Store We Adore: Thistle & Bess in Ann Arbor, Michigan

222 N. Fourth Ave., Ann Arbor, Mich.

Blocks away from the University of Michigan’s leafy campus and nestled among some of Ann Arbor’s most revered retailers lies Thistle & Bess. It’s both eclectic and well-designed, reflecting owner Diana Marsh’s love for English elegance, Scottish traditions, and a bit of Brooklyn bravado.


In just two years, Thistle & Bess has built an appreciative audience in Ann Arbor’s historic Kerrytown district for its clever front-window displays, curated mix of local and international artists, and whimsical selection of handcrafted rings, bracelets, necklaces, and watches. “I am always looking for everyday luxuries—not things that you only wear for special occasions,” Marsh ­explains. “I also like to look for jewelers that tell a story or have some sort of meaning behind their pieces.” There are Alex Monroe’s delicate bees and bikes, Hortense’s ­playful mismatched eye earrings, Rebel Nell graffiti rings, Morphe’s Ouija planchette with its mystical, glowing opals—something for every age and interest. They all sit atop delicate dishes and rare books within a stately Charles F. Biele showcase (it still bears the New York address of the venerated manufacturer on its polished front). Marsh built her checkout—a blend of classic marble, glass, and wood in front of a cool wallpaper dotted with book spines—around the jewelry display.

Thistle and Bess jewelry case and book wallpaper


“I just look for pieces that I would like to wear myself!” says Marsh.

(Pictured: Mociun Five Triangle Turquoise and Mega rings; $2,350 each)


Thistle and Bess jewelry caseAfter School

Retail is actually Marsh’s second career. She spent 11 years as an elementary-school teacher in New York City, where she could fulfill her obsession with antiques and vintage jewelry every weekend. Soon, Marsh had an Etsy shop and an idea for a store. “Being a teacher taught me some pretty important lessons in customer service,” says Marsh, who grew up and went to college in Ann Arbor. “As a teacher, we are trained to meet the needs of all students, and families, and to be creative in the ways that we present information. I think that really helped prepare me to deal with the different needs of my customers. Also, as a teacher, you have to go with the flow. No day is the same. Owning a shop is a pretty unpredictable venture.”


gold dipped porcelain circle pendant“I want pieces that feel unique and special, but accessible and wearable,” says Marsh.

(Pictured: Ash Jewelry Studio’s gold-dipped circle pendant in porcelain and gold glaze; $84)


Thistle and Bess interiorWorkshop Talk

Thistle & Bess—named for Marsh’s Scottish heritage, as well as her fondness for history, Queen Elizabeth I, and all things English—carries a wide array of housewares, ­paper products, children’s goods, and artwork. She also hosts workshops at her store, giving customers access to artists ranging from weavers to letterpress experts to terrarium makers. “My goal,” Marsh says, “is to find artists who think about their work and share them with my customers.”

(Above: courtesy of Silver Thumb Photography; other store photos: courtesy of Thistle & Bess)

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