27 Howard St., New York City
Michele Varian’s home decor store is filled with treasures, including jewelry from 70 designers who share her passion for handmade objects of all kinds
At first glance, it might seem strange to sell fine jewelry alongside brass and copper chandeliers, silk throw pillows, and porcelain tableware. But the minute you walk into Michele Varian’s chic SoHo shop, the product mix makes perfect sense. Varian, a Detroit native who began her career in fashion before segueing into textile, lighting, and wallpaper design, sees jewelry as a natural complement to the other items on display. “Everything in the store is something that I personally chose,” she says, “and jewelry has always been a big part of the mix.”
A downtown girl since moving to New York City more than 30 years ago, Varian opened her first shop “almost on a whim” in 2001, when the wholesale market for her pillows and fabrics declined after 9/11. Ten years later, she nabbed her current space, two blocks from the loft she shares with her rock-star husband, Crash Test Dummies lead singer Brad Roberts. Behind etched-glass doors urging passersby to “shop small, shop local,” Varian’s whimsical screen-printed wallpaper descends from a 15-foot-high ceiling; below the selling floor, artisans fabricate her gorgeous metal lamps and light fixtures. From the start, Varian envisioned the store as a home for emerging designers, including jewelry-makers. “A huge number of our customers are design professionals,” she says, “and I’m interested in introducing jewelry to people who don’t ordinarily go into a jewelry store.”
Vintage glass cases scattered throughout the store display an eclectic selection of jewelry from some 70 emerging designers, including two of Varian’s employees, Hayley Schlesinger and Nadia Todorova. “The common element that appeals to me in everything we sell, not just jewelry, is being able to see the hand of the person who made it,” Varian says. Delicate 14k gold earrings, rings, and bracelets with tiny stones set in unique patterns are showcased atop rustic fabrics and miniature books; a nearby case is stocked with chunkier brass and mixed metal designs. Varian dislikes plated jewelry, feeling that the added layer “covers up the handmade quality,” and says she chooses pieces for their overall beauty, not the underlying value of the materials. For a shop specializing in high-end home accessories, the jewelry is well priced, with a sweet spot of $250 to $450.
Varian’s curiosity about the future of retailing has led her to host a series of in-store design seminars and publish interviews with tastemakers on MicheleVarian.com. These days, she’s in the shop an average of one day a week in order to make time for her design work and the launch of Guesst, an ambitious digital platform that will pair independent designers with brick-and-mortar stores offering space for pop-up shops. She recently separated her jewelry and interior design offerings into distinct Instagram feeds, @jewelryatmichelevarian and @michelevarian. “The combination of design [products] and jewelry works seamlessly in the store, but it’s difficult to get across online,” she says, noting that jewelry now accounts for almost 25 percent of her total sales. Varian’s ability to juggle so many product lines successfully is a testament to the appeal of her aesthetic. “I’m super selective,” she says with a laugh. “I only want pieces that strike me as exactly right, so there’s a consistency that our shopper understands and appreciates.”
(Portrait: Nicole Franzen; other photos: courtesy Michele Varian)