4 yuppie home stores with surprisingly humble roots
When you’re at a store with a $3,000 leather divan or a $98 mixer, it’s hard to imagine things could have been any different. But many stores have surprisingly humble roots. Though some yuppie stores, like West Elm, were invented in corporate boardrooms, others were almost unrecognizably humble when they began.
1. Crate and Barrel: Originally for young bohemians
Crate and Barrel has a somewhat bohemian aesthetic, but the price tags are bourgeois. That’s surprising considering the company’s beginnings as a place for young artists to get nice furniture.
Opened in 1962, the first Crate and Barrel was in the bohemian Old Town neighborhood of Chicago (today the neighborhood, like the store, is a favorite of the wealthy). Founders Gordon and Carol Segal started C&B in an old elevator factory when they were just a couple of furniture-loving 23-year-olds, inspired by trips they took to Europe to find affordable home furnishings. They nailed actual crating lumber on the walls because it was cheap, and the barrels were overturned to become decoration. They were so green that they even forgot a cash register. Today, of course, Crate and Barrel is the good stuff—and it has a price to match.
2. Williams-Sonoma: The kitchen store that came from a hardware store
Williams-Sonoma is a high-end kitchen store today, and it always had elite culinary ambitions. But founder Chuck Williams didn’t come from old money, and his store began in an unlikely place.
As detailed in the loving biography Merchant of Sonoma, Williams was born in 1915, which put him square in the crosshairs of the Great Depression when he was a teen. Though the Sonoma location sounds posh, at the time it was a small farm town without many opportunities. Wlliams’s family was hit hard and he worked his way through high school picking dates on a date farm. After the Army, he learned how to cook and started his shop in a small section of a hardware store. The rest is history.
3. Restoration Hardware: The company started with $500 and some doorknobs
No, Restoration Hardware was never a real hardware store. But it did begin with just a $500 investment—a lower cost than most of the products.
Founder Stephen Gordon always had an eye on restoration, but his store started small. He was restoring his own house in Eureka, California, when he realized he couldn’t find the perfect doorknob. After tracking down a range of catalogs, he hung a sign outside his house (yes, his house) and let people browse with him. His first store was just 500-square-feet, funded with $500. The business grew quickly into a 1500-square-foot store in Eureka. But it wasn’t smooth sailing even then. He worked nights as a bartender for two years until he was able to work full time at Restoration Hardware.
4. Pottery Barn: Yes, it did come from a barn
Today, Pottery Barn is part of the company that also owns Williams-Sonoma. When it began, it was just a couple of brothers with some damaged pottery.
Paul and Morris Secon started Pottery Barn when they had an opportunity: an upstate ceramics factory sold some deeply discounted damaged pottery. The pottery was being stored, of course, in three large barns. They took the pottery and the name, loaded up a station wagon, and started the first Pottery Barn in Manhattan.
The New York chain expanded to seven stores before the brothers sold their interest, but it wasn’t a huge money maker for the founders. “When I left the business,” Morris Secon said, “we called it the Poverty Barn.”