Walter E. Smithe Jr., founder of Walter E. Smithe Furniture & Design, dies at 86

CHICAGO (CBS) — Walter Edward Smithe Jr., the founder of Chicago’s Walter E. Smithe Furniture & Design, has died at the age of 86.

The Smithe family announced that their patriarch died this past Sunday with his wife of 64 years, Florence Flynn Smithe, by his side.

Smithe was born in 1936 to Margaret Slifka and Walter E. Smithe Sr., and grew up in the Northwest Side’s Belmont Central neighborhood. He received a Bachelor of Philosophy in Commerce from the University of Notre Dame in 1958.

During a stint in the Army, Smithe attained the rank of captain and became an expert in the field of computers.

Smithe then went into the computer industry – working for General Electric and IBM in 1967, according to his obit. But he soon returned to the family furniture business that his father first started in 1945, and pioneered the concept of custom-order furniture in the Chicago area.

This led to the development of Walter E. Smithe Furniture & Design.

The company has become known over the years in particular for its quirky TV commercials – Chicago TV viewers have long known the jingle, “Walter E. Smithe, you dream it we build it.” Smithe’s three sons the Smithe brothers – Mark, Tim, and Walter III – became executives in the business and were regularly featured in the commercials. The Smithe sisters – Walter III’s daughters Maureen, Meghan, Caitie, and Colleen – are also now executives at Walter E. Smithe Furniture & Design and appear in the ads.

Walter E. Smithe Clearance Sale by
Walter E. Smithe Furniture & Design on

Walter E. Smithe Furniture & Design advertising has featured everything from parodies of “The Price Is Right” to a 2013 classic in which the Smithe brothers got into a wrestling ring with Billy Corgan.

Billy Corgan and Walter E. Smithe Wrestling by
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Walter E. Smithe Jr. also earned a master’s degree in Anthropology at Loyola University Chicago in 1980. He was still spending weekends at Smithe furniture showrooms until recently – and he volunteered for many years for Habitat for Humanity, building houses in the U.S. and Central America.

In recent years, Smithe enjoyed his time with extended family. He entertained the youngest generation of the family playing banjo and singing folk songs such as “The Rock Island Line,” and telling stories of Tiny Tim and the Magic Gumball Machine, his obit said.

Walter E. Smithe Jr.

Walter E. Smithe Furniture & Design

A wake will be held at Ryan-Parke Funeral Home in Park Ridge on Friday, Oct. 21, and a funeral mass will follow on Saturday, Oct. 22, and St. Paul of the Cross Church in Park Ridge.