Friday, September 7, 2012

Hand-crafted design in a Pinch!

Like every design enthusiast, there are few things I appreciate more than a well-curated shop brimming with luscious homewares, beautiful jewelery, and hand-crafted objets d'art. The homogeneity corporate America has brought to retail megastores has only stoked the popularity of independent, unique shops dotted around the country. Discovering one can feel like stumbling upon the proverbial hidden gem. If you're like me, forever on the hunt for the next shot of retail inspiration, look no further than Pinch Gallery in Northampton, Massachusetts. I had the good fortune of interviewing Jena Sujat, owner and creative powerhouse behind Pinch Gallery, to learn more about her business and how she thinks about design. Read on to find out!

{Pinch Gallery in Downtown Northampton, MA}

{Jena Sujat, owner of Pinch Gallery, in Northampton, Massachusetts}

PBC Style: Tell me a little about your background and how you came to love design.

Jena Sujat: I was born with a good eye.  I think a sense of design was just there and it’s been growing all along.  I’m analytical and have a strong sense of symmetry, asymmetry, and composition.  I don’t know where it came from but I’ve been fortunate enough to follow my intuitions and my interests to a career that has developed my innate sense of design.  I am lucky to be able to choose and display and promote, talk about, and sell the work of over one hundred talented artisans.

PBC Style: What about the early years--first getting interested in design? 
JS: In my room, as a ten year old, I  remember consciously setting up compositions that appealed to my mathematical, orderly mind, purposefully arranging my bookshelf with favorite things I thought were beautiful – books, a horse statuette, a little golden trophy – all placed just so.  I took such care setting up my bedroom that, in hindsight, I can see now I was practicing, creating vignettes with those favorite things, making coherent a collection.  I could walk into my room and tell in an instant if anything had been moved, even a quarter of an inch.  Now setting up displays and creating compositions is what I do for work.  I can enter Pinch and immediately know what’s been moved or sold.

{A lovely, rustic window display at Jena's shop}

PBC Style: Was there someone in your early life or family who influenced your sense of style and/or career choice?
J.S.: I think a sense of style and a “good eye" is something I just have.  As a teenager, I was known, for better or worse, for putting together interesting and fun (perhaps strange to some kids) combinations of clothes.  I wore a new outfit every day not because I was constantly buying new things, but because I loved combining different skirts and shirts, pants and tops, dresses and sweaters.  And of course, shoes.  It’s still something I do.

PBC Style: You've got to love fashion experimentation! Did you study design or retail in school?

J.S.: I was actually a math major.  From a young age I recognized my left-brain leanings; I also recognized my right brain, intuitive instincts and I wanted to find a way to combine the two. As well, I knew I wanted a career that I loved, not just a job. When I read Frost’s poem, Two Tramps in Mud Time, at age fourteen, I found my poetic rational and a justification for my hopes.  I can still recite the last stanzas by heart:

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one sight.

Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play is for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future’s sake.

When I left a high paying corporate job as a project manager in systems analysis, it was because I could no longer “yield to my separation;” I wanted to “unite my avocation and my vocation…” It began with the naïve thought, “maybe I should own a store.”

{Interior of Pinch. Matte black pendant light fixtures were co-designed by Jena Sujat and Jason Hartong of Hartong International.}

PBC Style: How did you decide to take the plunge? And was that a fairly smooth process, or did you face some fears?

J.S.: After quitting that job,
-->I got a retail job, which morphed into one with some buyer’s responsibilities.  Three months later I was lucky enough to be offered another job as a full time retail buyer – what I called a dream job.  For four and a half years I bought the tabletop, stationery, gift books, garden, bedding, and nightwear for the biggest department store in Northampton.  After the store was sold, the new owner laid me off  to reduce payroll costs. That very same day, the woman who had originally hired me, my mentor, called and told me the owners of Pinch wanted to sell. So, that first day of being laid off, I was 90% sad and in shock and 10% happy and excited.  Pretty soon, I was 100% happy and excitedly working full steam ahead to buy Pinch.  I’m sure I had fears, apprehensions, worries, but no doubts.  Nothing was stopping me.  It was a fait accompli.
PBC Style: Tell me about Pinch and its evolution over time. 
-->One of the reasons I was interested in Pinch, founded in 1979 by three women - ceramic artists - was because of its history of selling American crafts.  When I bought the business in 2006 I knew I wanted to restore it to its original vision. I also recognized areas where I could make a difference.  By this point, confident of my “good eye,” I knew I could find and introduce artisans with younger, fresher work.  Since I wanted to be careful not to alienate the customers who had been shopping at Pinch for decades, I made slow change.  After six years however, I’d guess that 70% of the artists in the shop have been brought in by me and about 94% of our work is handmade.  The store is younger, fresher, and more modern while carrying forward the ancient traditions of craft.
After some cosmetic changes to the exterior in 2009, this year, I did some of the major interior renovations I’ve been thinking about for a long time.  I took up carpet and installed dramatic Acacia wood floors.  Working with designer Bettina Archer and carpenter Jeffrey Morin I added a redesigned, sleek counter/register area as well as elegant lighting and new, repurposed industrial pieces for display.  Now, separate from the merchandise, the store’s style is also more modern and fresh and the beautiful floors are their own work art.

{A beautiful array of handmade ceramics, bowls, and artwork at Pinch.}

PBC Style: You've made some major changes! What’s the most interesting part of your job?

-->I have two favorite parts of my job.  One deals with doing displays and windows.  The other is the people – both the customers and my wonderful staff.

We might get a delivery of pottery or a new collection of jewelry, or accessories.  And it’s so exciting; we begin to arrange it and then one decision leads to another and pretty soon we’ve moved everything around and rearranged the whole store.  It’s exciting to set up an artist’s work; we love to juxtapose it with another artist’s, to be able to appreciate each individual piece, and of course to make compositions with it. It’s so satisfying to see how happy a customer is with the particular piece he or she has chosen to purchase.  I always feel, “I’m so glad you love it, I’ve loved it too.”

My other favorite thing is the people: the artists I work with; my loyal customers; and of course, my staff.  The best part of owning my own business is that I get to choose who I work with.  Although each staff member, be she a regular or an intermittent pinch-hitter (no pun intended), is as unique as a piece of pottery, as a curator I’m also aware of how we will work together.  I’m happy to work many hours a week with people I’ve grown to love.  We like each other (a lot!) so going to work rarely feels like going to work.

PBC Style: What do you think your customers respond to about Pinch?

-->People respond to the aesthetic of the store, to the work itself, to the fact that the work is handmade and the artists’ hand is visible, and, that it is unique.  I think they also appreciate how thoughtfully the collections are curated and how harmoniously the collections work together.  Our craftwork is accessible; while we have pieces that sell for hundreds, it’s also easy to find a beautiful, unique handmade piece that is special and costs less than one hundred dollars.

People also respond to the staff.   We’re friendly, knowledgeable, and helpful without being intrusive or “sales-y.”  The atmosphere in the store is positive and friendly and confident -- an atmosphere I like to think I foster by respecting and trusting my staff and including them in the decision making process in many areas.

{Jena's colorful, modern living room. Photo by Ilana Panich-Linsman.}

PBC Style: I’m guessing creating the store’s look is different from decorating your own home. What elements of the store carry over to your own place, and what’s different about your style?

J.S.: Over time, my personal style, culminating in the renovation of my own home, has become more modern, simple, clean, with a more subtle palette – sort of modern meets industrial salvage – and includes my own collection of personally culled pieces of pottery from Pinch.

Now, with the renovated and more streamlined Pinch, the style of the store is more akin to my own.  Yet I want to be very careful about going too modern, too simple, too innovative.  I strike a balance, go carefully, because I take very seriously that one of my responsibilities is not only to introduce but to also to educate about design.

{Jena's screened porch has a fantastic treehouse vibe!}

PBC Style: What kind of design and/or interior décor do you find most inspiring?

J.S.: I’m inspired by modern, innovative design that invites wit, ease, and a sense of  timelessness.  I’m excited by a new idea and love the feeling of seeing something put into effect for the first time.  And, although I seek the innovative, I also am aware of the difference between the trendy or fashionable and that classic essence which will last over time.

{Another view of Jena's porch.}

PBC Style: Where do you look for inspiration for the store, your own style, or whatever the job at hand requires?

J.S. I go regularly to craft trade shows and fairs. I look at design magazines and find inspiration in other stores--especially when I travel. A recent trip to the Southwest filled me with inspiration as do my frequent trips to Brooklyn to stay friends. The landscape in the Southwest is so vast and the colors are both subtle and rich. It was thrilling to see the ancient craft traditions, the ancient patterns, and designs interpreted and reinterpreted--always fresh. Wandering around Brooklyn's neighborhoods, poking into the shops feeds me aesthetically and I find so many good things to eat that inspire my own cooking. 

PBC Style: Thank you for taking the time for this interview. Your shop is a treasure in Northampton. I wish you continued success! 
Visit the Pinch website to learn more about Jena and her shop.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Clawfoot Bathtubs: Black vs. White

I've got a lovely clawfoot bathtub in need of a makeover, but I haven't been able to decide what color to paint it. After combing through a lot of design resources, I've finally narrowed it down to my two favorite possibilities--glamorous black or classic white. Here are some examples:

{This black tub in the middle of such a great bathroom makes for a dramatic place to relax and soak.}

{The black tub sharpens this otherwise plain bathroom. The plant and wood board add an earthy touch.}

{The light in this bathroom is warm and bright enough that a black tub doesn't tilt the room toward cool.}

{This tub looks crisp and sophisticated with its cute black feet.}

{This bathroom was worshipped by many when it was published in Domino Magazine. Can't you see why? To me, it looks like a wonderfully bohemian, French bathroom with those fantastically imperfect, warm floors, and minimal vibe, not to mention the great fixtures! I'm not sure how that rainshower head works without a curtain, but hey, it's all about the aesthetics, baby!}

{Then there's the question of whether to paint the feet white or leave the whole base black, as I'm inclined to do... The feet on the above tub are particularly ornate.}

{The fixtures on my tub are brass, and look equally well with black or white... Hmm. P.s. The above shot is another view of the coveted Domino Magazine bathroom I rambled on about a few images above.}

 Now that you've gotten a healthy dose of lovely black tubs, here are some classic white options:

 {This scene looks soapy-clean and inviting.}

{I love the rich combination of dark walls with a crisp, white tub. But I don't think I want to go dark with my bathroom because my living room walls are dark chocolate. So I'll need to put the glamour into the bathroom in some other way...}

{That rustic urn and the scale of the pieces in the space add an interesting twist when paired with this white tub.}

 {This simple bathroom looks great with the added touch of an all-white clawfoot tub.}

Help!! Which to choose?? 

Custom Portraits By Painter Brian Justice

Every interior design fan knows the importance of collecting interesting artwork and images to decorate the walls. Many blogs and magazine suggest tearing images out of magazines and putting them in ready-made frames for quick wall decor. While that's a fast answer, it lacks character. Unless artwork is collected over many years or inherited, it is often somewhat impersonal. Luckily, portraits can be a wonderful way to add depth to an art collection.

        In much earlier periods of history, only the elite would commission an artist to paint a portrait or family portrait. Museums are filled with paintings that capture not only a specific person and his or her psychology, but through clothing, gestures, and setting, even the time period was conveyed for subsequent generations. In our age, when technology has made so much disposable, the value in slowing down and capturing the moment in a rich way can't be over estimated. Enter Painter Brian Justice. He creates colorful oil paintings customized to your specifications to bring that personal touch to your home decor, which can become an important part of your family history, whether casually or formally. Here are some examples of his work:

{Artist Brian Justice}

PBC Style: Tell me a bit about your background and what led you
to become a painter.

Brian Justice: I have an art degree but I did nothing with it for 20+ years. I was, and still am, in advertising/marketing/PR (I'm VP of Marketing for BCN Communications in Chicago). About 7 years ago I took a figure painting class at the Art Institute of Chicago and I was the star of the show! I had never really painted with oils before--I had concentrated on drawing and watercolors. I ended up selling a few pieces, and a gallery here in Chicago became interested (The Leigh Gallery). Ever since then I've managed to maintain a fairly thriving side business in art.

PBC Style: Which artists have most inspired your work?

BJ: My inspirations, since I enjoy painting people so much, are Sargent (naturally), Norman Rockwell, the Wyeths, and JC Lyendecker. I am also very inspired by another local, Chicago based artist, Frank Fruzyna.

PBC Style: Tell me a bit about your process and how you like to work.

BJ: I generally work from photos. If I'm creating a pet portrait I work from a photo or collection of photos provided by the client. If it's a portrait of a person, I like to take the photos myself, and I usually work from several. I also like to to place people in an environment... in their homes, with a pet, etc.

PBC Style: What do you typically charge when commissioned for a small portrait?

BJ: Pet portraits are $175, which includes a frame, and 5"x5" people portraits are $250, and that also includes a frame. Price upon request for larger paintings.

To see more of Brian's work, check out his Facebook page.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Color By Kelly Wearstler

Designer Kelly Wearstler has many talents, but one of the things I admire most about her is her knack for fearless (and spot-on) color combinations. While browsing through her blog, My Vibe My Life, I decided I'd cull some of the images that caught my eye for a post about color. If you're craving a strong dose of color and want something far from beige, feast your eyes on what's to come:

 {This might be one of my favorite dining room scenes ever. Truly awesome.}

I don't use the G-word lightly, but when it comes to color and color combinations, I think Kelly Wearstler qualifies as a genius! I see and appreciate colors in a whole new way when I see them through her eyes.

Outdoor Living, City-style

The April issue of Architectural Digest featured the amazing renovation job of Alfredo Paredes and Brian Goldfarb's East Village Duplex. Paredes is an Executive Vice President at Ralph Lauren, and it shows. What really caught my eye, though, was the outdoor space of the apartment. Outdoor living space is a luxury in any city, but particularly in Manhattan. And this couple doesn't have just a tiny strip, they've got a nicely proportioned terrace! Take a look:

{The church view from the terrace gives the space an almost old world feel while the rustic-chic style of the furnishings say organic modern all the way.} 

{The snappy red umbrella provides a hint of shade when guests need it. What a great spot for a summertime dinner party!} 

{The combination of trees with various lush shrubbery transforms the terrace into an urban garden oasis.}

{I love the way the kitchen opens up easily to the terrace, through lovely french doors. Snipping a few herbs to use while cooking couldn't be easier!}