Small stores make a big difference in personal style


With one-of-a-kind items from artisans, boutiques like Nest, above, or Home on Bishop, opposite (with owners Cody Ellison and Ken Valencia), can provide shoppers with unique ideas and accessories to demonstrate their own sense of style. / Photos by Arnold Wayne Jones.

By Jef Tingley

W hether you are decorating just one room or trying to furnish a complete house, the appeal of big box stores can be undeniable: They offer up a one-stop shop for everything from chaise lounges to tchotchkes (and even a lunch of Swedish meatballs if you so choose).

But bigger isn’t always better when it comes to design — especially if you are looking for stand-alone style.

And design experts agree that shopping locally isn’t just a means to finding that one-of-a-kind furnishing, it’s also a way to support small business and form a relationship with a vendor who has your aesthetic in mind when ordering new inventory.

“The biggest benefit of boutique shopping versus big box outlets for home accessories is the opportunity to build a relationship,” says Cody Ellison of Home on Bishop. “We get to know our clients and their individual taste and needs. We have become friends with many of our clients and shop with them in mind. You are [also] guaranteed to have pieces that are not mass produced, goods that are touched by human hands and oftentimes made by local artisans.”

Donald Fowler, manager and buyer for Uptown’s Nest, concurs. “We have been fortunate to count the gay community among those that have supported Nest from the very beginning,” he says. “We have seen them show strong appreciation for the kinds of goods we offer. That’s part of why shopping at smaller boutiques is so great. You are building a relationship with a store, not simply buying things. We become a family of sorts.”

Whitney Britton, co-owner of Simply Austin Furniture, agrees: “When you buy from an independent, locally owned business, rather than nationally owned businesses, significantly more of your money is used to make purchases from other local businesses, and service providers — continuing to strengthen the economic base of the community,” she says. “Where we shop, where we eat and have fun — all of it makes our community home.”

A room with your point of view

Whether you’re a design novice or a home décor pro, boutiques can also offer great insight for inspiration, trends and hard-to-find items. Stores like We Are 1976 in the Bishop Arts District sell custom-designed prints (both framed and unframed) to help transform blank walls into gallery spaces. Shops like Again & Again give a second life to vintage furniture pieces by adding new fabric and foam. Each boutique offers shoppers one more step to achieving the nirvana that is nesting Zen.

But with all these choices, buyers can be overwhelmed. To help people keep focused, Britton recommends keeping decisions simple.

“I always suggest you begin with the focal point of the room,” she says. “In the living room it would be the sofa. Even customers who may consider themselves devoid of style know what they like. We use the same philosophy when purchasing for the store. If I’ve got to look at it all day, I’d better like it!”

Ellison recommends a similar approach stemming from fashion.

“We recommend getting started by walking into your closet,” he says. “Look at the color and style choices you feel comfortable wearing, this is a great indication of what you are comfortable surrounding yourself with: neutrals or color, traditional or hip. But most importantly, buy what you love! It will always find a place in your home. Your living space should evolve and reflect what you are feeling at that moment, it’s all right to edit or add as you go. Your home should tell a story, one that reflects your individual style and personality.”

And the ending of that story doesn’t have to be “Made in China” or “As seen in every other house in America.”

It can be your own. Take a peek in one of the many surrounding boutiques, and who knows, you may never need to go big box again.

For the walls: We Are 1976, 1902 N. Henderson Ave., 214-821-1976 and 313 N. Bishop Ave., 469-248-2457;

For the furnishings: Again & Again, 1202 N. Riverfront Blvd., 214-746-6300. — Simply Austin, 401 N. Bishop Ave., 469-401-2021;

For the finishing touches: Home on Bishop, 502 N. Bishop Ave., 214-434-1421; — Nest Dallas, 4524 McKinney Ave., 214-373-4444;

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 19, 2013.