West Elm opens its newest store today at 2929 Magazine Street. The 9,000-square-foot showroom is packed with furniture, rugs, drapery, artwork, lamps, linens, pillow covers and knick-knacks, the whole carefully and artfully arranged in tight groupings that bear the names of some of the home decor company’s franchise collections: Peggy, Rustic, Emerson and a dozen more.
It’s not the first national chain to hit Uptown’s funky main shopping street – Chico’s, Free People, Jamba Juice, Radio Shack, Whole Foods and others have all landed there before. This influx of major retailers has some observers questioning the survival of the iconic thoroughfare’s quirky personality.
But West Elm’s arrival is by no means a matter of the mall coming to Magazine Street, say its backers.
“Magazine Street is one of the best shopping streets in the world,” says Vanessa Holden, West Elm Creative Director and Senior Vice President. “When I first came to New Orleans in 2005, people were already shopping Magazine Street, using it as a design resource.”
Now Holden hopes that West Elm, an affordable home-design brand owned by Williams Sonoma, will continue the tradition of residents seeking one-of-a-kind finds in a store that caters to a multitude of tastes. If she had to sum up the West Elm esthetic in one word, she says, it would be “eclectic.”
“We don’t position ourselves as one-stop shopping for decorating,” Holden says “Few customers come in and say, I love that whole setting; I’ll take it all. It’s more a mentality of small updates. We’re here to help you tell your own story. However we do that.
“Discovery, across the street, is a great resource. And I’m happy to tell customers, ‘Hey, there’s a great Indian globalist store over there that might have what you want.’ We really think West Elm is overdue here. New Orleans is a cool market.”
The idea, Holden explains, is to fit in with the Magazine Street community, rather than the other way around.
“None of our stores look alike. This is an old filling station, and we haven’t stripped out this incredible ceiling. We’ve used a lot of reclaimed fixtures like old shutters and, in one room, a tin ceiling. We’re trying to be true to the city.”
Merchandise is tweaked to fit the zip code, too.
“Every store has a little different stock,” says Kendall Coleman, public relations director at Williams Sonoma. “For example, we have more bar carts in this store, because we expect those to be popular here. The Miami store might have more outdoor furniture.”
The NOLA West Elm store is one of nine nationwide that also carries goods by local artists, in a recent program called (what else?) LOCAL. So far, 11 Louisiana artists are being showcased, with mostly small gift items that range from a bywater bud vase by Haley + Ben and aromatic oils by Smoke Perfumes to Lion Heart Press’s plastic Yeaux Leaux party cups and BirdProject soaps.
“We can be a conduit between great local artists and a national market,” says Holden. Artist recommendations are encouraged at firstname.lastname@example.org, an email that is monitored regularly. Marketability and a good back story helps in the selection process, says Holden.
So do socially conscious ideas and environmentally friendly products: West Elm offers artisan products from across the globe, and advertises such green-friendly options as a reclaimed-wood table that’s certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
The New Orleans store is divided into broad sections – bedding in the back, the central Loft touting luxe goods and lighting in the heart of the space, furniture groupings and handcrafted global artisan goods in the front. A Design Lab to one side offers advice, samples and schematics for anyone looking for a little free decorating help.
Leather is doing well for the company, as are brighter colors and more textured surfaces. Many of the West Elm furniture pieces are not just about look, but function. The company’s signature Rustic coffee table, which conceals an array of storage spaces for small-house living, has been so popular that it has expanded into an entire line of space-saving pieces.
“There’s a kind of visceral quality about the brand,” says Holden. “It’s not just about the silhouette of a particular piece.”
Holden, for one, is excited by the idea of seeing such products in NOLA homes.
“I’m a big observer of the design community here. New Orleans is very vintage oriented, and people know the heritage and history of the design and architecture. They respect tradition, without being too reverent about it. It’s one of the reasons I’ve always responded to New Orleans.”
The West Elm grand opening takes place Thursday, July 24, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., at 2929 Magazine St.
If you’re wondering just what kind of store to expect, you might be able to glean a little from these “10 Things to Know About Us” published on the company website.
10 Things To Know About Us