What was supposed to be a short stay to set up an outpost for a Danish company, turned into a lifetime of business and philanthropy. Claus Ihlemann is still in Norfolk. Since 1975, Claus has called Norfolk home. He has not only built a life here, but an iconic business, Decorum Furniture.
The Danish company that Claus worked for sent him to Norfolk to just set up a warehouse, but that turned into him running the warehouse and managing East Coast and Mid-West sales. With a background and education rooted in retail, opening a store was his natural next step, and Decorum was born. In 1979, he relocated the store to its current location and grew it into the Decorum Furniture of today. A bellwether of style and decorum (see what we did there?).
Claus has always appreciated how warm and embracing the community has been. A community that has allowed him to thrive not only as a businessman, but as a person. His reward is to have the opportunity and ability to serve and support area nonprofit organizations.
He shared, that in 2003 “I was so very fortunate to join forces with Robert Roman”, his partner in business and in life. “We were able to build an extraordinary relationship enriching our personal lives through service and support organizations that share our core values of Equality, Respect and Love” said Ihlemann.
Pay It Forward is their motto. “So simple and easy to follow and can make a difference to somebody’s life each day. Be kind and understanding, you have no way of knowing what someone else is dealing with and your considerations can go a long way to make their day better” he said. Some of the organizations that they support – that better other people’s lives daily – are Hope House, Equality Virginia, and the LGBT Life Center. They are also generous supporters of local arts groups like TR Dance, Virginia Stage Company, Virginia Opera, Chrysler Museum, The Governor’s School, just to mention a few.
“We are very fortunate to be living very productive lives”, said Ihlemann. The one achievement that he and Robert are particularly proud of is the contribution that they were able to make in the fight for Marriage Equality. He goes on to share that “In the early 2000’s we witnessed a frightening shift in attitudes towards constitutional amendment that outlawed same sex relationships. These efforts were extraordinarily hateful movements towards a group that simply wanted to live lives just like everyone else and be productive participants in society.”
With the help of Equality Virginia and The Human Rights Campaign they participated in and supported lobbying efforts for the right to Marry Who You Love. It was a very proud moment for them, that Valentine’s Day in 2014, when Judge Arenda Wright Allen struck down Virginia’s ban on same sex marriage. “That evening we were able to celebrate this milestone at Decorum with about 500 guests attending. Lt Governor Northam (now Governor Northam) and Attorney General Mark Herring attending along with numerous other politicians. The plaintiffs, Timothy B. Bostic and Tony C. London attended along with all the friends that had been part of this important journey”.
And their journey continues, paying it forward every step of the way, with pride and decorum.
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