The entry way of each store beckons you from the footpath, only to stop you in your tracks with stunning displays just inside the door. The ceiling-high shelves and multi-layered vignettes pull you from side to side, deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of design and colour and light.
This past Wednesday, I had the opportunity to tour the Williams-Sonoma, West Elm, Pottery Barn & Pottery Barn Kids stores in Bondi Junction before they officially opened to the public. I have been waiting years for this day!
I took lots of photos – shocker – and even managed to catch a chat with a few people from San Francisco and NYC who were here for the launch. Grab a cup of tea and get ready for some seriously gorgeous inspiration.
Sydney retail may need to prepare for a bit of a revolution. It starts with the best bits of American customer service and training, stunning visual merchandising and products curated from around the world, and continues with solid e-commerce and reasonable prices. The big box stores won’t know what hit them.
All the brands in the Williams-Sonoma portfolio operate like a well oiled machine. There is a firm focus on both curating the best products from around the world and designing in-house to ensure unique ranges exclusive to the stores. Store managers have been brought over from the US for the first year of trading, and they are the personification of friendly customer service.
Michelle, the West Elm manager, shared with me that, while it may be difficult during the first few weeks of trading, the ethos of ‘no customer waiting at checkout’ is a primary focus. With all the pretty things to catch your eye and cups of cucumber-infused ‘spa water’ at the counter I can’t imagine too many people will complain if they have to wait for a few minutes.
Although the Creative Directors of both Williams-Sonoma and West Elm are Aussie ex-pats the decision to open in Australia was a business one made due to Australians being the biggest online customers after the US. A true example of business responding to the consumers – and the power of consumers for that matter…
So are you ready for the tour? Here we go!
“West Elm is about bringing your best style to life, about discovering what you want and making it happen.” – Vanessa Holden, Creative Director, West Elm.
Based in Brooklyn NY, and the only one of the four brands to be headquartered outside of San Francisco, West Elm is a homewares store with a broad design esthetic ranging from contemporary to rustic. You can expect reclaimed wood mixed with painted silk, natural fibers, slightly hipster industrial chic, and lots of artisan craft.
According to Vanessa, “collaboration with artists and support of local community groups is a cornerstone of West Elm”, the pieces and overall vibe have a global and travel inspired view encouraging “armchair travel through objects in home”.
Green – the global kind not the colour – is also very important with a majority of bedding and table-top materials being organic and ethically sourced. Vanessa shared that it is important for West Elm stores to reflect the talents of the community. In-line with their other locations, the Sydney store includes products from hand-picked local etsy designers.
The visual display are inspirational, providing solid design ideas as well as a touch of fantasy. Displays change regularly and West Elm is probably the most trend focused of the four brands.
‘Home Stylist’ is a complimentary in-home and in-store design service, yes, really. While they of course hope that people will include West Elm products in their interiors, the service is just another way of demonstrating that the customer really does come first.
I must admit, while I was at the preview as food media for Williams-Sonoma, West Elm is easily my favourite. Blame it on the suppressed interior designer in me! Oh and those measuring cups and spoon sets in that last picture – um, goodness yes I adore them, although all I purchased on the day was these Weck jars, so very restrained.
From the moment Chuck Williams took a trip to France in the early 1950’s and discovered superior European cookware and baking equipment, Williams-Sonoma has been synonymous with high quality kitchen and homewares from around the world.
Anna Last, Creative Director of Williams-Sonoma, shared with me that while many items in the store are being brought over from the US there is a company focus “all about curating items from around the world, so we are always on the lookout for interesting things. We are really thankful to Simon Johnson for helping out with products for the opening, and we certainly want to keep a local element in-store.”
Anna is an Aussie who, only weeks after starting in the role, was asked if she would like to name the next custom Le Creuset colour for Williams-Sonoma. The answer was of course a resounding yes and the range, which could have been called curry or mustard or, god forbid, burnt-yellow, suddenly had the fragrant and slightly mysterious moniker of ‘Quince’, how very perfect.
Arriving a bit before my tour began I had an opportunity to chat with Tom Radtke, Director of Visual Merchandising, who is in town from San Francisco for the store fit-out and launch. He shared that launching in a new country was a perfect opportunity to push the boundaries of the store while keeping with the overall esthetic of the company.
Most Williams-Sonoma stores in the US are, on entry, an explosion of metal – all silver and copper cookware. While shiny is always a winner, the Sydney store has taken a more lifestyle approach playing with colour and theme-based displays. It is most definitely working and the Moroccan-inspired table at the front simply stopped me in my tracks.
Another change – which seems so logical to me I can’t imagine it not rolling out in their other stores – was a move to bring French table-ware and glass-ware together on one wall. Now customers can imagine how the elements will work on a table and mix-and-match however they’d like. I may be a little bit in love with this “shades of grey” collection.
All Williams-Sonoma associates (that’s what they call people who work there if you were wondering) are culinary experts and customer service is paramount. There is a juice bar in-store, and more appliances and gadgets than you could imagine.
I was excited to learn that after 50 years Williams-Sonoma has just released their own range of cookware, a fact that leads perfectly into the next announcement…
Williams-Sonoma has opened their first cooking school, globally, and it’s in the Sydney store!
Vladimir Niza – aka Vlad, Vice President of Williams-Sonoma’s culinary program, has been setting up cooking schools around the world for years and is currently assembling a group of passionate chefs to run the program in Sydney.
It was uplifting speaking to someone so passionate about sustainability and seasonality as well as cooking education and skills.
As Vlad said to me in a hypnotic accent, “it isn’t just about how to make a roast chicken, it is about looking at an ethically raised sustainable animal, seeing the difference in size against a mass-produced one, and then understanding why it tastes so much better when it is cooked.” Exactly. Maybe we should host a Seasonal Sunday Lunch in the cooking school – nudge, nudge, wink, wink.
There was a cooking demo during the dinner session of the preview day and I am completely gutted that I changed last minute to go during the afternoon instead! While there is no schedule or cost info yet, hopefully I can share more about the Williams-Sonoma Cooking School classes soon. In the meantime there’s more than enough in the store to keep your attention.
Pottery Barn is known for its comfortable, casual, Americana inspired core range. It is inviting and classic with a polish yet very liveable feel.
This base is injected with regularly changing seasonal designs, and displays like the current coastal range in store now. The collections are supplemented with collateral containing ideas such as how to use the pieces as accents and even themed recipes.
Pottery Barn also offer regular classes in the store and according to Leigh Oshirak, Vice President of Public Relations, “it is not always about big changes or replacing everything in a room. Sometimes all you need is an update, integrating new elements can really refresh your home”.
As with the other brands, items are all designed in-house in San Fransisco then sourced and made by artisans worldwide. Pottery Barn offers the same ‘Home Stylist’ service as West Elm.
Pottery Barn Kids
If you have kids get ready to swoon. From the gorgeous bedding to the miniature appliances, signature ‘Anywhere Chair’ and adorable tableware this place is kid heaven.
Pretty much anything can be monogrammed, on-site while you wait, too.
Very shortly there will be tea parties for little girls (or boys) and their dolls, as well as a Tuesday morning book club.
The trick is getting the kids home without one of everything in the store. Also, I want an Anywhere Chair in my size, preferably the faux fur one – just saying.
A few bits and pieces…
Where are the stores?
Sprawling over 3 levels of the Exchange Building in Bondi Junction, Sydney, they are just across from Westfields at the corner of Grosvenor and Oxford Street. All brands opened their doors to the public on Thursday 2 May.
Is it insanely expensive?
Surprisingly, no. The brands are on the higher end in the US and I was afraid that the prices would be exorbitant in Sydney but they are really reasonable, especially when compared to other homewares stores in the city.
I don’t live in Sydney…
No problem, the Australian e-commerce sites launched along with the bricks and mortar store and they deliver Australia wide.
There are plans for more stores in Melbourne by the end of the year.
Hope you enjoyed the tour! What do you think will be your favourite store, and will you brave the crowds with elbows swinging and credit card blazing this weekend?