Special Invitation: Bespoke Designs in Westport, Connecticut
July 22, 2018
Westport boutique Bespoke Designs gives new meaning to looking good on paper.
Text by Maria LaPiana Photography by Melani Lust
She calls herself a paperpreneuer and a purveyor of obsessive details (loving a clever turn of phrase as much as a beautifully engraved invitation). In fact, Shari Lebowitz is a businesswoman who fell into her niche unexpectedly—but quickly made herself comfortable. Lebowitz is the owner of Bespoke Designs, a specialty stationery company in Westport.
Her studio is located in an attic-like space—white-on-white-on-white and well lit—in Sconset Square. Stationery (and oh-so-much more) is displayed on open shelving, in cubbies, on tables, and spinning card racks. Appreciate pretty paper things? You’ll get that kid-in-a-candy-store feeling the moment you step inside. On a recent Saturday afternoon, Lebowitz sat at a white Parsons table, one of several work stations, contemplating where on the crowded wall she could pin yet another one of her wedding invitations, her stock in trade.
As it happens, the wedding invitation was the company’s original raison d’être, but it’s no longer the only one.
Lebowitz had run her own interior design firm in New York City for two decades when, three years ago, a series of fortunate events led the single mother of two to follow her heart, sell her business, and move out of the city. “I was ready,” Lebowitz remembers, “when out of the blue, someone bought out my lease, bought everything.”
Later, when she learned that the building she lived in was being sold, she packed up her things and moved to Connecticut. She was renovating a little house while she pondered her next move. “The one thing I knew was that I didn’t want to own my own business,” she says.
But serendipity stepped in again. “I met a wonderful man and we decided to get married,” she says with a smile. When she couldn’t find a proper stationery store in the area for her wedding invitations, she decided to open one herself.
Lebowitz started sourcing inventory intuitively, if unconventionally. “When I saw something I liked, I’d just jump on a plane to meet the maker, whether it was a printer or a calligrapher. I’d introduce myself and say, ‘Hi, I’m a big fan!’ ”
Because she’d always given clients a signature gift of stationery whenever she finished an interior design project, she already had a huge file of papermakers.
“When I opened shop, I’d never been to a paper trade show, so I just went with instinct,” she says. “I thought: if I love it and want it, others will.”
She borrowed the “salon” idea she’d employed in the past. “I need to work in a beautiful space; I can’t be creative in chaos,” she says. So she brought in a lot of her own things, from lamps to heirloom dishes, but people kept asking if they could buy them, and it finally dawned on her to “bring in everything that was related to the desk” and offer it for sale.
Her line goes well beyond office supplies—albeit exquisite ones. It’s a well-curated collection of everything from beautiful boxed papers and custom notepads to hand-bound Japanese books, fine linens, and playing cards packaged in monogrammed Lucite boxes. Even single greeting cards—often clever and funny, always gorgeous—come from small, artisanal companies.
As befits her company name, Lebowitz takes “custom” seriously, working with in-house artisans, including calligraphers, watercolorists, artists who specialize in monograms, even a cartographer. She asks customers to complete a questionnaire at the start of the creative process and discusses budget very frankly from the beginning.
Lebowitz brings a good eye, a refined sense of style, and a lot of color confidence to the table. The customer experience is important to her. “If someone comes in for guest towels, I’ll ask them to bring a wallpaper sample from the guest bath,” she says. “If they don’t have one, I’ll go to them.”
She takes a special interest in brides, forging a personal relationship with many of them—even if it means stepping out of her own comfort zone. Lebowitz, who grew up in Boston, admits to being a bit reserved: “It’s a New England thing,” she says. So when a satisfied bride wants to show her appreciation with a hug, Lebowitz may hesitate. But then she allows that they’ve shared something special—and she happily hugs back.
5a Sconset Square Westport