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Are You Crazy to Open a Brick-and-Mortar Shop?

Why would a designer decide to open a brick-and-mortar design shop selling product, given the nonstop chatter of a retail apocalypse? Is an online operation less complicated, or does e-commerce just present a different set of challenges? AD PRO asked four designers who currently have, or have had, shops of the brick-and-mortar or online variety to weigh in on their experiences, so you can make an informed decision.

“I am tactile. And I also strongly feel that design is about discovery,” designer Sarah Hamlin Hastings, owner of Fritz Porter Design Collective in Charleston, South Carolina, explains about the benefit of a brick-and-mortar versus an online-only shop. “The internet is great if you know what you are looking for. But what about the sense of discovery when perusing a quirky little antique shop or running your hands over a sumptuous new mohair or finding a woodworker who makes beautifully designed pieces in his garage workshop? That is the curated shopping experience I wanted to create.”

After moving to Charleston in 2010 only to discover a lack of nearby design resources, Hastings decided to launch her own hybrid business—a curated retail store, a textile showroom, and an interior design business—which opened in 2015. And while she felt the personal and financial risk of opening a successful brick-and-mortar store was higher than an online-only business (as far as investing in inventory, overhead costs, and dealing with slim profit margins when working with independent artisan vendors), she found great gratification in seeking out interesting pieces and being able to tell artisans’ stories and promote their craft.

Fritz Porter
Fritz Porter, Sarah Hamlin Hastings’s Charleston shop.

Julia Lynn

Similarly, interior designer Paloma Contreras, co-owner of Houston-based Paloma & Co., launched the brick-and-mortar concept store this year with business partner Devon Liedtke (the store also has a strong online component). The aim was to “showcase unique items that tell a story—whether they are antiques or found objects, original art from emerging American artists, or handmade pieces by artisans from around the globe.”

“It is really nice to be able to showcase our style and point of view without any type of filter,” Contreras says. “We don’t want to offer things that are available at a dozen stores in town or hundreds of stores online. For us, the most important thing has been finding things to offer our customers that are not only signature to our style, but also have an interesting story to tell.”

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In the same vein as Hastings and Contreras, interior designer and author Kirsten Grove of Boise, Idaho–based We Three Design Studio and design blog Simply Grove, says, “When you’re a designer, you’re a natural curator. Having a shop of your own allows you to curate items that you really do believe in and find beautiful. It’s an easy partnership when done right and in the right market.”

Devon Liedtke and Paloma Contreras
Devon Liedtke and Paloma Contreras’s Houston shop, Paloma & Co.

Kerry Kirk

However, for Grove the challenges of running her own design shop ultimately took their toll on her design business, and she folded it in 2018 after just one year in operation. “I had always wanted to own my own shop that sold furniture and home goods. It was one of those things that I had to get out of my system,” she admits. “But there were a few tricky aspects, one being that Boise is a really hard place to have a successful home retail shop. It was hard to gain regular customers who weren’t just looking for sale items.”

In general Grove sees pluses and minuses to both brick-and-mortar and online shops. “A brick-and-mortar space allows your clients and customers to see and feel things in person, while having an online shop gets rid of the unexpected overhead costs,” she explains. “But a huge drawback for an online shop is shipping costs and angry customers who have received something damaged or an incorrect order.” But she adds, “If you’re able to create a team that only focuses on your shop, it’s totally doable!”

Michelle Adams, the former Domino magazine editor who ran online shop The Maryn for two and a half years, during which time she hosted four pop-ups, found that it’s a misconception to believe that an e-commerce business doesn’t require as many overhead costs. Her expenses turned out to be too high to make her business viable.

“Opening a shop represented the ultimate creative outlet for me, as it required editing the market for the coolest products, creating a brand identity, and developing the lifestyle imagery to support it,” Adams says. However, the cost of running a design shop included expenses that one might not think of up front, including employing a full team to help with order fulfillment, the website, customer service, accounting, photography, and so on. Then there were also warehouse costs, high-interest business loan payments, press outreach, marketing fees, and insurance. Additionally, Adams curated her product selections from artisans around the globe to keep her assortment fresh and unique. “But importing comes with a lot of hidden costs that eat away profit margins,” she says. Another financial burden was her inability as a small business owner to compete with the free shipping offered by larger e-commerce sites.

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The Maryn
Product from The Maryn, Michelle Adams’s online shop, which ceased operations this spring. Adams is former editor in chief of Domino and cofounder of Lonny.

Marta X. Perez

Once the financial challenges became too great, Adams decided to close up shop. Based on what she learned, she advises, “Be realistic about what you’re comfortable spending, and absolutely stick to it. I made the mistake of thinking that investing a little more here and there would help my shop get over a hump, but in the end it only put me into debt.”

Likewise, Grove urges, “Before you do anything, run your numbers and be very honest with yourself. If you don’t create a cushion for the first three months, things can get tricky.” Yet, she adds, “An online shop can be time-sucking but worth the work. And a brick-and-mortar can become a beautiful extension of your brand.”

Read More

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Interior Designers On The Design Trends They Hate Most

 

Bathrooms don't look like this anymore for a reason.

Bathrooms don’t look like this anymore for a reason.

GETTY

Have you seen a new bathroom built with glass bricks in the past decade? Probably not. That’s because although glass brick bathrooms were trendy thirty years ago, at some point, interior design professionals made an unofficial collective decision that they looked hideous.

The same will eventually be said for many of the current design trends that have become almost painfully ubiquitous. Just because a look is heavily featured on social media or HGTV, doesn’t mean it’s a good choice for everyone from an aesthetic or even a practicality standpoint. From tropical print overload to Live, Laugh, Love art, some of the biggest names in interior design gladly confessed their least favorite trends as well as the alternatives that make better replacements.

Midcentury Modern Design

We're closer to the middle of the century.

We’re closer to the middle of the next century.

PIXABAY

It feels as if mid-century modern furniture and design has been a trend for the better part of the current century, even if it has probably been closer to a decade. While Shabby Chic founder Rachel Ashwell loves the minimal and simple clean lines of this style, overall, she isn’t a fan. “Even on clean lines, I always like things to be comfortable,” she says.

But if you’re stuck in a house full of wood furniture with angled feet, Ashwell doesn’t think the situation is hopeless. “Comfy cushions and accents of romantic flowers I feel would have made this trend more liveable.”

Skinny Flat Cushions On Oversized Sofas

Ashwell thinks bigger is better when it comes to cushions.

Ashwell thinks bigger is better when it comes to cushions.

PHOTO BY IVA PRIME FROM PEXELS

Ashwell is a proponent of comfort in design, which makes sense because who wants to sit on something that’s uncomfortable? After all, the designer is known for creating oversized sofas with large, cloud-like cushions. “The streamlined aesthetics of oversized sofas with very thin cushions always seemed odd and uncomfortable to me, giving the feeling of an enormous dog bed,” she says. “I feel the diversity of tastes and styles of sofas from traditional to modern, should still be comfortable and inviting. Skinny flat seat cushions are never a substitute for a comfy seat.”

Icy Gray Interior Colors

Grey as a cloudy sky.

Gray as a cloudy sky.

IMAGE BY GERBEN DE JONG FROM PIXABAY

Cool-toned gray paint and furniture might be having a moment, but Andrea DeRosa and Ashley Manhan of Avenue Interior Design are watching the clock. They can’t wait for this trend to freeze over.

But that doesn’t mean the interior design duo is anti-gray all together. If you’re looking for a true gray, they suggest making sure there is a small amount of red or an undertone to the color. “Looking to embrace an up-and-coming trend? Go with finishes that are more of a taupe based ‘French Gray.’ French grays are very versatile and have more warmth to them than cool or warm grays,” they explain.

Kitchy Phrases And Letter Blocking As Artwork

Get inspired to find new artwork.

Get inspired to find something else.

PHOTO BY TY WILLIAMS ON UNSPLASH

Art should always have a message, but DeRosa and Manhan believe it’s okay to search for that meaning. They would be happy never seeing another inspirational message again. “Whether you’re telling a guest to ‘relax’ or trying to communicate a sense of ‘home-sweet-home,’ there are countless ways you can do so in a more subtle way,” they say.

The designers suggest creating context and a sense of place through the use of photography, color or pattern. “This allows each guest to craft their own experience and make the overall vibe for the interior more timeless.”

Kitchens With No Upper Wall Cabinets

A design choice that will leave you with less storage and more to clean.

A design choice that will leave you with less storage and more to clean.

GETTY

Kitchens that lack upper wall cabinetry are highly impractical according to Alexis Rodgers of Home With Alexis. Shorter cabinets mean the only thing you can store in the space is dust.“Keeping a kitchen tidy can be challenging enough, and I don’t need or want the additional challenge of where-to-store-my-dishes-and-stash-this-ugly-mug added to my daily routine,” the interior designer confesses.

Rodgers likes the warmth, balance, and function that upper wall cabinets provide. They’re also a necessity if the kitchen has a range hood. “The range hood with no wall companions can look both imposing and incomplete, floating by itself on the otherwise barren wall. Of course, there are exceptions that make this trend look fabulous, but the ones I have seen in real life leave me wanting more-namely, more cabinetry,” she explains.

Exposed Kitchen Shelving

A perfect shelfie. An imperfect trend.

A perfect shelfie. An imperfect trend.

GETTY

Rodgers truly dikes replacing traditional cabinetry with open shelving. This design choice might be ideal for social media posts, but not real life. “This wall-to-wall, open-shelf concept feels too much like a retail store showcasing its sale items, and it can create anxiety in having to curate or maintain the perfect shelfie at all times,” she says.

At one point, Rodgers installed open shelving in her kitchen, but ultimately regretted it. “I know from personal experience, as I eventually removed the floating shelves in my own kitchen and never looked back.”

Want to mix it up? Go for a combination of solid wood and glass-front cabinetry instead. “The glass doors give you the airiness of open shelving without the dust and chaos,” she says.

Clean Minimal Interiors

Pretty but cold.

Pretty but cold.

PHOTO BY RAHULCHAKRABORTY ON UNSPLASH

Founder of Dazey LA, Danielle Nagel, is sick of seeing clean, minimal interiors everywhere, “They are so boring and lack life and interest,” she says. “To me, it just feels like cheating to leave things basically blank and call it a day.”

But that doesn’t mean going the opposite way entirely. As an alternative, Nagel recommends incorporating subtle colors such as warm ochre, dusty gold, or light pink into a design scheme. “An accent wall or a few warm accessories can really make a space feel so much cozier while still remaining simple.”

Tile Countertops

Tiles on the wall. Not on the countertop!

Tiles on the wall. Not on the countertop!

STOCKSNAP

There are so many places to use tile, but according to Cliff Webster, who is the General Manager of Tile for Wayfair, countertops are not one of them. “While countertop tile may have gone out of style, patterns are in! Use patterned tile to create on-trend (and moisture resistant) accent walls, backsplashes and floors. Wayfair has thousands of options available. Some of the brand’s best sellers are the PalomaArtea and Encausto.”

While tile can be an affordable choice for countertops, that doesn’t make it a good choice. This material just looks dated and will certainly turn off potential buyers when it comes time to sell your home.

Flush Mount Ceiling Lights

These fixtures hardly light up a room.

These fixtures hardly light up a room.

PHOTO BY MILLY EATON FROM PEXELS

Kelly Aaron, who is the Chief Luminary of Blueprint Lighting, sees certain flush mount fixtures (known to some as boob lights for their resemblance to the female anatomy) as one of the worst possible design choices to make. “There is so much good design in the world at every conceivable price point that bad design shouldn’t exist anymore,” she says. “I look at these lights and see a missed opportunity to place something sculptural, add a pop of color or tell a little story. They are a cop out.”

Standard flush mounts are also impractical, Aaron explains. “To add insult to injury, it is also obscenely difficult to change a bulb in one of these things—just a poor design all around. Plus, they look like a boob. But not a sexy boob. A boob you wish you could un-see.”

But there are alternatives, she says. “Obviously, it depends on the scale of the space. But if something comparably small-scale is needed, our Strobus flush mount is a fabulous option. It packs a serious design punch and provides a ton of visual interest and texture in a compact little package.”

For a larger scale project, Aaron recommends the Counterbalance light from Blueprint both for its design and the fact that the light bulb is easy to change. “If the room can handle something of a larger scale, our Counterbalance is a knockout! We were inspired by the mobiles of Alexander Calder when designing Counterbalance. It’s a light that doubles as a sculpture.”

White Everything

Too much white.

Too much white.

GETTY

Mike Russell, CEO of Paintzen is bored of monochromatic white rooms. “There’s such an attachment to all white everywhere—from walls to ceilings to furniture,” he says. “While we understand the desire for a fresh, clean look, it lacks originality. With thousands of paint color options, you can certainly find something that feels as clean as pure white, like rich blues or sage greens, but lends a little more personality.”

Popcorn Ceilings

Popcorn is for snacking, not ceilings. 

Popcorn is for snacking, not ceilings.

GETTY

Meghan Stewart, Senior Director of Residential and Certified Color Consultant for Paintzen truly dislikes popcorn ceilings. “Their sticky texture adds a weird dynamic to rooms with an otherwise soft, clean look. If you want to make your ceiling stand out, we recommend adding some color and treating it like your fifth wall. It can still be eye-catching, without the rigid finish,” she says.

Tropical Print Overload

Use sparingly.

Use sparingly.

GETTY

Tropical designs such as banana and palm leaf prints are having a long moment. But many people are going overboard. There is a fine line between the touch of sophistication it can add versus looking like the jungle exploded.

Tropical prints were highly popular in design a few years ago,” says Jennifer Matthews, who is the Creative Director and Co-Founder of Tempaper. “While tropical influences still play a role, they have evolved into a more refined scenic aesthetic that tells a story. Utopia, Tempaper’s first panoramic mural, is an excellent example of this.”

There are lots of ways to incorporate tropical print. Perhaps an accent wall, linen napkins or accessorizing with pillows. It’s easy to go overboard, but try to resist temptation.

Stainless Steel Appliances

Color would be better.

Color would be better.

PHOTO BY RUSTIC VEGAN ON UNSPLASH

For more than a decade, stainless steel has been the standard for appliances. But many feel this look is getting old. Orion Creamer, who is the Founder of Big Chill, which manufactures colorful and retro style appliances says, “There’s nothing exciting or individualized about [the stainless steel appliance trend].”

He feels that custom color choices whether they’re matte black, cherry red, or even orange can make a much larger impact than stainless steel. “Colorful appliances create a space that feels unique and mirrors the style of the homeowner most accurately. It’s for this reason that here at Big Chill, we are extending our custom color offerings with premium color offerings to appeal to even more aesthetic preferences,” he says.

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