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How lying down on the job pays off

by Sheila Appleby Williams

May 24, 2011 | 5:24 pm

Earl Kluft

Earl Kluft

Can you put a price on a good night’s sleep? Earl Kluft thinks so. But it will cost you.

Kluft, 62, is CEO of the family-run E.S. Kluft & Co., and he made headlines last year with his king-size Palais Royale plush mattress, which sells at Bloomingdales and Macy’s for $33,000.

The luxury Palais Royale is one of the most expensive American-made beds on the market. It takes 10 craftsmen about three days to create each mattress, which features layers of cashmere, mohair, silk, wool, organic cotton and Talalay latex.

But if you’d like something more lavish, maybe you should consider Kluft’s newest offering — the Sublime.

“We’re introducing a $44,000 model at Bloomingdales because the $33,000 [mattress] we brought out last year wasn’t enough. People wanted something even more luxurious,” he said.

City of Hope will honor Kluft, a third-generation mattress maven, with a Lifetime Achievement Award during its West Coast Golf and Tennis Tournament at the Coto de Caza Golf and Racquet Club in Orange County on June 6. The event, sponsored by the City of Hope’s National Home Furnishings Industry group, is expected to raise approximately $600,000 this year for cancer research and treatment.

“It blew me away. It was a total surprise,” Kluft said of the award. “I asked them, ‘Why do you want me?’ ”

Kluft is unduly modest, except when extolling the virtues and integrity of his handmade-mattress company.

He began learning his craft as a 14-year-old boy in the sewing room of DeLuxe Bedding Co., the Los Angeles mattress factory established by Kluft’s grandfather in 1946. Kluft was designing fabrics by age 18, followed by stints in sales and as a supervisor.

His foray into luxury mattresses began when he developed a $2,000 bed for Bullock’s in 1986, and, after taking over the family business in 1990, his focus shifted to the luxury market.

He created Chattam & Wells in 1996, producing beds featuring gold corner vents and Belgian damask. Kluft sold Chattam & Wells to investors in 1999 but stayed on as creative consultant. He resigned four years later, objecting to “homogenizing” the mattress’ details in order to mass produce the product.

“They didn’t get it,” Kluft said. “They wanted me to replace the gold-plated air vents with brass.”

In 2004, he spent $1.2 million to buy Aireloom, a brand popular with generations of Hollywood stars and Ronald Reagan’s White House, and renamed it E.S. Kluft & Co. His goal was of produce American-made, handcrafted luxury mattresses — including new handmade Aireloom mattresses.

“I was going crazy at home,” said Kluft, the father of three grown children.

Kluft cutting fabric for one of his luxury mattresses.

Catering to clients with a seven-figure net worth has helped Kluft weather the recession. E.S. Kluft & Co. had $44 million in revenue in 2010 and was on target for $50 million this year, Bloomberg reported. His 127,000-square-foot facility in Rancho Cucamonga features a workforce of more than 100 employees, and Kluft is scouting locations for a second factory on the East Coast to double production.

The company features a $2,000 opening model, and its signature Royal Sovereign “Prelude” Mattresses ($4,998-$8,429) is its most popular. Kluft’s super-premium mattresses — those costing $20,000 or more — account for a small percentage of its sales, but E.S. Kluft will soon launch its most expensive bed yet — the Cameo, which is expected to retail for $50,000.

According to Kluft, the attributes of a top-of-the-line mattress should include: optimum support and conformability, good edge support with minimum roll off (so important for restless sleepers), handcrafted workmanship using “the best of everything” and hypoallergenic.

Although Kluft spends a lot of time lying down on the job — he personally tests many of the mattresses — he doesn’t slack off when it comes to charitable giving.

The Kluft family has a history of raising money for worthy causes, and Earl Kluft recalls selling raffle tickets through the Junior Sportsmen for The Jewish Federation. In addition to his work with the City of Hope, Kluft supports Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Gilda’s Club and Women at Risk, among others.

“We all have family and friends whose lives have been affected by this deadly disease,” Kluft said, referring to cancer.

When asked if he has any other mattress projects in the pipeline, Kluft said he hasn’t given up on his idea of a square mattress, which would measure 7 feet on each side. He’s been trying to promote the concept for several years.

“I tried to get the bedding industry interested,” Kluft said, “but the necessary changes in sheet sizes, bedding and bed frames are a great obstacle.”

For more information about the June 6 City of Hope West Coast Golf and Tennis Tournament, visit http://www.cityofhope.org/giving/fundraising-support-groups/nhfi/tournament/Pages/default.aspx.

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