GARY FRIEDMAN took a counterintuitive career jump when he became CEO of a nearly bankrupt in 2001. His gamble: to remake the retro retailer into a merchant of high-style home furnishings. He has invested in showpiece stores, teamed up with master artisans—including rug designer Ben Soleimani and furniture maker Timothy Oulton—and expanded into tabletop and even art. Today the company has revenues of more than $1.8 billion.
JOHN EDELMAN had his work cut out for him when he took over in 2010. The once-beloved modern furniture retailer had sullied its image with poorly made reproductions and a moribund web presence. Edelman turned the company around by cutting out the knockoffs, reinventing DWR's website, and curating a lifestyle brand based on the best of design—whether it's a classic Saarinen table or a chair by contemporary firm BassamFellows.
Buying a sofa on your cell phone once seemed unimaginable. But it made perfect sense to SUSAN FELDMAN, a former Ralph Lauren and Liz Claiborne executive who turned her obsession with decorating into , a flash-sale site for home products. The company she cofounded in 2009 with tech consultant Alison Pincus was an overnight success and is now valued, five years later, at more than $900 million.
If the American dream includes a bathroom that doubles as a spa, we have PETER SALLICK to thank. The CEO of , having brought European-style luxury to this utilitarian room, is now doing the same for our kitchens. He also founded , an online marketplace with access to once-trade-only home furnishings by the likes of Kelly Wearstler and Steven Gambrel. Meanwhile, membership in Sallick's has become a coveted invitation for the industry's top players.
MakerBot Industries' BRE PETTIS—who helped create the 3D-printed busts that illustrate this story—is a former art teacher and puppeteer who is making a previously pie-in-the-sky technology accessible to all. Pettis has improved 3D printing to the point where everyone—artists, doctors, children—is using it. He also founded , an online community where 3D aficionados share designs for everything from birdhouses to guitars.
Few would select the antiques business as one ripe for disruption. That didn't stop former real estate broker MICHAEL BRUNO from launching , a website hosting dealers of antiques (and later, of everything from jewelry to art) around the globe, in 2001. Who would buy a $350,000 Chippendale desk or a custom Rolls-Royce with a click of a mouse? Quite a few people, it turns out: Last year, 1stdibs sold more than 12,000 items each month.