Sparkle and Shine: Joanna Buchanan’s Home AccessoriesText by Allegra Muzzillo
Joanna Buchanan has always loved a bit of bling. It became part of her visual vocabulary as a child living in Hong Kong, steeped in a culture in which bright color and ornamentation are considered auspicious. Born in the Philippines to a British father and an American mother, Buchanan had a youth rife with multicultural cues. Formative years spent in England fostered an appreciation of antique fineries, so evident in her vintage-inspired homewares. “In Europe, old is good,” she declares. “No matter where you grow up, you absorb the aesthetic. It’s always with you, and you reference it throughout your life.”
The color, richness, and variation in Buchanan’s handiwork—from cocktail picks to wine charms and napkin rings decorated in semiprecious stones and glass—closely resembles the sparkling designs of art deco, retro, and art modern costume jewelry.
The designer’s professional trajectory, too, is one of purely aesthetic pursuits. While at university earning degrees in art and fashion design, Buchanan accepted a coveted product development position at the colossal British retailer Marks & Spencer. She later hopped across the pond, into a position designing and buying women’s sweaters for Saks Fifth Avenue, in New York City. When she landed a role designing accessories for Banana Republic, under the tutelage of fellow Brit and fashion design icon Deborah Lloyd, it was, as Buchanan tells it, her seminal moment.
This successful fashion career prepared her to weather the challenges of establishing and running her eponymous brand of home decor—a business she started in 2014, after she and her young family moved to Wilton. Wanting a break from the fashion industry and the corporate world, Buchanan decided to explore a wild idea she had harbored for years: she wanted to design Christmas decorations. “In my subconscious, I just knew it was something I’d eventually do,” she says.
Buchanan’s yen for all things Yuletide stemmed from fond childhood memories of Christmastimes with her mother, reminiscing on holidays past as decorations were brought down from the attic loft and unwrapped. Buchanan was spellbound. “My mum told the interesting stories of each one, where and when her mother and grandmother had acquired them and what made them special.”
The designer’s first line of her self-described “un-Christmas-y” wreath clips, featuring bejeweled honeybees and insects, debuted with home furnishings retailer One Kings Lane. “There’s more to Christmas than Santa and reindeer,” Buchanan says. Apparently, customers agree, because those clips remain best sellers, and her festive collections are now offered by retail giants such as Bloomingdale’s and Neiman Marcus.
Fancy flora and fauna are yet another vestige of her colorful past, born of a decades-long passion for gardening, a calming, restorative pastime she enjoyed with her mother while growing up in the English countryside. “To me,” she says, “a garden represents freshness, vitality, and vivacity. I try to impart these qualities to all of my pieces.”
Soon after her first success, Buchanan ventured outside the seasonal realm, appropriating her popular clips to a line of bejeweled napkin rings. “After that,” she says, “Napkins and placemats became, as I like to call them, glorious adjacencies.” It’s a term she uses to describe the creative process—a logical progression from ideation to final product. Fittingly, her windowed studio looks out onto her beloved garden. “I’m able to see birds, bees, and insects and the changing colors of each season every day I’m working in there,” she says. “It’s incredibly inspiring.”
Buchanan maintains cherished relationships with overseas artisans. Her linen soft goods (coasters, placemats, throw pillows, and the like) are sewn and beaded by hand in India, while workrooms in the Philippines help produce marbled-porcelain tree ornaments and ring dishes, as well as an upcoming line of handwoven straw placemats. In China, Buchanan works with two factories to produce plated-brass pieces such as wreath clips, napkin rings, barware, and stone-encrusted treasure boxes. Lest one question the caliber of such workmanship, “Quality is of the utmost importance,” insists Buchanan. “I want my things to last so other parents hand them down to their own children, just as my mum did.”
Her pieces are not simply dazzling, they also have a depth and soul that make mass-produced home goods pale in comparison. As Buchanan puts it, “My things are the truest expressions of what I love and who I am.”
Joanna Buchanan, Wilton, CT.
November 23, 2020
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