Hello dear readers, today it’s time to travel back to my home country – particularly to New York City where I spent a lot of time… A city that opened me up to art, pastrami, theater, the food truck culture before it became trend, interior design (and partying very late back in the day at Webster Hall). A place where I worked freelance for TIME Inc. and Conde Nast for years and later, where I returned to work on my first book Decorate.
When the book and I went on tour across the country, New York is where I wrapped up before flying back home to Hannover – and where my friends and fans kept me signing books at Anthropologie. New York is also where taught my first business and creative workshop with my wonderful friend Leslie Shewring. We rented a loft in Soho and just did our thing and it was really something cool back in 2012.
NYC is where I made good friends and memories that will stay forever. It’s no lie, and a bit cliche, but I love New York! There is such a vibe in NY, I can’t find it anyplace else. And the food… And the shopping…
That’s why today I am so proud to share with you today this shop tour belonging to Michele Varian who has been on my blog radar for over a decade… In fact, I remember mentioning her pillows on my blog here back in 2006. It’s quite amazing how long I’ve been in touch with this special and talented lady.
Today I thought I’d share with you a chat we had recently and also her most recent shop tour (the last one I had here was shot by a freelance decor8 writer in 2012), to give you a big New York vibe today on the blog. I miss New York and it’s where my little boy keeps asking me to take him, so I’m trying to arrange a trip there in October. I think my 5 year old will absolutely love it there with all of the activities, boat rides, big buildings, museums… But I would love tips on where to take him if you feel like leaving a comment under this post!
So now let’s talk to Michele, who has so much to share (and show) with all of us for this exclusive tour and interview.
What is the concept behind your shop?
The shop started with me showcasing just my own designs, which at first was only decorative pillows, wall hangings and mobiles, which I was making in the back room of my first location.
Within the first year, I was carrying product from other designers that I knew, especially jewelry. Now, I’m in a much bigger space and have grown the collections that I design, as well as all other product categories: I now design UL-certified lighting, wallpaper, and furniture, in addition to pillows and home textiles.
I also now carry the work of over 100 other indie or emerging designers. Like myself, most of them have their own in-house or local micro-manufacturing operations, so we are all contributing to the worlds of design and creating local economic growth, which is very important to me.
Because I have no business partners, everything in the shop is something that I love and has a very distinct point of view – mine! I like creating an inclusive environment that my customers can buy into, no matter what their budget is. We have giant nails for $5, and we have furnishings that cost upwards of a few thousand dollars. I like being both accessible and aspirational.
How would you describe your personal style?
Eclectic is a very over-used adjective when it comes to design, but it is frequently used to describe my vibe. I like mixing things up, breaking rules and being the first to bring new design to the market. Sometimes it takes a moment for my customers to catch up to where I’m going, but they do, and they keep coming back for that unexpectedness.
Have you ever thought to open other stores and if so, where?
I think about opening other stores all the time. I’m currently looking at Brooklyn and considering stores in California, Texas, Toronto and possibly Detroit, which is where I’m from.
Where do your products come from (that you design)?
The products that I design are either made in my SoHo shop, which houses a micro-manufacturing studio, or within a few miles. My lighting fabrication studio – the one in the basement of my shop – is now UL certified, so my designs can be included in more commercial projects. We also get custom orders, and because the studio is so close to home, we really enjoy working on those and tweaking existing designs in special ways.
What is a trend right now that you love and support?
I’m really loving how many different, beautiful mobiles there are right now. I like them because they move, because they feel like something from nature but on the inside of a constructed space. They also shift the light around when they move, which creates a semblance of more sunlight. And they’re being designed, like we do, as lighting fixtures, but also in wonderful iterations with lots of other different mediums like textiles and metals.
What do you love the most about your shop?
My customers! Being a part of a community for nearly 20 years has created deep roots. While SoHo has changed A LOT, there are still a fair number of creative people here. Many who have been displaced by the ever-increasing costs of living here still stop by whenever they are back in the neighborhood, which feels like a constant reunion. (Editor’s Note: She has an ONLINE SHOP if you’re not in NYC anytime soon.)
What is challenging about being a shop owner?
Being open seven days a week means that I am pretty much always working – but fortunately, I love what I do!
Do you find social media helpful to your business? If so, why?
Social media is both a delight and a drag. It’s great to have a platform that reflects what is going on in the shop, but it is also an entire other job, which can be really taxing.
What do you use (for social media) to connect with customers and meet future customers?
I’m a fan of Instagram and Pinterest, which I guess is no surprise since they are both visually driven, so they’re great for showcasing design product. (Editor’s Note: You can follow Michele Varian on Instagram HERE.)
Are you inspired by your city and if so, why?
I love NYC. The best part is the concentration of incredibly talented and ambitious people. Both professionally and socially, the number or people here who are involved in art and design is amazing. Everywhere I go, I end up meeting people I admire.
What are 5 places in your city that you suggest for a tourist to visit for hotels and food?
For hotels, I’m partial to 11 Howard and The Crosby Hotel, which are beautiful and right near my shop in SoHo. They are both members of the Design Hotels group, so you know you’re in for a visual treat when you’re there. For food, the Lafayette block between Broome and Prince is amazing. We go to Ed’s Lobster, Sant Ambroeus, La Roso, Cafe Select and La Esquina at least once a week. I admit, I love my local establishments! These spots are all festive and neighborhoody, too.
Tell us how you imagine your business in 5 years, what are some goals?
I would love to have five retail locations across North America in the next five years, and have an even more comprehensive collection of my own designs. Being UL listed for my lighting, producing and manufacturing hyper-locally, and doing custom projects are all areas that ready my design practice for even more growth. Perhaps I’d even expanding into clothing!
Michele thank you so much, what a pleasure to be with you today here on decor8. I’ve really enjoyed catching up and I hope to see you in October since I will definitely stop by your shop. 🙂
(Michele Varian photos with permission)