Reimagining the retail experience has been something we are deeply passionate about. It’s not enough to just have nice product, we are big fans of stores that offer more. That’s why when we came across Calliope in New York City, we knew we had it share it with you.
Not just your average home accessories store, Calliope is a place that hopes to build a community with its customers. Its relaxed store design, collected wares and fun initiatives (they organize artisan-focused field trips), makes it a truly unique and worthwhile addition to Manhattan’s West Village. We caught up with Calliope’s founders, Caroline and Michael Ventura to talk about what inspired them to create this space and what drives Calliope as a retail experience.
What was particular about the duffle bags that inspired a whole store concept around it?
We knew we had wanted a store before our initial visit to Morocco. That trip really solidified the idea of bringing beautiful things from our travels into our store. We were walking around a souk in Marrakech when we spotted these duffels and just knew they would be the type of item that brought a certain feeling to Calliope that we were after. It’s more than just a product that we sourced from a brand we loved. The bags have a bit of a story behind them, because we traveled with them for two weeks while we were in Morocco. And even then, we didn’t open Calliope for a few years later and the day we unpacked the bags and put them in the shop was just as exciting as the day we found them.
Did you have the proclivity to travel and shop, and more specifically to choose destinations based on what sorts of products you might find?
We’ve never travelled to a certain place just to shop for the store. Everything we carry that we have found on our travels is just that – something we found along the way. For us, the magic lies in finding things. If you go somewhere with the intention of bringing something back, it puts a certain kind of pressure on you that takes a lot of the fun away. We never want the items in our store to feel forced in any way.
How long did it take you to go from that initial purchase to starting Calliope?
We sat on those Moroccan bags for about three years before Calliope opened. This was a concept Michael and I worked on for a while and the bags were an early purchase in the grand scheme of things, but they never lost their appeal while they were waiting in storage.
Caroline, you work in jewelry, and Michael you are in marketing, design and strategy… why did you decide to open up a home decor store versus some other kind of retail experience?
What we do in our other jobs is sort of a red herring. We wanted to open a home decor shop because we’re passionate about interiors and we love the idea of helping others to find things that make their house feel more like a home. With that in mind, it was an easy choice to embark on a shop that would let us scratch that itch and collaborate together on something we both genuinely love.
Speaking of experience, in the NY times article you mentioned that you want the experience at Calliope to be fun. How are you cultivating that atmosphere and what sorts of mistakes do other stores make that don’t make it fun to shop?
Shopping can feel so serious sometimes. You go into stores that feel like you’re in a museum and you’re afraid to touch things. Those types of stores have their place, but we’re not one of them. Since we live above the shop, it was important that Calliope feel like an extension of ourselves and our home. We’ve made a space that feels cozy and comfortable, almost like an apartment. We want people to come over, sit on the couch, and hang out. Other stores with that intention certainly exist, but a lot of them lack that coziness to them and tend to feel a bit sterile. We sell nice things, but we don’t want to take ourselves too seriously.
Tell us more about the field trips you sell. What sort of artisan excursions do you offer?
We offer experiences that are all over the map. All of them are run by friends of ours who are really really good at what they do – apothecary classes where you can make a custom tincture, woodworking where you can learn the basics of making a toolbox, indigo dying 101, etc. Our favorite is a one-on-one astrology session. It’s the only one where you don’t get to walk away with something tangible that you made, but you leave with so much more understanding of yourself and the world around you – if you’re into that sort of thing.
How do you find the right pieces for your store?
Over time the details of the store have changed, but the general aesthetic hasn’t. We have a rule that we have to love what we buy. That doesn’t always translate to both of us loving EVERYTHING, and there have been a few times where we’ve disagreed on stuff. But ultimately, the fact that everything in the store has been carefully selected ties them all together.