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Still House Owner Urte Tylaite on Art School and the East Village

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Photos by William Chan

Urte Tylaite opened Still House a little over eighteen months ago. Since then, she's built her tiny East Village boutique into an oasis of affordable design—the kind of place that makes holiday shopping feel more like yoga than an extreme sport.

Tylaite's aesthetic is on-trend without being too trendy, and highly personal. "I have a strong fascination by rocks," she says, explaining why she stocks geodes like this $25 chunk of azurite. "It doesn't fit the design world. When I first planned the store, I thought 'I'll just do design objects. And also rocks, because I love them.'"

After the jump, she talks about opening the store, figuring out her customer base, and selling gifts that people actually want.

Have you always wanted to open a store?

I worked in small retail before, including Swallow in Brooklyn. It's fun—the bosses end up being your friends. It's a very personal and emotional relationship. You learn a lot from it; you get to know all the ins and outs of running a small business. I felt comfortable, like I belonged, but I reached that point where I was like "What's next for me?" I was so ready to learn something new, to challenge myself.

It took me a while, almost two years, to figure out what that might be. I was debating the options: either going into the corporate world or starting my own thing. And at that point in my life, I was like "I'm just going to jump into cold water and see what happens." So I opened the store, and it turned out to be an amazing experience. It changed me completely, in a good way. All the people I used to work for came forward and became my mentors, so on a personal level it was a really supportive experience.

Tell me a bit about your background.

I'm from Lithuania, and when I was 18 my parents decided to move here. Since my sister and I were still under 21, we automatically got in too. My sister really wanted to give it a try, but I stayed, and after a month, I was like "I miss my family, I'm going too!" I'm glad I did. If I had not moved, I would definitely be a lawyer or a politician. And then I moved here and went through this whole transformation and wound up going to art school and studying painting. My mother was not glad about that, but everyone survived.

So that was ten years ago. I went to Pratt for painting. And I just needed a job, and Swallow hired me. I didn't know anything about jewelry or design, but I slowly started taking jewelry classes and I was really fascinated by the process. That miniature scale was really interesting to me.

How did you decide what Still House should be like?

I've always liked things that were organic, nature-inspired, and ornate. It's so anti–design school. When you go to school, it's all Bauhaus-era color theory, and classes are very contemporary, minimal, clean. What Swallow does in their line introduced me to a totally different way of thinking. I was trained to thinking that anything ornate was a big no-no, but Swallow changed that. So contemporary design with a nature-inspired twist. Showing the blend of the two became important to me. That minimalist aesthetic, but also showing imperfection.

What percentage of the merchandise is made by you, and what percent is third-party venders?

Majority of the stuff is third-party vendors. When I opened the store, that was one of my goals, to start my own line. I do make a piece of jewelry or two and slip them in, but I'm not in a place where I'd be ready to announce my line.

But Still House is always going to sell third party products. I want it to serve as a platform, rather than just a brand. I really love working with young designers, people who are trying to figure out what they want to do in life, who want to test their product in the market.

How did you pick the name?

I knew that I wanted to do the store, but I didn't have the name. So I got myself into signing the lease, and I was eating dinner with my boyfriend, freaking out, saying, "I need a name by tomorrow!" And I was writing a bunch of words down, and these two automatically clicked for me.

"Still" I was always drawn to, I think as a complete opposite of our New York lifestyles. And I was debating between "Still Home," as an interior space, versus "House" as exterior, but "House" just sounded nicer to me. My parents when they moved here tried to establish themselves right away and started building a house, so building a house became a theme of us moving to this country.

What made you chose this space?

It was a very practical choice. I never lived in the East Village, but I waitressed here, and I've always had friends who lived here, so even though I'm a real Brooklynite, I spent a lot of time here. When I went to open a shop, I was looking for a neighborhood that would be affordable with the budget I'd put together, and for the price I had, this worked.

It was either Brooklyn or this, really, and I feel like there are so many good things already happening in Brooklyn, in the neighborhoods where I would have done this, it didn't seem to need my addition. Whereas the East Village still felt unexplored. The artists I sell, their work isn't present in the East Village.

And now that I know my neighbors, I really like it here, the sense of community, the small business owners.

How do you determine the price point?

For me, accessibility is a really important hing. Anything from $2 to $1000 is the price point here. Sometimes people walk in and they ask a few prices of things and they point at really expensive things, but I try not to let them go without saying that I can point out a few things that would be in everyone's budget. And people seem to respond. I hear people saying "Oh, it's so reasonable!" So I try to keep the prices as fair as I can for the stuff being locally made and handmade.

It really seems like a gift store.

Yes, people always say "Oh, I wish I was shopping for myself." I try to bring in things that I would want to look at for the rest of my life. I take buying for this store on a really personal level. Often with gift stores, it's like "Does anyone really WANT this?" But I'm hoping the objects in this store don't work only on that gift idea level.

What do you not carry now that you're hoping to carry in the future? Do you have plans for how to build it out?

I would definitely like more space, that's for sure, so that I could get more stuff into the store. If I could eventually grow into a larger space, that would be amazing. I would like to do more hand-blown glass and ceramics in the future. Ceramics and glass are always my weak point, and I would like to carry a longer list of local artists. Even though it is somewhat of a hard seller.

Do you have a sense of who your typical customer is?

In the beginning, I thought that it was going to be young adults. That's a reason why I chose the East Village, because a lot of young adults live in the East Village. But I'm noticing that it's becoming more and more diverse. It's more about the type of person than the age group. It's becoming more and more evident that I have a few customers who are my grandparents' age, and I have fun chatting with them, and then a lot who are my parents' age, and then my age, and then high school kids who get excited about the new products coming in. I can't put a stamp on the age group at all.

OK, ready for the lightning round? Tumblr, Pinterest, or Instagram?
Instagram, but believe it or not, I don't have an account on any of them.

Beach vs. mountains?
Mountains by far.

Cats or dogs?
Dogs. Love dogs.

'60s, '70s, '80s, or '90s?
The '80s and '90s make me smile. I would pick the '60s, if it's a serious answer. If it's more of a joke, definitely the glorious '90s.

· Still House [Official Site]
· All Better Know a Store Owner posts [Racked NY]