Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Kelie Grosso of Maison Luxe - Interview






When Maison Luxe opened in Seattle, it caused quite a stir. Maybe it's the gloomy weather and the tragic abundance of North-Face-as-fashion that Seattle is known for, but design-y folks didn't have a lot of great options in Seattle until a few stores, like Maison Luxe, hit the scene in recent years.

I met Maison Luxe owner Kelie Grosso on a visit to Maison Luxe two weeks ago. When I visited her store was (of course) amazing, yet you could tell she was a little picked over from the holidays - - a quality problem, for sure. People can't get enough of her mix of Oly Studio furniture, her gorgeous mirrors, and her miscellaneous vintage treasures.

Kelie has our dream job, so I asked her to let me profile her for Decorno. She was kind enough to share everything about opening her store & chasing her dream. In the profile below, she also dishes on the biggest decorating mistakes people make, while also sharing her top 5 essential design rules.

You have the dream job of probably every design blog reader out there. I imagine a lot of readers would love to have a store and wouldn't even know where to begin.

So when did you start Maison Luxe?

I signed the lease for the shop on Valentines Day 2006, and Maison Luxe opened in April 2006. Signing the lease was the most nerve wracking experience of my life! The idea for Maison Luxe began when I interned at a great interiors shop in Del Mar, CA (Country Downs Interiors) while studying Interior Design in San Diego. The owner, Sandra Gordon, really became my mentor and opened my eyes to the world of owning a business. She has such great style; it was easy to see why people loved her aesthetic and the shop. She was a huge inspiration for me as a single woman as well, she had a successful business, a family, and people really respected her in the business community. So, Sandy if you're reading this - I owe it all to you!

And when did you actually make the decision to start the shop? And what were the first steps you took to do it?
I decided I would open a shop a long time ago, it was just a matter of time. Really, the tipping point was seeing the "For Lease" sign in the window of what would become Maison Luxe. I drove past the space every day on my way to work, and couldn't stop thinking, “What if I did it?" And so, here we are 2 years later. I had never owned a business before, so everything was new to me. I spent many weeks building a perfect business plan, and I swear that is the most important thing to do. Have a plan. Have two plans, incase the first one doesn't work out! I had to interview for my space, as there were several people who wanted it - and I approached the interview like a design presentation, I had boards with finish samples and paint chips (the now famous Maison Luxe blue) and furniture images, vendor lists, price lists, etc..everything I could think of to bombard them with information and sell them on my idea. After the interview I had a martini, and crossed my fingers....and waited. A week. When they finally called and said I had the space, I nearly died - I was leaving a client meeting and burst into tears in my car. It's amazing how in a moment, everything can change.

What kind of planning did you put into it? D id you ask other store owners or anyone else for advice?
I began poring over every design magazine, showroom, and retail store I could find, looking for great things to bring into the shop. I went to Palm Springs, I went to L.A, I went to New York, I took a million photos of beautiful shops everywhere I went. If I saw a great textile or pillow or candle, I called the vendor and got a catalog. I looked at the details in design books and thought, "Where can I get that yellow vase?" I started noticing that even though a shop may look full, often it's full of things that aren't new or interesting or relevant - so I decided to keep it simple and edit. I only bring in the things I love, things that I would have in my own home.

Was opening the store easier or harder than you imagined, and why? What surprises did you encounter?
Harder!! I had never owned a shop before, so really didn't imagine all the physical work that went into the actual opening of the store. Who would have thought that every single item, from the biggest sofa to the smallest lip balm would have to be unpacked INDIVIDUALLY? And that each box contained another, smaller box, and after you dig through the packing peanuts to find your vase or lamp, you would then have to clean it, make a nice tag with a ribbon for it, and then survey the wreckage of all the packing materials that surround you. I had not thought of the hours, days, it would take to simply unpack everything once it finally arrived! Thankfully I had a plan (2, actually - just in case) of where everything would go in the shop once it arrived, so that was a saving grace. I lived on caffeine during this period and rarely saw the light of day except through the taped up windows on my shop. I made hundreds of trips to the recycling dumpsters, had bleeding and dry hands, had not seen any friends in weeks, and thought I had made a huge mistake. I was exhausted and thrilled at the same time. Mostly exhausted. But you know, looking back I wouldn't trade it for anything because it was much harder to sit at my desk in a cubicle wondering "what if?" than it was sitting on the floor at 2 a.m. in my very own shop unpacking boxes! I felt (and feel) lucky to be here every day, exhausted or not.

How would you describe your clientele?
I would describe our customers as sophisticated and savvy, often they come in with photos from design books or magazine pages torn out saying "I want that sofa!" and you know what? Often it's the greatest sofa that I totally missed when looking through the same magazine! They inspire me to keep it fresh and keep the surprises coming in the shop. And so many of my customers have become friends, I think the shop feels like a huge living room and people love to hang out here. We get all the news of who's having babies, who's engaged, who's moving or going on vacation. I've come into the shop and found customers sitting and chatting with each other, making new friends. Often you'll find customers sitting on sofas during a rainy Sunday afternoon having a nice chat or petting our shop dog, Zoe. It's great, I love that people feel so comfortable in the store!

I get a great mix of retail and design customers - often designers shop here for vintage and one of a kind things, and for last minute accessories or floor samples. The biggest surprise is that the Maison Luxe blog and website have created a whole new client base. We've been shipping furniture to as far away as Connecticut and New Mexico!



What do you love the most and dislike the most about having your own business?
I love that I get to come to work every day and be in this amazing building, have this beautiful store, have my dog here, and see how excited people are when they come in for the first time. I love that people come in with pages torn out of magazines or paint chips in their handbags - I can totally relate to that. The best part of having the shop, really, is knowing that I'm making my own dream come true - not someone else's. It's all mine....and that is also the hardest part.

Have you ever encountered a real crisis of confidence either in a designing job or with your store? What was it and how did you get back into your groove?
Yes, right after the shop opened I had a terrible and unexpected experience with a client - it took me by surprise, financially and emotionally it was a shock. I had many sleepless nights, thinking that I had been taken advantage of and that what was supposed to be a great project turned out to be the worst experience ever, etc. Finally, I realized that it really wasn't me - I was being honest, I was doing what I said I would do (and more) and ultimately that's all you can do. Looking back, I would say that you have to trust yourself and know that you really are doing the best you can, and then move on if it's not enough. And then you just keep going…. What is that phrase? If you're going through hell, keep going!

Where do you see yourself and your store in 5 years? Do you have another dream store or business you want to open?
The store is evolving all the time, it definitely has a life of its own. I would like to say that in 5 years I'll have a second location - possibly in Portland? The temptation is to keep growing, but there is something to be said for keeping it small and having a great time and growing what you have. I enjoy the shop, I enjoy being here every day, I enjoy the customers and the products and want to continue to be involved in all aspects of running the shop. For me, there is nothing better than the discovery of a new designer or product, or finding the perfect vintage piece for the shop. And my dog, Zoe, gets to come to work with me everyday...what's better than that?

Who are your design idols?
Kelly Wearstler (I know, she's everywhere...but she is brilliant)
Vicente Wolfe
Ralph Lauren
Kelly Hoppen

Who are your retail idols (stores you think just do an amazing job both here in Seattle and wherever else your travels take you)?
Dovecote (Westport, CT)
Chapman Radcliff (L.A.)
Great Stuff (Seattle)
Marie Mason Apothecary(L.A.)
Downtown (L.A.)




What do you think is the "next big thing" in design/decor?
I think the next big thing is that less really is more...less fuss, more detail. Less planning, more living. Less pattern, more texture. A shift to the simple and elegant, a more thoughtful approach. I love to see a simple linen sofa with great lines, paired with a clean mirrored top table. An antique table paired with a simple chair, maybe upholstered in raw silk. I really think that a little drama goes a long way, in life and in design! Keep it simple, and let the details shine.

What is the #1 decorating mistake you think the average person makes? What five "laws" of decorating would you tell a young person just starting out in their first apartment (what to save on, what to splurge on, what to buy first, etc etc)

We are all guilty of this one - buying furniture that is cheap because we need something...right now! I've done it, and always regretted it. The most important thing you can do in decorating is to take a thoughtful approach, chose quality over quantity, chose pieces that will last and that you love. It's easy to make a fast decision because you want your home to be "done", but I always find it so much more interesting and fun to find pieces over time, letting your home evolve as you do.

Five rules of decorating:
1. Buy the best pieces that you can afford. Take the time to do research on how something is made so you feel great about your investment.
2. Don't buy knock-offs. There is nothing worse than a fake Eames chair, because the people you're trying to impress will know the difference immediately.
3. Start with a neutral color palatte and add color and pattern with accessories. It's so much easier to update your pillows and drapery when you own a gorgeous, neutral sofa.
4. If something stays in your mind, an antique mirror, a vintage lamp, whatever it is - buy it! Don't wait for that special piece to come around again, because it probably won't.
5. Skip overhead lighting and use lamps whenever possible. Always with 40 watt lightbulbs. Nothing more, nothing less.


You can meet Kelie yourself and shop her amazing store, Maison Luxe, here.
Maison Luxe
1123 1st Avenue
Seattle, WA 98101
t. 206.405.2828
f. 206.405.2888

And you can stay up-to-date with her latest finds on her blog:
maisonluxe.blogspot.com

21 comments:

E. P. said...

I really enjoyed reading this! Grat Q&A, thanks!

Decorno said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Decorno said...

Yay! Glad you liked it. :)

She's got such a cool store and such cool style I just had to pick her brain about it. She was a real trooper offering up all that info.

In(side) the Loop said...

love this post! It was a wonderful read and she's such a lovely person.

Anonymous said...

and you're a gifted interviewer, Deccy.

xo

Me, Myself, & I said...

I plan on being in Seattle in March...I must check this place out! It looks like a great store And what a great interview.

Suzy said...

Great profile, wish I could visit her shop now!

SGM said...

Loved reading this--esp liked the question about confidence crisis.
Wish Kelie would open a store in Denver!

LondonCalling said...

Great post! And she was so candid with you. Inspiring!

jamie meares said...

this is all i want out of life. but i just keep thinking "low margin" - and i worry i won't be able to pay the mortgage?

Paola said...

Thank goodness for some decent interiors shops in Seattle....

Great interview!

Brilliant Asylum said...

This is such an inspiring interview. It is nice to know that behind a perfect storefront, there is not only passion, but persistence (and anxiety and joy). Thanks for sharing.

Habitually Chic said...

What a great interview! I think it should be required reading for anyone with a dream of opening their own store. I know I certainly learned a lot!

Wagner said...

Her taste is great. And I LOVE her website! I bought one of those amazing Lilly mirrors! Thanks!

euroantiquer said...

Nice interview! and I love her advice about not buying cheap knockoff furniture AND the fact that her dog Zoe goes to work with her:)
Thanks! nice job!

design dna said...

fabulous interview!

Erin said...

as a fellow Seattle-ite I heart Maison Luxe and really loved the interview. It only makes me want to shop there more! I hope to see other profiles and see how they compare.

Fab blog, btw. Found you through my BFF at Coco+Kelley

Patricia Gray said...

What a great interview. I will be sure to visit her store the next time I am in Seattle, my very favourite city!!

katiedid said...

Thanks for the info! I have bookmarked her site. Love it.:)

beth said...

Loved this post and the one on your house :)

Alkemie said...

Again, what an Amazing interview! It gives great inspiration to those of us who still have the dream. Thank you!

Karen