For Dean ’68 and Sherri Johnson (’69) Fandrich, helping people create the perfect home has become far more than a way to earn a living.
Even though their business is to design and furnish home interiors, forty years of business—and before that at Union College—taught Dean and Sherri Fandrich that relationships are what matter both in business and in life.
“The reason we do this is really for the people, because we have met some of the most wonderful families and become really good friends,” said Sherri, who started Sutter Place Interiors with her husband in 1973. “I went through my old pictures and found a picture of Nora Krein, one of our first clients. She hasn’t lived in Lincoln for years, but she is like a sister to me.”
As the years pass, Sherri and Dean have found joy in building more than just a business relationship with their clients. “It’s people like Nora that keep you wanting to do what you do. Every year there are two or three families who make it worthwhile to be here,” Sherri explained. “They are upbeat and easy to get along with and you can do no wrong for them. Those kind of people keep you coming back.”
For Sherri and Dean, the process of designing the perfect home interior begins by creating a partnership with the client. “People sometimes don’t know how to get to the end results,” ex- plained Sherri. “They know what they like, but they really can’t tell you. That’s where we come in.”
And that partnership continues as the plan comes to life—throughout the building process. “To me, every home interior we do has always reflected the client’s lifestyle, their tastes,” said Dean. “Its not about what we like. It’s about what our clients like.” To provide the best for their clients, the Fandrichs have learned to build those same strong relationships with all the artisans who install countertops or sew the drapes, the carpenters who build the cabinets, and the suppliers who provide the furniture. They are able to work in collaboration with the building company to give homeowners control over their choice of designers and carpenters.
Getting a hand
In the beginning, they had no choice but to rely on good suppliers. When the Fandrichs purchased the tiny drapery shop that eventually grew into Sutter Place Interiors, Dean was working at the Union College bindery. He had a degree in business, but didn’t know anything about drapes or interior design. Sherri had a small advantage. “We had a lot of interest in the business because Dean had always wanted to be his own boss,” she said. “It was perfect for me because my emphasis in college was home economics.”
The two found that connecting with people who were willing to help them along the way made all the difference in the success of their business. Their initial search for someone to sew drapes led them to a German couple in Colorado. “The man told me he couldn’t do business with me until he met me,” said Dean, who made the trip west to meet the immigrants who had survived World War II. “I learned how to hang draperies from him in three days. So that was our start.”
When the couple retired a few years later, the Fandrichs turned to the Omaha phone book in search of a supplier closer to home. Calling a randomly selected listing, they met Robert and Bessy Strickland, also Seventh-day Adventists. “They were like a mom and dad to us,” said Sherri. “Any time an order of ours came through, they always watched it and made sure there weren’t problems with it. They sewed draperies for us for more than 10 years until they retired.”
Clients also took a chance on the young business. When Dean attempted to bid on the draperies for the headquarters building for the Mid-America Union Conference being built in the late 1970s, the treasurer told the young man he was in over his head. “I told him that if he gave us the job, we would have those draperies in before they came to work on Monday morning,” Dean remembered.
With fervent work and collaboration with the Stricklands, the draperies were sewn in just a few days. The installations began on Saturday night and were completed by Sunday at noon—well before the deadline.
Lending a hand
“Just because someone is young and starting out in a business, you always need to give them that opportunity,” explained Sherri. Over the years, they have done the same by offering internships and jobs to students who have since built successful careers all over the country.
“When Dean’s brother [Arlie Fandrich, former chair of the Division of Business], was at Union, we got some of the best students,” said Sherri. Sutter Place Interiors has given many Union students the opportunity to gain internship experience in the accounting and management areas while pulling double duty as an installer. Sutter Place also welcomes interior design interns from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln every year.
It started at Union
The couple knows the importance of the college experience. Although they may not have prepared directly for the business they eventually built, they both feel their time at Union College helped equip them for success.
“Going to a liberal arts school helps prepare you for many things because you get a lot of different experiences in college, unlike a trade school,” said Sherri. “Even if you don’t work in the field you studied, all of your classes were not a waste of time because you always have the creative and problem solving skills learned in those classes.”
Dean credits tough professors like Dr. Eldon Christie ’49 and Dr. Earl Leonhardt ’50 with teaching him to persevere. “They were two challenging teachers,” he said. “I told myself if I can make it through those two, I should be able to finish anything. They gave me confidence to complete my degree.”
It’s all about the people
But in the end, success comes down to a strong network of relationships. And even practices maligned by modern students such as assigned seating at meals helped Dean grow as a person. “For me it had a lot to do with building relationships,” explained Dean. “When we went to eat in the cafeteria, we ate with three different people every meal and got to know all the students and teachers. We were somewhat forced into broadening our horizon.”
For the Fandrichs, the reward in their work comes from helping people make a place to call home—Dean and an assistant personally deliver and set up all furniture and apply the finishing touches. “There are so many stories,” said Sherri. “I love this so much. It’s not like getting up and going to a job. And the reason is really the people.”