West Elm: born in Brooklyn, now in Dublin
New York furniture shop with mid-century modern look comes to Arnotts
West Elm furniture available at Arnotts
West Elm, the hip furniture brand that has its flagship store under the Manhattan Bridge in Brooklyn, New York, has arrived in Dublin with a new concession in Arnotts.
Founded some 15 years ago, it brought a clean version of mid-century modern to a younger audience – those who didn’t have the time or indeed the desire to trawl filthy-dirty flea markets or garage sales to treasure hunt. The chain is owned by Williams-Sonoma, a cookware-focused mother company that also owns another beloved American home brand, Pottery Barn, and its offshoots Pottery Barn Kids and PBTeen, as well as lighting company Rejuvenation.
West Elm channels a Scandi cool look that is now evolving to something its creative director, Johanna Uurasjarvi, calls New Modern – which is really a paring back on the retro lines in favour of new materials.
The Finn has impeccable design credentials. The mother-of-three is from Hamina, a small town about 90 miles east of Helsinki and close to the Russian border, a place where the sea freezes over in winter and where Google has a data centre – its machinery hall designed by one of the country’s best-known architects, Alvar Aalto.
Uurasjarvi studied art and design at the Aalto University of Arts, Design & Architecture in Helsinki and then worked directing product design at the store Anthropologie – Urban Outfitters’ grown-up sibling.
During her time there, she also set up a fashion brand, Leifsdottir, that was sold in department stores such as Nieman Marcus, Bloomingdales and Nordstrom. Taylor Swift wore it, Sarah Jessica Parker was papped in her home turf of New York’s West Village wearing it and Melissa George wore it to New York Fashion Week. It mixed prints with clean lines and high-level craftsmanship but Uurasjarvi tired of fashion’s carousel, and when West Elm headhunted her she was delighted to change gear.
“Fashion changes so fast. People do not change the look of their home at quite the same speed.” The slower pace also dovetails into the company’s Fair Trade certified-furniture and sustainability ethics, encouraging collections that featured local and handcrafted products, and hosting community-driven, in-store events and collaborations.
It is its mix of natural materials and handcrafted collections from the United States and around the world that gives West Elm its covetability, a fact that shows in the 72 retail stores the company operates in the US, Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
West Elm’s design set up is impressive. Uurasjarvi leads a studio that creates everything from scratch using a 3D printer and a kiln to try and create new ceramic shapes and forms. Other ideas are conjured up by their crafts people in artisan factories. “Each season it’s like we’re making a movie and we have to build the sets for it,” she explains.
She and her team also have a mock store in which to play shop. “It is full of products and furniture that the design and merchandising teams play with to make sure we get the assortment right. Much of this is playing with scale and colour. It’s about playing with the product. I call them outfits but really they’re rooms. This is how we find the chair that will work in different situations; be it in the dining room, in a hallway or in a bedroom, as a clothes horse.”
The concession store at Arnotts, which opened on Monday, showcases much of the new range of large pieces and accent furniture. It will delight those of us who have admired the objects from afar but were perhaps too lazy to try and circumvent the fact that the stores UK set up won’t deliver to Ireland and that anything ordered from the States seems to circumnavigate the globe before getting here.
The lighting and textiles offer is particularly strong with silky bed linen an almost instant way to refresh sleeping quarters, she says. “You can bring in more colour and small ways, like a rug underfoot, can help bring together a whole new look.”
Some cool pieces include a Mongolian lamb-upholstered stool (€479), Martini, a bell-shaped side table (€199), and a tall and facet-based drinks table, really only big enough for one glass (€169), that is a delicious extravagance for the one-person home. Hand-loomed rugs, one in a midnight blue (€549) for a design that measures 152cm by 244cm, will look really rich laid atop a wooden floor.
There are great planters too. A white ceramic four-legged one (€179) or a more low-set black concrete design set on a brass-finish X-frame (€180).
At home she likes to buy art and the occasional coffee table to refresh its look. Those works that have fallen out of favour are hung in the kids’ rooms or relegated to her basement storage unit. Her eldest son, who is at college, usually gets the coffee table cast-offs so they’re repurposed rather than being thrown out.
There is plenty of white marble too, from big-ticket buys like the pedestal dining table (€2,199) to its smaller side table sister, elliptical in shape it costs €299. There are several dining chair styles too with prices starting from €299 per seat.
In lighting, the Flos-inspired Sphere is a simple elegant range of light with marble bases to keep them in position. The tall table lamp has a single round orb of light (€199) while the floor lamp version (€349) features a pair. “Decorating has become more uniform across the globe but you should still take time to enjoy your purchases,” she says.
The chain is also known for its cool collaborations. Last summer it was with the estate of artist and graphic designer Robert Rauschenberg. Salad plates and cushions and all bore some of his collages. “Sometimes we’re just approached by the estate – in this instance the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation reached out to us and asked us to collaborate.”
She and her team have just spent time at minimalist artist, furniture designer and architect Donald Judd’s house at 101 Spring Street. She says she’s already concepting spring 2019 so expect to see its inspiration trickling into collections in about 12 months.