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A flourishing business created by design

Arthur Vitoch:
A flourishing business created by design

“I don’t want it to look like Arthur Vitoch was here,” the decorator says of his work. “It’s the client’s personality (the work) has to reflect, not Arthur Vitoch.”
Unlike an artist, a decorator should not leave signature marks after a job is done, Vitoch says. Instead, the goal should be helping a client achieve his or her design goal with grace and elegance.
As the owner of Rochester’s largest interior design firm, Vitoch Interiors Ltd., Vitoch over the past quarter-century has decorated some of the area’s most prominent homes. His vast client list includes corporate leaders such as Frontier Corp. CEO Joseph Clayton and Hickey-Freeman Co. Inc. chairman Walter “Duffy” Hickey.
Yet despite having worked for many of Rochester’s business elite, Vitoch dismisses his reputation as an upscale decorator, insisting he caters to people with varying budgets.
“It’s a misconception that interior designers are more than what you pay at a furniture store,” he says. “We have every price range.”
A soft-spoken man dressed in a neatly pressed white shirt and khakis, Vitoch’s persona resembles his design style: understated yet elegant.
His own personal tastes are simple and sometimes eclectic. Vitoch owns two residences, one on the beach in Irondequoit and the other on East Avenue. The beach house is what the decorator describes as his “fun house,” where he can unleash his creativity. Against mostly white and neutral tones, Vitoch experiments with new designs and more diverse furniture offerings.
The Nantucket-style cottage with an expansive deck overlooks the Charlotte pier and is the designer’s summer home. Canvas slipcovers lay over much of the furniture, creating a comfortable and casual feel.
The East Avenue duplex reflects a more traditional image. It is decorated with darker colors and its style is complementary to Rochester’s older architecture. Old crown moldings line the walls. A large traditional fireplace showcases the grand living room filled with 18th century furniture. A collection of some 40 Limoges boxes graces one of Vitoch’s favorite antique tables.
“I make believe,” he says, explaining he pretends his East Avenue duplex is his Manhattan apartment and the Irondequoit cottage his beach house in the Hamptons, where New Yorkers often vacation in the summer.
Like a chameleon, Vitoch adopts different styles to suit his own tastes or his clients’ needs. From contemporary to traditional, he is able to visualize what will work with his clients’ tastes as well as what complements the architectural style of a home or office.
Though he is renowned in Western New York for his design work, he says he entered the field by accident.
While a student at Rochester Institute of Technology, Vitoch studied art and furniture-making. When he graduated in 1969, he intended to become a furniture-maker, but quickly realized those jobs were few and far between. Eager to learn a trade and make a living, Vitoch accepted a position as a window designer at the Sibley’s department store in Syracuse.
After a brief stint at Sibley’s, where he earned rave reviews for his window displays, Vitoch was hired as an assistant at an East Avenue design shop owned by Ron Nichols. In two years as an assistant, Vitoch quickly learned the trade of design and decorating.
But he yearned to work on more casual and fun designs rather than the mostly traditional decor for which Nichols was known. With $1,500 left to him by a friend of his parents, Vitoch in 1972 opened his own shop on Monroe Avenue.
He describes his original store as a Pier 1 type of furnishings outlet, before ethnic goods developed a market. The small shop was filled with baskets, gourmet goods and colorful furnishings from Third World countries.
The designer enjoyed being an entrepreneur and worked hard at developing his clientele. The one problem he faced was explaining to his family what he was doing for a living. His father, a tool-and-die maker on Long Island, and his homemaker mother had a difficult time comprehending the design profession. Vitoch invited his family to visit his new life and new shop.
Though his father did not say much about the shop, Vitoch could sense his disappointment in seeing the tiny store in a run-down neighborhood. After all, his father had paid for a four-year bachelor’s degree to educate the young designer.
More than ever, Vitoch was determined to succeed, even though high-end furniture representatives were not eager to supply the fledgling store.
Since the furniture representatives would not go to Vitoch, he personally visited designers and begged and borrowed to get some furniture lines into his store. He would rally his friends to help with furniture pickups and deliveries.
Often, Vitoch did not have the money to fully stock his store; instead, he would go shopping with clients, who paid for his services on an hourly basis.
Slowly but steadily, Vitoch began to develop a reputation as an up-and-coming designer. A few lucky breaks came his way. One was discovering an old French armoire, which he covered with white chicken feathers and dressed up in a bonnet for display in his store window. Not only did it stop traffic, it garnered press coverage as well.
Another break came when Vitoch was introduced to Duffy Hickey. The Hickey-Freeman chief was one of Vitoch’s original customers and used the designer’s services to purchase furniture and accessories for his home.
When Hickey decided to build a new house in 1978, he assigned Vitoch the task of decorating every inch of his home, from choosing the color of walls to selecting bathroom fixtures.
“I travel a lot and I don’t have time to figure out the color of the walls, Hickey says. “I know his taste level and he knows mine. I think Arthur’s great because he adapts himself to his clients.”
Twenty years after Vitoch decorated his Pittsford home, Hickey still enjoys the design and has not done any major updating. He credits Vitoch with having an eye for enduring styles.
As a long-time customer and friend, Hickey has seen Vitoch’s business skills evolve over the years. “He’s become a much better businessman,” Hickey notes.
In Vitoch’s early days as a entrepreneur, Hickey would make up his own bills, figuring out how much he owed. “Now, I get my bills on time,” he chuckles.
With clients like Hickey, it did not take long for Vitoch to grow his business. The Monroe Avenue shop soon was too small, and in 1975 he moved to a new location on Park Avenue.
As business continued to increase, Vitoch began to hire assistants. Within a few years, space again became a problem. So in 1980, Vitoch made yet another move, this time to a large storage warehouse on Canterbury Road with 3,000 square feet of retail space.
For the grand opening of this new store, Vitoch pulled out all the stops, hiring a disco band, complete with lights and fog machines. The opening also marked another milestone in his career. By the time he established himself at the location, two full-time designers also worked at his firm.
The move to Canterbury Road was not his last. With a growing client list, Vitoch in 1990 temporarily relocated to a 4,000-square-foot store in Pittsford before settling into his current location on University Avenue in 1991.
The 10,000-square-foot site houses his showroom, filled with furniture and accessories, and a center for his six full-time designers, all with their own clients. The warehouse space contains furniture and accessories custom-ordered by clients, who can select from a large sampling of fabrics and other items, from pillows to armoires.
Since moving into the University Avenue location eight years ago, business has grown some 10 percent a year, Vitoch says. He declines to disclose his annual sales.
Helping clients identify a style is important to Vitoch. Because many items are custom-made, each client’s personality is reflected in his or her home, without the cookie-cutter duplication of lines carried in furniture stores.
Vitoch insists most of his clients are working professionals, and not the well-to-do. If he were only to cater to the wealthy elite, the market for his design services would be tapped out very quickly, he explains.
To obtain the services of Vitoch or his designers, a client must have a minimum budget of $10,000. The firm does not charge an hourly fee, making its money on the markup of furniture and accessories.
When clients seek out Vitoch for his design services, he typically spends an hour or more during a consultation, to get a feel for the client’s taste and build rapport. Vitoch does not take on each prospective client, preferring to take some time to determine whether he can satisfy his client’s needs. For example, he would not take on a project that required an art deco look because he is not familiar with that design style.
“What we’re here for is to steer clients in the right direction,” he says. “We find ways to spend their budget in the best way.”
Hiring a designer actually can save a client money, Vitoch says. Often, a designer knows tricks of the trade to stretch a decorating budget, or may have access to different decorator items only those in the trade are allowed to purchase.
Vitoch always identifies an individual’s or family’s lifestyle before making purchases. He suggests prioritizing needs and putting money into rooms that get a lot of use. A common mistake of novice decorators, he notes, is spending a large amount of money on living-room furniture that gets used infrequently.
A designer also has to work within the parameters of a client’s personality. Some clients, such as Hickey, are very hands-off and leave all the decision-making to Vitoch. Others, like Vito Quatella, M.D., exercise more control over decorating decisions.
Quatella and Vitoch spent more than a year refurbishing his 24,000-square-foot cosmetic surgery center on East Avenue. The duo made many trips to New York City to find select pieces of art and furnishings.
“I’m a hands-on guy,” Quatella says. “Arthur has an ego that tolerates that. He works with you. He gets to know you and he tailors it to what you want.”
From restoring the painted ceilings to selecting paint colors for the walls, Vitoch dedicated himself wholeheartedly to the restoration of Quatella’s mansion.
“I asked for his input on everything.” Quatella says. “Arthur can look at something once and remember the color and know what matches it.”
Quatella now is building a new home, which Vitoch will decorate.
Over the past three decades, Vitoch has expanded his business, along with his client list. His loyal clientele has followed him through several relocations of his business, and the designer, in turn, has followed his customers.
Often, clients will upsize or even downsize, with Vitoch stepping in to help with new design needs. He credits his success to his clients, who have helped build his reputation by referring prospective clients.
“I feel very fortunate to get great clients,” he says. “It’s a real dream–to have my own company and to have great clients to work with.”

2/19/99

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