The interior of MidAmerican Aerospace, designed by Phelan’s. PHOTO/PHELAN’S
Walk into Phelan’s Interiors in downtown Cedar Rapids, and your eye will be drawn to a well-curated array of plush furniture, colorful flooring and vibrant decorations – a vivid expression of the firm’s eight decades of experience and design leadership.
The company has two design departments that understand the distinctive needs of homeowners and business leaders. A home is symbolic of its residents so the design is influenced by personality and emotion. Conversely, corporate interiors need to drive business change and innovation.
“Commercial spaces are a way to reflect a company’s identity,” said President and CEO Tom Phelan. “Businesses should think of interior design as a way to stay competitive. It’s so much more than picking chairs or a conference table. The right look can improve employee motivation, retain talent and attract customers.”
The company has reinvented itself several times since it started as the Cedar Rapids Paint & Supply Company in 1937. The firm has always stayed abreast of industry trends, expanding on its inventory of goods and services as tastes have changed. That attention to evolving styles is the heart of Phelan’s design philosophy.
“We got here by listening to our clients and keeping them at the center of the design process,” Mr. Phelan said. “When an interior designer imposes his or her vision, the space becomes more about them than the people who live or work there. That was OK for Frank Lloyd Wright, but not for our associates. Every sale for a service or good is a vote of confidence from our customers. We keep our energies focused on those areas, rather than hold onto a static idea of what interior design should be.”
Phelan’s work can be spotted in a variety of new construction and renovation projects around the city, such as the carpet gracing the Cedar Rapids Convention Complex, the vintage floor tiles at the Black Sheep Social Club, and furnishings at the Kingston Commons Condominiums and Ginsberg Jewelers. The firm’s recent commercial work includes the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance building, Ruffalo Noel Levitz’ headquarters, Coffeesmiths (now Scooter’s Coffee) and the Great America building.
The firm also takes pride in its involvement with the community. COO Paul Phelan is the founder of Corridor Goes Casual For Kids, which raises funds for local nonprofits. He also coordinates visits from inspirational speakers through Sports World, an organization that sends professional athletes to share positive messages with children. Phelan’s is a sponsor of the annual Great Eastern Iowa Duck Race as well.
“We did service work as a family growing up, so it made sense to carry that spirit of community into our business,” Paul Phelan said. “While you can’t calculate a return on investment for volunteering, there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s absolutely worth it if you can help just one child.”
Phelan’s has been a family business from the beginning, when Paul R. Phelan bought the company from his father-in-law Charlie Schwinn in the 1960s. Tom and Paul Phelan have been growing the firm since the late 1990s, and Kayla Phelan, representing the fourth generation, started three years ago as an account manager. With more than 20 employees, the firm’s ongoing success is driven by its staff, Tom Phelan said.
“We aren’t anything without our associates. I don’t care for the term ‘employee’ because it creates a hierarchy under a boss. We are all colleagues at Phelan’s. Our associates are truly the backbone of this company.”
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