyville.
Over the past 50 years, Casual Designs has endured the changing business atmosphere of Ocean City.
“We started out very traditional and as the area changed we changed,” Bell said, noting the business has adapted to the changing styles over the years.
The change in real estate has also forced Bell to adapt and cater to the condominium boom as well as the rise in residential homes. Bell noted that over the years the company has decorated customers’ second homes and years later their permanent homes as customers have made the decision to make the area their permanent residence.
As the area changed and more people began making a year-round home out of the area, business changed as well. “Its totally changed, there was a time when this was a seasonal business,” Bell said.
The style of furniture featured at Casual Designs can be described as eclectic. “We go from very formal to casual to cottagey,” Bell said.
A few years ago, Casual Designs was honored for its work in the Delmarva area and was chosen as Retailer of the Year for Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware. The award honored the work that Casual Designs has done as a full-service furniture store that provides furniture as well as a design team that takes customers through the entire design process. Bell explained the team of design consultants is made up of experienced and specially trained designers that work with the customers to create the perfect room or home.
“We take away the headache of furnishing a home,” she said.
As a full-service furniture store, Casual Designs offers more than just furniture, taking customers through the entire design process.
The designers also work with developers on model homes. Their work can be seen in model homes from Rehoboth to Snow Hill to Ocean City to Pocomoke.
Bell noted this year would mark her 22nd year of traveling to High Point, N.C. with her father to select furniture.
“I love selecting aesthetically appealing furniture at a price that’s good for the area,” she said.
Each store provides a wide variety of furniture selections and rooms, but the most recent addition has been the Tiki Room at the Berlin location.
“It’s really fun and it’s been very popular so far,” Bell said of the island-themed room.
The store also goes beyond the showroom to its website, where customers can view pictures of the many models that the design consultants have contributed to throughout the area. The website also offers a free room planner that allows people to enter the dimensions of their room and design a space that will fit their floor plan.
After 50 years, Casual Designs is still a family run business, Bell said, adding that her father is still active in the business and that her sister will also become involved this winter with an art show that is to be held in the Berlin showroom. Bell’s sister, Susan Dashiell, will be displaying her artwork, which will compliment new furniture items, in a show that is set for February.
Although Casual Designs has remained a family run furniture store for over 50 years, some things have changed. “We’ve become really design oriented here,” Bell said, noting the focus has been shifted to design over the years rather than simply providing beach style furniture.
‘“What a lifesaver you were in getting our home together by our deadline, we’ve had so many compliments,’” read one of the many thank-you notes in the store. Bell noted customer satisfaction as one of her favorite parts of the job, noting the strong relationships that they have created with customers.
“Working with customers, you really become friends and establish long-term relationships,” she said.
As a result of the relationships that Casual Designs has made within the community, Casual Designs has become a community-oriented business. Bell explained it supports many local events and school fundraisers in an effort to give back to the community.