West Elm’s second Connecticut store officially opens in West Hartford’s Blue Back Square on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015.
By Ronni Newton
West Elm’s new Blue Back Square store is a feast for the senses, with inviting and eclectic vignettes arranged throughout the space and a mix of funky, industrial, classic, and whimsical furnishings and home accessories in styles and sizes – as well as price points – set to appeal to a broad market.
West Elm is owned by Williams Sonoma, Inc., but was launched in Brooklyn, NY, in 2002 and definitely retains that urban feel with many pieces designed for small-place living. “It’s based in DUMBO,” said Director of Public Relations Nicole Sutliff, who provided a tour of the new store. DUMBO stands for “Down Under Manhattan Brooklyn Overpass” and is a nickname for the neighborhood where West Elm still has its headquarters.
“West Elm sells a design-focused and consumer-related blend to appeal to different size families,” Sutliff said. “We never feel like we’re trying to define style, but rather are helping people find their own.”
“We have as many customers under thirty as we do over 50, and you’ll see that in our price points and styles,” Sutliff said.
Because West Elm is a seasonal brand, especially in terms of the decorative home accessory and giftware products, the store’s November opening finds it in holiday mode. Sections of the store are decked out in different winter and holiday styles, ranging from luxurious and glam to more traditional. You won’t find a lot of red and green, but rather modern wintry themes like whites and mixed metals, LED lights, and luxurious pillows and throws in a wide range of color themes.
“There’s a strong color story. We’re always playing with gray as a neutral, and then adding other colors like rose and mixed metallics,” said Sutliff. There’s also a section of the store devoted to blue tones. Sutliff said that the designers like to show how textures and patterns can be layered together, and how colors go well together. The design team will constantly change around the displays, to give customers new ideas.
“You can add to what you already have,” Sutliff said. Many of the accessories are affordable and priced at under $10, and there’s a wide range and choice of products. Glasses and dishes are sold individually, rather than as sets, to encourage mixing and matching and to allow for a colleciton to build up gradually.
“When people ask what differentiates us, we say it’s that all of our products are designed in-house, and we collaborate with artisans from all over the world,” said Sutliff.
Some of West Elm’s unique offerings include “martini” side tables, designed to be easily moved around a room. They offer a collection of “social animals” – ornaments modeled after famous Instagram pets. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of ornaments ($12 each), and social animal tea towels, are given back to the ASPCA.
“Another big part of West Elm is our consciousness movement,” Sutliff said. Many items are hand-crafted by artisans throughout the world. The social animal ornaments are made of felt by artisans in Nepal. There are vases from Peru. All of the rugs are hand-woven by artisans in their native countries.
“Just like in the food movement, people care about where a product is made, what’s in it,” Sutliff said. West Elm works with approximately 20 different artisans in 15 countries to bring their native hand-crafting to consumers’ homes, she said.
There are animal heads hanging on the wall in one section of the store, but they are far from hunter’s trophies. Sutliff said they’re made from paper-mach by a company called Caribbean Craft in Haiti. The animals change seasonally, too; in the summer there was a whale, Sutliff said.
Another trend that follows the food movement is a focus on “local” goods. West Elm began a focus on local artisans earlier this year, and has a special section in the West Hartford store devoted to Connecticut-made and Connecticut-themed goods. Those products include beer glasses that read “small state, great beer,” signs and cards from Hartford Prints!, soaps, and wooden wall art.
There are currently six local artisans represented in the West Hartford local collection. The stores themselves curate the collections, and it gives them more of an entrepreneurial approach, Sutliff said. They are also open to customer suggestions about local products that might be a good fit. “It’s a real way for us to learn more about the community and bring more artists in,” Sutliff said.
The heart of the store, Sutliff said, is the home stylist area. Stylists are available to go to homes, free of charge, and provide design advice. There is no obligation to purchase anything, and no charge for the service, Sutliff said. The styling area is also the place where you can see the products all together – like all of the rugs, and all of the lighting products – rather than arranged in vignettes.
The back of the store is the bedding area. West Elm isn’t so large that you’ll need a nap by the time you reach that section, but you’ll probably want to sink into some of the luxurious Belgian linen and other inviting bedding selections.
West Elm is located at 91 Memorial Rd. in West Hartford’s Blue Back Square. A preview party will be held on Wednesday evening and the store will be officially open on Thursday, Nov. 5. Store hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The first 300 customers on Thursday will receive a free “West Elm West Hartford” canvas tote bag.
Like what you see here? Click here to subscribe to We-Ha’s newsletter so you’ll always be in the know about what’s happening in West Hartford!