ON the ROAD...Seattle
A French side chair upholstered with vintage velvet fabric
sits in front of a Federal-style dresser.
Home Decor Buyer, August 2000 -
Great Jones Home opened in Seattle four years ago and has quickly become
"a place where people like to be and hang out," says owner Sarah Kaplan.
It's not unusual for customers to wander through Great Jones Home on a
three-time-a-week basis, she says.
The 3,100-square-foot store is in a late 19th century former drapery factory
on the outer fringes of the downtown retail core. It has hardwood floors,
16-foot-high ceilings with exposed wood beams, brick walls and old tile in
the vestibule. Kaplan's Jack Russell terriers, Dexter and Ulysses, are there
to greet shoppers.
Great Jones Home incorporates elements of many of Kaplan's favorite
urban shops. French, English and American flea market pieces meld with custom,
slipcovered furniture, lamps, vintage pottery, home accessories, linens, bedding
"There's a common theme in every piece [we sell] old and new - a practical quality
and a lived-in spirit," Kaplan says.
Great Jones Home's clean, spare environment may at first glance seem to have broad
appeal, but Kaplan says, "in reality, it's a very narrow appeal, with a specific look."
While the store initially sold an equal volume of antiques and new merchandise, custom,
down-filled slipcovered furniture now makes up 75% of sales. Antiques, bedding and
accessories account for the rest.
Kaplan takes as many as 14 buying trips a year to Europe, the Midwest and East Coast.
She loves the January Paris gift show and is a regular visitor to the Brimfield Antique
Show in Massachusetts. This year's hot finds: vintage, painted garden furniture.
Many of the lines sold by Great Jones Home are exclusive to the Seattle market, including
Mike, Shabbay Chic and Dino Mark Anthony. Last year, the store opened an in-store shop of
fabric, wallpaper, lampshades and bedding from Cath Kidston Ltd., the first shop in the
Custom-made furniture is the top-selling product in the store.
The store actively works with approximately 60 to 80 vendors. Kaplan's strength is in
discovering new artists, manufacturers and shops in and Paris or elsewhere and convincing
them to sell to Great Jones Home.
"I go to shops or find people who don't wholesale and talk them into selling to us.
Sometimes it takes years. I'm probably wooing another 20 vendors right now," Kaplan says.
Because of the good exposure and tight relationships, Kaplan is fairly assured that some
of her smaller vendors won't sell to a competitor.
Her tireless pursuit of new items for Great Jones Home means Kaplan stays open-minded.
"I'll look at everything," she says.
Yet, while she feels a wide array of merchandise could sell in the store, the challenge
is sticking to the true character of Great Jones Home. Intuition is critical and Kaplan's
personality and lifestyle drive many of her buying decisions.
"I know immediately if something's right, because I know the customer," she says.
Kaplan and her partner Robert Aldrich are fashion industry veterans who earned their
pedigrees from companies like Neiman Marcus and Barneys New York. Aldrich is senior vice
president of sales for Armani Menswear. Their goal in starting Great Jones Home was to
run a business in a market ready for their aesthetic sensibility.
"At the time, home furnishings seemed more relevant to us, while fashion seemed to be dying
a slow death," Kaplan says.
Seattle, a place the two had visited frequently on business trips, had a perfect demographic.
A sophisticated taste level and increasing migration from other metropolitan markets.
Thanks in part to Seattle's robust economy, hot technology environment and quality of life
reputation, Great Jones Home has garnered a cult following nationally.
"It was our belief that this location would always be a destination. We're indebted to some
of our first clients who brought all of their friends here."
A second store
Great Jones Homes' success is fueled in part by its relational but low-key salesforce of five.
The selling culture is decidedly non-aggressive.
"I have an unbelievable staff that's totally committed to our aesthetic," Kaplan says. "But
this staff has very specific ideas." Kaplan admits that her "democratic" management
philosophy translates into a group decision-making process.
The next step for Kaplan and Aldrich is to open an East Coast location by spring 2001. They
are searching for a 2,000-square-foot location in Westport, Connecticut, to house the second store.
"At first, our vision was to have 10 Great Jones Homes," Kaplan says. "But you realize
that [being small] is what makes us special. We don't want to be a chain."
story by DEBRA PRINZING
photography by DANIEL LANGLEY