So tell me a little about yourself?
I was born and raised in Houston, TX and I moved up to New England in 2009 to be closer to my Nanna. I was trained as an architect and worked in the field up until 2015 when we opened our first Boston General Store (BGS) location in Brookline.
The process to get the first location was a pretty slow one. I was working at the New England Aquarium designing their exhibits and we were between projects. I had always wanted to design a website so I just started playing around with one and used 10 of my favorite products as a placeholder. I did this as a creative outlet while between work projects. I found that I really enjoyed it and decided to try and buy the products and actually make a go out of it. My Nanna gave me the first $12,000 to buy the products for the website and the rest I just scrapped together to make it work (making a photo studio out of a cardboard box/using my dining room as storage and office space). It was a really exciting time because I didn’t have any overhead or time constraints. I could really get creative and make mistakes without any repercussions.
I ran just the website for few months but wasn’t making much traction so I started to do pop ups around this city. The first one was Mill No. 5 in Lowell and then I did SOWA for a season. That’s when things really took off. It got to the point where I had to make a decision and I decided to quit my job in architecture and go full force with BGS.
I was moving into the first location in Brookline, MA a few months later. Now we have a second location in Dedham, MA and are working on our own product line for the shop.
If haven’t stopped into one of the Boston General Store locations, I strongly recommend it. They are set up like little oases of great design amidst the typical shops you might pass through everyday. There’s an intentionality and authenticity about the space that gives it a unique look and feel. The talent behind this experience is April Gabriel. Conversations I’ve had with April have allowed me to see the dedication to interior and product design she brings that makes her stores such a compelling experience.
Your stores have a distinct design and feel to them. How did you go about designing the interior of your stores?
I’ll be honest, I never set out with a set idea of what the interior would look like. In the beginning with pop-ups I did what was easiest logistically. Which means displays had to stack in one another and materials had to wear well from all the use. Everything had to fit into my car so I had to get creative.
Once I moved into the first location I had to use what I already had. I was waiting on an SBA loan so I used mainly furniture from my house, lol. Now that I have more freedom to design with purpose I usually try to make our shops feel really comfortable and cozy. I hate going into stores that feel so stark and organized that I’m afraid to touch anything. A lot of what I love about the products that I sell is that you need to pick them up and feel them. Which means we have to make the space comfortable for people to do that.
Most of my furniture is vintage or items that have been handed down from my family. I like to find pieces that were made with thought and care. Today it’s hard to find that because it's more about how cheaply it can be made. Design is important to my process but it's not everything. We mainly ask ourselves, what’s the best way to display this product and we try to make that work.
“It got to the point where I had to make a decision and I decided to quit my job in architecture and go full force with BGS.”
How has your creative process changed over time with this growth?
It's definitely developed. I’m getting more comfortable with the shop and in my own skin. I look at pictures from the beginning and I cringe at some of the things I did. Part of that is we’ve grown and we have more range of product. My style is to have a really full shop so you have to walk a few loops to see everything. I’ve always loved old general stores and that’s their style. I definitely get inspiration from those types of stores especially growing up in Texas surrounded by country stores.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever heard?
My mom gives me the best advice. She is very conservative and likes to have back up plans for her backup plans. She always tells me to pay down my loans and keep a large nest egg of savings. I wish I was like that but I’m more impulsive. There is always a really exciting brand I want to carry or a new display I want to build. I’m trying to find a balance between her advice and my instincts.
Who are some artists that you feel have impacted your own practice?
Architecture definitely inspires my design. I’ve always loved Corbusier’s work in India or Tom Kundig’s home designs. Both create their work with nature being the most important aspect of their work. You can never tell where one starts and one ends. I studied Italian Art History briefly but was always more interested in the buildings housing the art than the art itself.
What have been some of your biggest strengths and struggles during your career so far?
I think my design background really helps with designing the shop as well as our own product line. Also my family raised me with a pretty strong set of ethics and that definitely helps with my business. I’ve been in a lot of situations where I’ve had to pick between the easier route or the right route. I can hear my nanna and my mom’s voice of reason always telling me what to do.
What project are you especially excited about right now?
I am really really excited about launching our own product line. The Brothers Artisan Oil moved into our Dedham location and are producing all of their products on the ground floor of our building. I’m working with them to create our own line and it’s been such a fun creative process learning about ingredients and production techniques. They’ve also been a great support system to bounce ideas off of and just to have as friends.
What's in your margins?
I use a Field Notes Steno book to write down all my to-do’s and ideas. We build a lot of our own displays so my sketches of those are in my books. Most of my margins includes things I have to do. Right now I wear a lot of hats so my margins are filled with a mixture of logistical and creative information. (As well as inventory calculations).
My creative process starts with writing down a description of what I’m trying to convey in words. I feel having a description of my goals helps the most.
Edited by Joshua Duttweiler
Additional photography by Linda R Campos and catalogue objects