Welcome to Better Know a Store Owner, a Racked feature focusing on the people who run our favorite boutiques around the city.Photos by William Chan
Stylists April Hughes and Marina Burini have managed to turn the act of obsessively traveling and collecting clothing, furniture, jewelry, and an endless supply of knick-knacks into a full-fledged business at Beautiful Dreamers, their joint boutique in Williamsburg. The shop, unassuming from the outside and located off-the-beaten path on Wythe Avenue across from a basketball court, is home to items picked up while traveling (such as the set of Nigerian beaded armchairs toward the back of the store), as well as merchandise sourced on the job at various fashion shoots.
While the boutique carries familiar contemporary brands like Pamela Love and Lindsey Thornburg, it's real draw are the pieces that you can't find elsewhere. That being said, those items tend to come with higher price tags. We met up with April and Marina on a recent Monday, when the store is casually only open to appointments, to talk about where they source their collections, how they calculate their value, and their favorite places to travel.
You opened in the fall of 2011. Have you worked together before that?
April: No, actually. We had a mutual circle of friends and we lived in the same building. We'd sort of been around each other, and we kind of both knew that we wanted to do a project like this. It happened very quickly. We got together and we talked about it, and then immediately this space opened up, and we just jumped in!
So you weren't actively looking for a storefront yet?
Marina: There were spaces on North 3rd that I had looked at. But when this space became available we jumped on it and began calling the landlords. We did look into the neighborhood, but until this space manifested it was just that.
I'd love to talk a bit about where you source your merchandise. You have a lot of contemporary brands, like Pamela Love and Lindsey Thornburg, but what about the special items that you acquire while traveling. Do you have favorite places you like to check out to collect new merchandise?
Marina: We love the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles.
Ariel: We've made a lot of contacts there that source from others places. We both travel a bit, probably not as much as we would like to for the store, because that was our dream, to travel more...
Marina: Traveling is an amazing source of inspiration.
Do you have a favorite category that you like to stock—home goods or clothes?
Marina: It's across the board. It's like a lifestyle—so it includes clothing, adornments, things for the home.
What's your process for setting a price point? Not for the mainstream designers, but maybe the items you'd buy at a place like the Rose Bowl.
April: We try to be fair in conjunction from where we're sourcing from. In retail there's a specific markup, so for certain things we have to go by those rules. Other things that we find along the way, we try to price into it the travel and the shipping. All of that goes into it as well.
What's your general range, from the least expensive to the most?
Marina: Well it depends on the category. In home, it probably goes from incense or little oils that are on the lower end of the spectrum, to furniture items and the large pieces. There are some statues here—we're not even a gallery, but we have friends who have graced us with their work, and it's available through us for them. We're just a window for the work and we'll direct them to the artist.
We've been talking a lot about all of that, though. The price point is what people always end up commenting about. It is important as a store to reach as many people as possible, but we are representing artists that do things by hand and aren't mass produced, where a huge amount of hours go into the equation. It's items that, some of them, you won't find anywhere else. We pride ourselves in looking for these things.
Who's your typical customer. Is it a lot of people in the neighborhood, or a lot of people traveling?
April: It's a very wide variety. We have a lot of eclectic ladies that come in from the city and then a lot of people from the neighborhood and friends. And definitely people traveling. We get a lot of people from Japan. We've had a lot of Japanese press, too. They're always on it.
Do either of you have a favorite item in the store right now? Or a particular designer?
April: I love the chairs that you're sitting on. We had something similar, and it took us a really long time to find new ones.
Marina: I think it's difficult—a lot of the artists that we carry, we obviously love, and it wouldn't be fair to mention one and not the other. It'd be easier to talk about artifacts that we both had a real sort of le coup de foudre, like love at first sight. There are a lot of very special things, like the wall hangings.
April: We both love the wall hangings, and the Heather Levine mobils and the Native Mind wall hangings.
Marina: There is a lot of work that goes into all of that. Like those beaded chairs—you look at them and you think, how could someone make something like that? The number of hours, all of that is pretty incredible. We love tapestries, wall hangings, anything that's weaved or ceramic.
Do you get sad when you sell some of the one-of-a-kind pieces? Like when these chairs go...?
April: Yea, it's sad because we know it's going to take a long time to find them again. [For things like those chairs], the guy will just disappear for months and then he'll finally reappear and be like, "Take them now!"
Do you guys have any second steps lined up? Maybe another store, or doing an in-house line?
Marina: We have been talking about that. It's an ever-changing universe that demands you to change with it. I don't know if a next location would be....
April: Maybe something that's more seasonal. We both enjoy decorating and consulting, we're both stylists but we also enjoy the aspect of the home and interiors. I think we both would love to work on something that would be within a space that exists, and we just come in and do our part. We'd love to do our own pieces as well.
Do you have any fun success-type stories—maybe some designers you've stumbled upon and helped give them a leg up?
April: One of the clothing designers that I feel strongly about is a line called Rowena Sartin. She has a shop in LA but she never sold her pieces anywhere else. She's a friend of mine and I begged her to sell here. It's been really nice because her pieces are really special, and seeing them go on the right people, and to see people enjoy them as much as I do.
Even the windows right now, it's an installation by a friend of ours who's a set designer and has a very artistic vision. She did something on a shoot that I was on and we talked about extending the idea. We've had this installation up for a few weeks and she's gotten a lot of commissions off of it. She put a lot of work into it—hand-dying all the pieces and fraying them all by hand.
Do you feel that your backgrounds as stylists have really helped you with the store?
Marina: It's essential, it's the binding element for us to an extent. I keep getting emails from other stylists who want to meet and talk about the transition. I think it's a good thing for a stylists to have an outlet, and a space to put things together.
April: That was one of the biggest reasons why I wanted to do this—to have a home to curate pieces that we couldn't always use on shoots but we appreciated them and wanted to use them and see them all in one place. One thing that I also love about being a stylist is mentoring young designers, and this is a different way of doing that.
Alright, time for the lightening round! First up: 8am or 8pm?
Marina: I like both, for various reasons.
Beach or mountains?
Favorite vacation spot?
April: Africa. Kenya.
Marina: Vacation or destination? Right now it would be Mexico.
Whiskey or tequila?
60s, 70s, or 80s?
Marina: Now. I'm sorry!
Favorite neighborhood lunch spot?
Both: Shanti Shack. It's on North 3rd.