At times, living in Manhattan can become a bit chaotic – and it is at this moment when Muji feels like a breath of fresh air. So different from our busy and cluttered apartments, Muji is the epitome of minimalist class. There is no rhyme or reason to what items are carried and yet while there are a million trinkets to browse through, the atmosphere remains effortlessly crisp and clean. Everything is made in neutral colors and simple materials, and labeled with clear descriptions. After wandering around, I suddenly had the urge to go home and clean everything out of my closet and start fresh. The store has a calming and almost meditative effect on people. The vast variety of items includes furniture, clothing, home goods – and yet everything feels unified. Some of the hidden treasures can be found within the office supplies – pens that glide beautifully across the page and notebooks that rival moleskin for utility and sophistication, but at a fraction of the price. Even the clothes are in soft, soothing colors, but made from fine fabrics and sold at very reasonable prices. Step inside to escape the bustle of the city, and do not be surprised if you leave with a new toothbrush or a pair of slippers.
A dainty shop located on Extra Place - that little side street off of 1st Street where the Ramones photographed an Album Cover - Nalata Nalata features high quality décor sourced mainly from Japan. In the same way that Manhattan Sideways shares the stories of businesses on the sidestreets of Manhattan, Nalata Nalata, as their website explains, “is a retail experience founded on promoting awareness of the people and stories behind our curated lifestyle products. ”On my first visit to Nalata Nalata, I spoke with Angelique J. V. Chmielewski, who co-founded the business with her husband, Stevenson S. J. Aung. Originally from Alberta, Canada, Angelique came to New York to study fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology while Stevenson, her boyfriend at the time, fulfilled his masters in industrial design at the Pratt Institute. Nalata Nalata began as a website beautifully crafted to feature sections like Backstory, with write-ups on the brands behind the pieces, and Journal, detailing the journey and artistic endeavors through captioned photographs. In late 2013, Nalata Nalata opened in Extra Place as a pop-up store and, after falling in love with the spot, the owners decided to make it a permanent stay. Though functional in a traditional way, each product in the store contains intrinsic artistic and narrative values, many sourced from “multigenerational craftsmen who continue to refine their skill. ” Angelique first directed me to the porcelain Ju-Bakos, Japanese stacking boxes, which are traditionally used for food on special occasions. Representative of multilayered happiness, each box was crafted with a different glaze. Later, Angelique held up a glass terrarium box designed by 1012 Terra, a company based in Chiba, Japan that is focused on celebrating plant life. In the box was a dried flower reminiscent of the rose in Beauty and the Beast. “In order to preserve a flower, ” she explained, “pin it in the box and flip it upside-down. When it has completely dried out, it will be straight when turned upright. ”Though devoted to sharing the works of others, Nalata Nalata is cemented by the artistry of Angelique and Stevenson. From the custom-made cabinets to the slab roof ceiling, the two redesigned the entire interior of the store in the months before its opening, with the help of some additional hands. The carefully selected products perfectly complement the spare, bright space. The store's website also reveals a great deal of artistry, with each piece beautifully photographed, set to a white background, and matched with a whimsical remark and a few lines about its origins, making online shopping more homey and intimate. The wool blankets exclaim, “Cool nights, brisk mornings, frigid afternoons. Whatever weather the day may bring I’m a tried-and-true, dyed-in-the-wool cozy friend… Always by one’s side to provide warmth and comfort. ”Nalata Nalata is also working on their own line of products. One recent addition, the denim Ojami, bridges Japanese traditions and contemporary American design. Handmade in Kyoto, the Ojami are versatile pillows. Angelique and Stevenson enjoy using them as seats to “live low, ” but they also function as throw pillows. In the future, the couple hopes to get into more denim and hardware products, while continuing to curate objects they appreciate artistically and sentimentally. For now, Angelique says, “We are just happy to be here. ”
John Derian was described to me as “a hunter and gatherer” of sorts by one of his employees. His company is a treasure trove of fine delights. Here, one will find an array of textiles and furniture. John’s discerning, artistic eye does not stop at fine furnishings and fabrics, be sure to stop by next door at #6 to see so much more of John Derian’s collection.
Jung Lee has always had a vision. Starting in 2002, she and her husband began implementing this vision through their event planning business, Fete. But after years of helping folks optimize their celebrations, Jung decided to delve even deeper, opening a shop to display luxury home decor. There is no theme: traditional designs mingle with modern ones, and therein challenge more staid categorizations of items. The result is energetic and adventurous, but most of all beautiful to behold.
Angus Wilkie, who describes the location of his semi-hidden gallery, Cove Landing, as "squirreled away on 74th Street, " is no newcomer to the art world. His career had an unexpected beginning: whereas many people hope to one day have a gallery of their own, Angus started with an eponymous gallery on Grand Street. He showed me an artistic photograph of himself as a younger man, gazing out from behind the windows of his gallery with a large dog on the doorstep. During this time, he wrote a book on Biedermeier furniture. This book was part of the reason why he then got a job at Christie's for ten years in the European Furniture Department. Angus told me that his time at the famous auction house allowed him to "sharpen [his] teeth and work on other things. " He continued writing, penning a number of articles on decorative art. He knew, however, that he would one day return to having his own gallery. "I always wanted to be a dealer, " he shared. "Being a dealer is in my blood, somehow. "In 1997, Angus and his partner, architect Len Morgan, bought a building in Lyme, CT, and began renovating it. The town called the old building "Cove Landing, " which Angus decided was a perfect name for a gallery. In 2000, he opened Cove Landing (the art gallery) on Lexington Avenue. In 2013, he moved to 74th Street. Angus claims that most of his knowledge of furniture was learned through osmosis. "It's like learning a language, " he explained. It takes years of looking at different pieces to discover what they are saying - the little signs that furniture shows and the signals that the trained eye can pick up - and then share with a customer. In the anthropomorphic world of furniture, Angus is a true anthropologist. "I have a weird dialogue with objects... they reveal a real character and story to me. " Despite crediting his knowledge to his experience, it quickly became apparent that Angus was an avid reader, and seemed to have the learning of a true academic in addition to the skills gained through many years in the field. He told me stories of exhaustively researching different topics, both for his business and his own curiosity. "I love to know the history of materials, " he said with a smile. For example, he showed me a 1920s box made of shagreen, a material that comes from stingray skin. He was eager to know "What's the story of shagreen? " By reading everything he could get his hands on, Angus discovered that the first mention of shagreen came from the eighteenth century, when Turks would use it on weaponry. It then reached its heyday in the 1920s when Jean Michel Frank, the French interior designer, brought it into style - hence the origin of the box. Angus then wrote an article on the substance. His love of materials is obvious in his collections. Angus showed me around his October 2015 exhibition, called "Treen, " an old English word that means "made of tree. " The gallery was filled with utilitarian items such as snuff boxes, butter tubs, and other functional tools, all made from one piece of wood with no joinery. Some objects' purposes were obvious, while others were more enigmatic. There was an eighteenth century "priest, " a wooden mallet used for hitting fish on the head in order to kill them swiftly. My eye was caught by a beautiful piece that Angus informed me was an Anglo-Indian turban stand, as well as a clever folding swift for winding wool. "I like things that are slightly mechanical, " he commented. The last show at Cove Landing had been cheekily titled "Stoned, " and included work in marble, hard stones, and other geological materials. Although Angus does not get as much footfall on a side street, he relishes the opportunity that the space gives him to create more curated shows. He sends out beautiful cards to his followers for each new exhibit, which then leads to a "captive audience" of Treen collectors, or people who are simply curious about what the gallery is displaying in the next exhibit. Angus appreciates the fact that since the space is truly a little apartment, clients can see how the pieces look in a home setting. The main objective, however, is to sell the furniture underneath the decorative objects. He assured me that the way his gallery was currently set up, with curious Treen covering most surfaces, was not usual. "It is incredibly crowded in here, " he said with a slight frown. "I usually like a very spare, edited look. It is purposefully zen and open. " Despite Angus' disclaimers, I felt a sense of calm. Everything was arranged in a way that best displayed Angus' love, in his own words, of "silhouette of form. "
Before Lilia, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, discovered ALT for Living, she said to me that she had never considered that shopping could be an “experience. ” In fact, she revealed, that "For me, life is life and shopping is shopping, quick and painless - I go in, find what I need, and get out. But as I walked into ALT for Living, I felt as though I had entered a time warp. "ALT contains two little worlds - a coffee bar and a showroom - and they work with miraculous synchronicity. The cozy coffee bar, A Little Taste, serves as the storefront, and it instantly recalled to Lilia the old-fashioned cafes of Paris and Rome. The coffee beans are one-of-a-kind, hand-roasted by ALT Roasting CO. “You have to try the iced coffee, ” suggested Victoria, ALT’s Marketing Coordinator. She was right. It was rich, full, and flavorful, with frozen coffee cubes instead of regular ice cubes. What a treat. With coffee in hand, we were ready to take in the pièce de résistance of ALT for Living, the showroom, which caters to high-end interior designers, design firms, and architects. The space is an aesthetic feast, somehow both immaculate and inviting, pristine and meditative. Sitting down with Analisse Taft-Gersten, ALT’s creator and owner, we learned that she would like her customers to view ALT for Living as a full-fledged lifestyle experience. “It’s a one stop shop to help amplify your home and get a great cup of coffee along the way. ”Analisse started out as a model at age seventeen, which provided her with the opportunity to travel all over the world. She fell in love with Europe, particularly Paris. “I think I was an old Frenchman in a past life, ” she said with a laugh. Analisse went on to say that she developed a passion for interior design, and left her native California to seek out a new challenge in Manhattan. While working for an interior design company, she found her calling in sales, and took a leap of faith. She began ALT as a small venture in a temporary office space, then a small showroom in Soho, and finally ALT’s current home in the Flower District. Since every item is unique, the shop attracts a vast array of customers, from hip up-and-comers to the most established designers in the industry. In an effort to maintain a stimulating space, Analisse constantly changes elements of the shop's layout. She loves repurposing old pieces and making them her own. Her current favorite piece at ALT is a vintage rosewood desk by furniture designer Joaquim Tenreiro. What sets ALT for Living apart from other businesses that cater to interior designers is that one can truly lose oneself in the shopping experience. Within the coffee bar-showroom, shopping is no longer just shopping, but also an opportunity to visit Europe without leaving Manhattan.