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Calliope

NYC's newest design store is more than a retail space, it's an experience

by Hans Aschim
on 28 April 2015

When the digital world closes in, it's only natural to seek an analog oasis. Online shopping never includes the smells, sights and chance encounters that can make a shopping experience special. Calliope, Michael and Caroline Ventura's new West Village design outpost is far more than a therapeutic retail experience, though—it's an open-door living room where offerings new and old are not just bought, they're experienced.

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Walking through the sun-filled space, it's easy to feel at home. Vintage books line a custom-built brass and hardwood shelf complete with rolling ladder while plush couches beckon visitors to sit and enjoy a book twice their age. In many ways, the shop is a literal and figurative extension of the Venturas' home; in addition to meticulously sourcing the shop's inventory, the founding partners live two floors up. Also in the building is Michael's 50-person award-winning strategy and design studio Sub Rosa. Meanwhile, Caroline designs and produces her jewelry line BRVTVS (found in J. Crew, Shinola and other premium retailers) behind Calliope's grand sliding doors. Connected to the shop is And & And, an event space set to hold educational experiences for Calliope.

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"I am a collector of problems," Michael tells CH of his work with Sub Rosa. "People will often come to us with not a discrete brief, but a challenge they are trying to work through." One of those challenges is often creating a space that fosters community while bringing in a brand's interests or values. It's a matter of participating in the cultural dialogue, being a member of the community not just reporting on it. "For us we wanted to have a shop in the building that was a mouthpiece or a revolving door into the culture and the world that we're participating in," Michael explains.

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We love finding stuff and bringing it to other people. We're not buying it to hoard it, we're buying it to spread it.

The inspiration for Calliope started with a colorful duffle bag in a Moroccan marketplace. Caroline and Michael were driving across the country when they spotted the bags. They ended up with 14 of them with the intention of one day starting a store. It's this discovery and search that drives Calliope. "We love the act of hunting and discovering, whether that's in Amish country or a souk in Morocco, it doesn't matter," Michael says. "We love finding stuff and bringing it to other people. We're not buying it to hoard it, we're buying it to spread it."

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From one-off vintage coffee pots to '60s surf magazines, Calliope houses the eclectic spirit of flea market pared down to only the top highlights selected with a designer's eye. Along with pre-owned wares, the shop houses a wealth of new pieces and collaborative furniture. The Venturas have joined with makers near and far to create pieces that reflect their unique blend of mid-century modern and contemporary influences.

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Across all of the shops wares though, there'a common thread: the capacity to tell a story, or already well into one. "You can sometimes almost feel the history in a certain thing," Michael says. "That doesn't mean it has to be super old, it might even be a new product, but it feels like it has the potential for history. It has the potential to be something you'll hold on to for a long time." Like-minded brands such as Japan-via-Brooklyn's Postalco feel right at home alongside vintage records. "I'm often even hard pressed when I look around the space to know what's new and what's reclaimed. I hesitate to use the word 'heirloom' but stuff that will stand the test of time is what we've looked for the most."

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Aesthetics aside, both Caroline and Michael are aiming to create a place where experience and discovery come first. "Every time you walk in this place, we don't expect you to buy something," Michael says. "We want you to come in more often than you buy things. And if you want to just sit here and read it that's fine. If you want to take it home and buy it, that's fine too." In the future, the Venturas aim to carefully expand Calliope's original offerings with a focus on furniture.

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Collaborating at a more intimate scale, Calliope can maintain it's bespoke-like approach—something that the internet doesn't always foster. "The warmth that we are hoping to create here and the interaction—I don't know if that can be translated through the internet," Caroline says. "I'm much more interested in the person-to-person transaction and hearing about what someone wants. I like that interaction with the community, because ultimately I think that's what creates a community space, not necessarily just another cool store that's selling shit."

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Buying all the new and antique products for a store like Calliope, it would be hard to not redecorate one's own home with each season. Passionate antique hunters and collectors, the Venturas found themselves more attached to what they already owned and happily selling beloved items that were acquired for the store. "We want to be a depot that these things we buy pass through," Michael says, "but we're actually a lot less identified with holding on to stuff because the tighter you squeeze the more it slips through your fingers."

Visit Calliope at 349 W 12th Street in New York City's West Village to browse, buy or simply experience the store's unique vibe. Keep an eye out for upcoming Field Trip experiences including woodworking classes, indigo dyeing and more.

Images by Josh Rubin

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