Wait—Westchester didn’t have a design center?
The county just north of Manhattan is home to some of the wealthiest suburbs in the country, and has long been fertile ground for interior designers to ply their trade. But despite a plethora of great retail shops scattered throughout Westchester, the area has always been short on multiline showrooms catering to the trade. It’s precisely that gap in the market that Julie Owen is hoping to close: She has recently expanded Cocobolo—her design services/retail hybrid shop in Armonk, New York—to include a special floor dedicated entirely to designers. At 3,000 square feet, it will feature a range of products and lines, from Vanguard, Palecek and Arteriors to Hickory Chair, Visual Comfort and Phillip Jeffries.
In an age when doomsday predictions about physical retail are common and design centers always seem to be in some kind of trouble, opening a new one might seem like a quixotic choice. But many of the same pressures that can wreak havoc on urban showrooms—skyrocketing rent chief among them—don’t always apply in the suburbs. And for all the hand-wringing, it’s easy to overlook a simple truth: Clients want to see and touch at least some of the things they buy—and if they don’t live in a major city, it can be a hassle for designers to make that happen.
“Taking clients into New York, it’s expensive, and it’s an all-day event,” Owen tells Business of Home. “You may have to go to the D&D building and 200 Lex and other showrooms elsewhere. … I saw an opportunity to give designers a local place where they can come and do everything.”
Owen has had the idea to open a trade-only showroom for a decade, ever since she took over Cocobolo Interiors from its previous owner in 2009. A refugee from the world of corporate finance, she studied at NYSID and worked for a designer in Westport, Connecticut, before a series of coincidences led to her purchasing the shop. Early plans to open a trade-only business were sidelined by the task of refining Cocobolo’s approach (the store offers both design services and one-off retail sales). Ten years later, her upstairs neighbors moved out, and Owen decided the time was right.
Waiting 10 years also gave Owen a chance to build up relationships and understand the needs of the local design community. “We know the business,” she says. “We know how designers work here, and we know the kind of support that they’re looking for.” She has set up areas where designers can work in the showroom, or have meetings with the clients. She has also created a clear distinction between the bottom retail floor, where only MSRP prices are shown, and the top “trade” floor, where all customers are required to be accompanied by a designer. Perhaps most important, Owen will be carrying most of Cocobolo’s lines in a quantity that qualifies for showroom pricing, so designers will generally be getting the same deal they would 40 miles south.
Cocobolo’s trade floor has only just opened, but Owen says early feedback has been positive, and she’s optimistic that local designers will come in flocks. So is this the wave of the future? In 10 years, will it all be regional, midsize design centers? “I don’t think the D&D will ever go out of business. But for suburbs, it’s great to have a place to go,” says Owen. “It’s for Connecticut and Westchester designers—and they do extremely well.”
Homepage photo courtesy of Cocobolo