Privet House

April 19, 2012

Text by Kyle Hoepner    Photography by Miki Duisterhof

Suzanne Cassano and Richard Lambertson joined forces four years ago to create a quirky, delight-filled pair of shops that quickly found a place on the buying itineraries of design lovers in the know. As they prepare now for a new national partnership with Target, we sat down to talk about how all the right pieces came together for them.

Kyle Hoepner: When and how did the two of you meet?

Privet House: Quite simply, we met as neighbors in Sharon. Both “Olympic shoppers,” we loved going to antiques fairs and markets, always searching for the perfect something. It was a form of therapy.

Suzanne is a corporate refugee who, after years of shopping and collecting, realized that what began as a weekend hobby had become a passion that bordered on obsession—one that finally, out of necessity, had to become a business. So Suzanne opened VOL. 1 Antiques, a very eclectic antiques and decorative accessories shop, in Warren in the fall of 2006.

Richard (a former creative director of Gucci and Bergdorf Goodman, as well as co-founder of the leather-goods design firm Lambertson Truex) also has a passion for interiors and home design. He quickly became one of Suzanne’s biggest supporters and the unofficial PR person for her shop.

KH: How did the idea of Privet House come into being?

PH: When the space a few doors down from Suzanne’s antiques shop became available, she asked Richard, who had always talked about owning a shop, to consider opening one. After giving it some thought, Richard said he would consider opening a shop if Suzanne became his “partner in retail.”

When we first started talking about opening Privet House, we felt there really was a need for a shop that felt like an emporium…a place where you could just wander around and always feel an unexpected sense of discovery.

KH: Is there a particular design philosophy behind the things you show at the two shops? And how you present them?

PH: From the outset, we wanted Privet House to have its own unique voice that would resonate in everything that we do: in the physical presence of the shops, in the product assortment, in the visual merchandising, in the overall ambience and shopping experience, in our website and social networking and all public relations and marketing initiatives.

Regarding the merchandise itself, from the beginning we agreed that, when shopping, if we both got that “love it…can’t live without it…want it for myself” feeling about something, then we could buy it for Privet House.

KH: From having begun in a tiny town in Litchfield County, you seem to have developed a very large footprint in the design world further afield. How did that happen?

PH: That is very flattering…but we do both come from the worlds of fashion and design, and neither of us is a stranger to building a brand. That said, it is always nice to know you have a fan club out there, encouraging you to do your best and being supportive of your efforts.

KH: How do your Warren and Greenwich stores differ? Do the differences extend to the people who shop there?

PH: Physically, the shop in Warren is a larger, loft-like space located in a small hamlet in the middle of nowhere, while the Greenwich shop is a series of rooms on two floors in a very charming nineteenth-century house located just off of very busy Greenwich Avenue.

I would say that our Warren customer, generally speaking, is more of a weekender. This particular area in northwestern Connecticut is a popular weekend community for many New Yorkers, particularly artists, writers, composers and interior and fashion designers. Greenwich is more of a primary-home community, and homeowners from Fairfield County, as well as interior designers with businesses based in the surrounding communities, frequent that shop.

Also, although Privet House as a whole does have a distinctive look, so much of what we sell is either vintage or antique that the one-of-a-kind pieces lend a distinctive personality to each shop at any given time.

KH: Both of you have strong New York City connections, but there is no Privet House there. Why is that?

PH: We are both New Yorkers and definitely can envision ourselves keeping shop there. Maybe Privet House is like a Broadway production—we are perfecting our craft outside the city first. Or maybe we’re just waiting for Mayor Michael Bloomberg to make us an offer we can’t refuse!

KH: Has the trade—and how you practice it—changed over the time you’ve been operating?

PH: The retail landscape has changed drastically in recent years. So many smaller, independently owned specialty shops have disappeared, discounting has become the way of the world, and online shopping is one of the fastest-growing segments of the retail business.

The tougher economy has taken its toll on independent retailers and has put greater demands on the survivors. Smaller businesses like ours have to be much shrewder about identifying opportunities and creating interest; we really have to give our customers a reason to get in their cars and come visit us. And our hope is that once they do, the experience will be one that is memorable and one they will want to share with their friends.

KH: Over these past four years, are there any things you wish you had done, but didn’t, or things you did do and wish you hadn’t?

PH: We opened our first shop in May, 2008, which was just four months before the world started to end that September. In hindsight, our timing could not have been worse, and as a result we have never had the opportunity to “ride the crest of the wave.” But as the economy slowly starts to improve, it is certainly something we are looking forward to.

KH: A major bit of buzz right now, of course, is about your new collaboration with Target. What’s the low-down on that?

PH: We are really excited about our exclusive collaboration with Target and being part of The Shops at Target. Our collection for Target was inspired by, and reflects the aesthetic and appeal of, many of the pieces and products you will find at our Privet House shops.

It’s a beautiful collection of home decor and accessories, from tabletop to garden items, storage crates and baskets, as well as an assortment of candles. The more than 125 pieces in the assortment range in price from $1.99 for a gift bag to $159.99 for a large, rope-textured pouf. (By the way, the line will be available at all Target stores and on Target.com for a limited time beginning May 6.)

KH: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

PH: Target is known for its innovative partnerships, and we are so pleased to be a part of this new collaborative model. Target is truly showing its support for distinctive specialty retailers like Privet House, and this arrangement allows us to share our brand with a national audience of shoppers who, like us, want to discover good design that is affordably priced.

KH: Finally, visitors to your website will undoubtedly want to know: have you ever actually been to Capri together?

PH: We have both been to Capri—but together, not yet…only in spirit. •