Tag Archives: Renovation

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.”


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.

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.”

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Tariffs boost housing renovation costs after Zillow and others go all-in on iBuying

Costlier supplies will shrink “razor thin” margins as iBuyers move into new markets

American Flag house

The United States and China are locked in a tit-for-tat trade war that will boost the price of materials that go into home renovation and construction. The higher costs come as iBuyers such as Zillow, Opendoor and Offerpad are expanding into new markets with plans for fixing up and reselling homes.


Many of the products iBuyers need to paint, repair and in some cases renovate kitchens and other rooms will become more expensive in the next few months as the U.S. importers who pay the tariffs pass on the added costs to American consumers. The National Association of Home Builders said tariffs will boost housing construction and renovation costs by $2.5 billion.

“In iBuying, it’s razor-thin margins anyway, so any sort of ripple in the pond has the potential to disrupt,” said Mike DelPrete, a real estate strategist who tracks the iBuying market.

That’s not necessarily a deal-killer for the biggest iBuyers, said DelPrete. Most are well-financed and don’t necessarily need to make a profit from each house they sell as they build out their business models, he said. Some, like Zillow, are hoping to generate profit in other ways, such as attracting mortgage customers as sellers move up to their next purchase, he said.

“What’s happening right now in iBuying is a land grab, and a lot of these companies don’t need to be profitable right away,” said DelPrete. “But if you’re a big iBuyer and your buying and selling thousands of homes a month, higher costs have a potential impact.”

Zillow is the iBuyer who is expanding the fastest. It purchased 898 houses and sold 414 in the first quarter, the company said in its earnings report last week. That was a gain of 80% and 200%, respectively, compared to the fourth quarter. 

“In Q1, we received more than 35,000 seller requests, and that demand is rapidly accelerating,” CEO Rich Barton said on a conference call after the company reported its earnings to Wall Street. “We now receive one request every two minutes, which is nearly $200 million in potential transaction value per day.” 

Zillow and the other iBuying companies cited declined to comment.

Last week, President Donald Trump hiked tariffs to 25% from 10% on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods. In retaliation, China announced plans to raise tariffs to 25% on $60 billion worth of U.S. products starting June 1. President Trump has threatened to expand tariffs to a further $300 billion of Chinese imports.

The construction imports from China now carrying a 25% tariff include: concrete, nails, screws, ceramic tiles, and asphalt roofing shingles, according to the National Association of Home Builders. Also on the list: light fixtures, kitchen cabinets, circular saw blades, stainless steel used for appliances and various types of raw materials that go into U.S. building products.

Tariffs, also known as duties or levies, are collected by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents from importers – U.S. businesses – as goods enter the country. In other words, no one is handing China a bill. Typically, those American importers pass the added cost to their distributors who eventually pass it on to the consumer at the end of the line – in the renovation industry, that’s the guy sent to Home Depot, Lowes or similar retailers to pick up supplies. 

“To be clear, tariffs are taxes paid by American businesses and consumers, not by China,” said David French, senior vice president of government relations at the National Retail Federation.


Continue reading Tariffs boost housing renovation costs after Zillow and others go all-in on iBuying

Hotels tackle unique bathroom-design challenges

On the surface, hotel bathrooms are fairly standard. A shower, a sink, a toilet and some nice, fluffy towels and the space is ready to go, right? But not so fast—whether the project is a new build, a renovation or an adaptive reuse, designers often must overcome unanticipated challenges when creating bath areas for guestrooms. Not only must the space meet the latest guest demands and brand standards, but a wide range of logistics can affect the overall look of the room.

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Designing Ed Spaces for Young Entrepreneurs

By Andy Miller & Carla Remenschneider

The hottest coffee shop in the city of Carmel, Ind., a suburban community just north of Indianapolis, isn’t located on Main Street or in a strip mall. It’s the Carmel Café & Market, a student-run coffee shop that is part of the DECA business program at Carmel High School. The renovation of the Carmel Café & Market, which was once a small spirit shop, is an excellent example of how to design for the needs of young entrepreneurs.

Treat Students as Owners

Student involvement in design is always important, but for entrepreneurial spaces, it is absolutely critical. Operational issues have a great impact on the design of a business space, and young entrepreneurs must learn to think through the impact of the built environment on efficiency and profit. At the Carmel Café & Market, the owners are the students, not the teachers, so their input was critical to the design process.

“This is not class where teachers run the business and students get credit for participating,” said Richard Reid, DECA advisor and IB Business Management teacher at Carmel High School. “This is truly a student-run business, so we made sure to use the design process as a learning opportunity.”

The Carmel Café & Market provides high school students with real-world business experiences. Photo Credit: Fanning Howey

The design of the Carmel Café & Market renovations, completed in September 2017, involved multiple charrettes with students and their faculty advisors. Early sessions focused on operational issues and how the space would work. How will orders flow in and out? Where will customers queue up? How many back-of-house coffee stations do we need? How will customers exit? Students explored these issues and collaborated with architects and interior designers to find solutions. In addition to floor plans and renderings, students developed and reviewed flow patterns to create the optimum space for operations. Every aspect of the business received scrutiny, all the way down to the design of the frappe-making station.

Grace Marchese, a student at Carmel High School and director of operations for the Carmel Café & Market, was one of the stakeholders involved in the design charrettes.

“I learned how much thought goes into designing a space for a business,” Marchese said. “Every single detail matters, and it is these small details that build on one another to create the overall feel you want to have.”

The design team also worked with students to create signature spaces that reflect the Carmel Café & Market brand. Students reviewed design concepts and commented on branding, look and feel, efficiency and product placement. Based on student input, the design team added items such as a performance stage for student singers and musicians.

The collaborative process involving students not only resulted in a better design, but it also gave these young entrepreneurs a valuable experience in creating space for their own business.

Be Nimble

While the Carmel Café & Market is currently a coffee shop, the students and design team specifically focused on creating a flexible business lab that could serve multiple needs. This flexibility is crucial to allow students to respond to different market forces and to change their business model over time.

“Students can rearrange the space to improve operations and the customer experience,” said Reid. “And if they decide one day that their business model should change, the facility will accommodate a new kind of business.”

Some restaurant-related equipment is included in the design; however, the Carmel Café & Market is broken down into core spaces focused on teaching broad entrepreneurial skills. Flexible furniture allows students to be creative in how they arrange and rearrange space. A nearby marketing lab provides a board room–type setting for leadership and critical thinking. Presentation space and interactive technology tools give students the ability to engage in problem solving, teamwork and communications.

To read the entire article, check out the November/December issue of School Construction News.

Andy Miller, AIA, is a project architect at Indianapolis-based Fanning Howey. Carla Remenschneider, RID, IIDA, is director of Interior Design at Fanning Howey.

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HOUSE TOUR: Bunny Williams Transforms A Homely A-Frame Into An Inspiring Studio Space

With 22 bucolic acres, Bunny Williams was only missing one thing at her legendary Connecticut retreat: an inspiring work studio where she could be her fiercely creative self. No longer.


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Bolder Is Better In This Beauty Tycoon’s New York Home

A riot of color, pattern, and art, beauty exec John Demsey’s six-story townhouse on Manhattan’s Upper East Side bursts with exuberant life


For John Demsey, it all began with a sofa: an enormous Willy Rizzo curved number that can seat 18. “In the mid-’70s my parents had an apartment at Olympic Tower in New York and they bought some furniture from Willy Rizzo, and the dealer at the time for Rizzo in the United States was C. Z. Guest,” remembers Demsey. (Guest’s representation of the Italian designer Rizzo in the 1970s is a little-known aspect of her illustrious life.)

The library, alternate view

A wingback chair by BDDW wears a Lelièvre for Scalamandré fabric; Nicki Minaj portrait by Steven Klein; Blue urn by Michael Eden.

“When they left the city, they sent it back to Cleveland and it went into storage. So the idea was I wanted to start everything with this couch. And I was in a blue mood. I was very much obsessed with Yves Klein and shades of turquoise.”

That inspiration set the direction for a 17-month gut renovation of his turn-of-the-century townhouse on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Demsey, executive group president of the Estée Lauder Companies (overseeing such brands as Tom Ford Beauty, Jo Malone, MAC Cosmetics, and more), bought the 5,300-square-foot home, which he shares with his nine-year-old daughter, Marie-Hélène, after spending nearly a decade in a rented townhouse just two doors down from his new space.

“I decided finally to plant a stake in the ground and to do something all the way,” he avers. “Everything I’ve ever done before was like a stage set. I was never able to have the bathroom I wanted, the closets I wanted, the backyard I wanted, the kitchen I wanted.”

I was in Paris and my friend was wearing these rad Louboutin boots that were turquoise, ocher, red, and gold, and I thought, That’s my color scheme!

Enter Joseph Cornacchia, his architect, who changed everything (even down to the wiring), and Bibi Monnahan, Demsey’s longtime friend and designer.

“John said Yves Klein blue and David Hicks,” recalls Monnahan. “So I went to Stark, and lo and behold they had some Hicks-inspired carpeting that could be done in any size.” Monnahan worked closely with Stark to create custom rugs for the entire house. She then replaced the old brown suede on the Willy Rizzo sofa with a luxurious Romo viscose velvet in a rich azure hue.

With the palette set, the project took off. Each piece was painstakingly curated by Demsey and Monnahan, including a few key pieces Demsey found while traveling on business, like the Vincenzo De Cotiis brass coffee table picked up during a trip to Milan and the Golden Clover table by Guy de Rougemont bought at Galerie Diane de Polignac in Paris.

Demsey’s vast art collection is also on display. The fourth-floor guest suite features several paintings by his mother, Renée Demsey, who was the in-house artist for Bergdorf Goodman in the 1970s.

The beauty executive is also a passionate collector of photography, and the installation of 575 pictures from his trove was mapped out room-by-room with military precision. The installation—covering all six floors—took nine weeks. One recent acquisition Demsey is especially proud of is a striking Steven Klein portrait of Nicki Minaj painted blue and wearing a pink Marilyn Monroe wig. (Demsey recently worked with Minaj on a lipstick collaboration for MAC Cosmetics.)

“His life is his work and his work is his life,” notes Aerin Lauder, a close friend and associate. “You see that in his home, his love of pattern and package and texture; it translates into everything he does. He’s definitely more is more.”

That’s for sure.

“Less is bore,” declares Donald Robertson, roving creative director of the Estée Lauder Companies, of his boss’s style. The prolific illustrator, known as the “Andy Warhol of Instagram,” created a Dita Von Teese–themed wallpaper for one of Demsey’s powder rooms, and his whimsical artwork is sprinkled throughout the house. “He’s a fearless kid with a job and a credit card,” says Robertson. “Imagine a four-year-old with really good credit.”

As for that Willy Rizzo sofa, what would the late C. Z. Guest think of its being the design inspiration for Demsey’s home? “My mother adored John and would get a kick out of him having this beautiful sofa in his house,” says her daughter and another Demsey friend, Cornelia Guest. “Especially since he got it from his parents—and I always took all her furniture. Great minds think alike!”

Meanwhile, has Demsey planted a stake in the ground for good? “As long as I can continue walking up the stairs, yes.”

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How the self-care craze has seeped into home design

The first image that came to mind was probably a sandy beach, or an exotic location. It likely wasn’t your master bathroom or bedroom.

Continue reading How the self-care craze has seeped into home design

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