House & Home

August 29, 2014

West Elm reopens in KC with a focus on local, handcrafted accessories

They have been working with Etsy for a while doing pop-up shops in some stores, and felt like featuring handmade local products was a way to connect with the neighborhoods they are in.

Four years after closing its short-lived Leawood store, Brooklyn-based home furnishings retailer West Elm has set up shop on the Country Club Plaza.

It’s in the 11,000-square-foot space at 400 W. 47th St. that sister store Pottery Barn shuttered earlier this year. The two stores are subsidiaries of Williams-Sonoma Inc.

West Elm puts an emphasis on products that have clean, modern lines and are made of natural materials and influenced by midcentury design. Mix them up and you get a distinct urban loft feel. And that’s especially true now that it’s incorporating products made from artisans here and around the world.

Nicole Sutliff, spokeswoman for West Elm, gave me a tour of the store a couple of days before it opened.

It’s featuring its fall line right now, some of which won’t be in the store for long, she noted, because holiday decor starts hitting the floor in September.

The floor plans of the stores nationwide are pretty much the same: living room, dining room and kitchen merchandise in the front, bedroom and bath merchandise in the back. A design center with fabric swatches, a variety of drapes, lighting fixtures, side tables and other such items is along the side. Customers can schedule appointments with designers in-store or at their home and a designer will help them incorporate West Elm products into their existing decor.

But, Sutliff noted, the displays are all unique to each store and can change day by day, even hour by hour, as the staff gets the itch to move things around and even incorporate local art.

The day I was there, a large hoop with dyed muslin ripped into strips hung from the ceiling. Sutliff didn’t know where it came from. It had appeared sometime before she arrived at the store that morning.

One thing that’s new and different from the Leawood store is the emphasis on handmade artisanal goods.

Last year, West Elm made a commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative that it would purchase $35 million in handcrafted items from more than 20 artisan groups in 15 countries.

Merchandise includes artisan mirrors from Peru, rugs, bed linens and pillow coverings from Nicaragua, papier-mache animal sculptures from Haiti, capiz lamps and pottery from the Philippines, and woven rugs from India. According to its website, the retailer’s commitment will directly impact the lives of 4,500 artisan workers and 18,000 family members.

A set of shelves near the center of the store contains products from local artisans, including wall arrows made of reclaimed wood by Axel Co.; 2015 calendars hand-printed on cotton tea towels by 1canoe2 and porcelain hanging planters by Convivial Production.

West Elm contacted most of the artists after seeing their work on Etsy.

“We have worked with Etsy for a long time doing pop-up shops in our stores, and we felt like this was a really great way to connect with the neighborhoods we are in. We’re putting an emphasis on handcrafted, and this is an extension of that,” Sutliff said.

The items appear to be popular: several of them, including the kenichi throws from Happy Habitat by Karrie Kaneda, postcards by Hammerpress and tote bags by 2nd Story Leather, sold out in the first week. The store is reordering more.

The Plaza store is the 13th in the nation to work with local artisans.

“They called us and said they were aware of our work and that it would be a good fit, and we were over the moon about it,” said Carrie Kiefer, who co-owns Ampersand Design Studio. Her company has created custom-size prints of ampersands on chipboard to fit West Elm frames. “They’re one of our all-time favorite stores, so we were happy enough they were coming back, but to get to be in the store was icing on the cake.”

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