Kathryn Grogan Ivanfy opened her boutique Wanderlustre last fall in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn. The store is an eclectic mix of home décor, lighting, gifts, and accessories for which Kathryn has an eye. An avid traveler, she has filled her store with the exotic sort of things you lust after while journeying through foreign countries but don’t have space for in your pack. Kathryn has extensive fashion experience having spent years in New York showrooms and as an agent working for some of the best designers before moving to South Africa with her husband a few years ago. Upon her return, Kathryn knew it was time to apply her expertise to her own store of beautiful objects.
Our inspiration for opening Wanderlustre came from traveling the world. Where was one of your first trips?
My first large scale trip was Greece, Turkey, Egypt, and Jordan. I took a month off from work in my 20s and saw the Greek islands, Great Pyramids, and Petra. Petra actually puts the pyramids to shame. I would recommend going to Egypt before Jordan to avoid disappointment.
At what point did you start collecting and thinking you might open a store?
My favorite part of traveling has always been visiting the markets and finding treasures to bring home. I think it was solidified when I was on my one-year-around-the-world-back-packing honeymoon. We covered about 20 countries pretty extensively and every couple of weeks I would have to find a post office and ship myself whatever gems I had found at the markets. It was part of the adventure, and everything miraculously made it home in one piece.
How was the transition for you from wholesale to retail?
I actually worked in fashion retail throughout high school and college (mostly for the employee discount) so retail has always been in my blood. My career in fashion wholesale throughout my 20s-30s was possibly the best training you can get for retail, because you get to look at the businesses, advertising, buying budgets, mark-down allowances, etc. from department stores to boutiques and everything in between. And you get to see what works and what doesn’t on pretty high level.
What’s been the biggest difference between customers shopping for themselves vs buyer shopping for their stores?
I am always trying to fine tune this balance and understand what my customers really want when I buy for the store. But I also think as a lifestyle concept store it is my job to push them a little bit. And it is working. I think when a customer sees something amazing and new, but in a setting that makes sense for their life, then they are able to take more risks and buy something unexpected that they are going to be thrilled with.
You’ve curated a selection so that there is something for everyone. Can you give us an example of an item that is at your high end and one that is at your low?
I definitely focus a lot on keeping an interesting and accessible range of products across the spectrum. I have $9 candles that are gorgeously packaged and scented from Voluspa and I have 6-foot long photo canvases from the South African photograher David Ballam for $1500 that are show-stopping in a large space.
Is everything one of a kind?
No. About half the store is one of a kind and artisan made and the other half is just the best selection of design and gifts that I can source at showrooms and tradeshows. I try really hard to make the store affordable so that anyone could buy a beautiful gift or personal luxury for $10, so that means sourcing the best products wherever I can.
Are there any items you hope no one ever buys and stays with you forever?
Yes. My Yoruba beaded chair (I am sitting in it my photo). Each one takes roughly three months to create because they are completely covered in beads, and it is the signature centerpiece for the store. But I have gotten better at letting go. The one of a kind pieces are obviously the hardest, but I take comfort seeing my treasures go to happy homes. I know that the sale will finance another amazing find, and the thrill of the hunt is one of my biggest motivations. I also love keeping the assortment fresh.
You’re at the store almost every day, adding a community feel one might get at a coffee shop. Pretty rare these days…In what other ways have you influenced your customers?
I am lucky that Carroll Gardens is such an amazing community. It really feels like a village in the middle of NYC. My customers are always showing me pictures of their living rooms or kids rooms asking for my design advice on a quick refresh or a major overhaul. And I often come to their homes to see in person how we could make their space more comfortable and inviting. I was always obsessed with HGTV make-overs and now I get to do it for my customers, with some pretty amazing results. It has been a great way to get to know my neighbors even more, and they have made me feel very welcome.
Looking ahead do you plan your travel destinations on where you can find the best inventory?
Yes and no. I feel like some obvious choices would be India, Morocco, and Bali, but I think that people have seen a lot of the product that comes out of those places at stores like Anthropologie. Many mass retailers are jumping on the artisan bandwagon since the home decor style has gone more “global” which is great if they are buying direct from artisans and not just knocking off the design in a factory in China. And there is a bit of both happening. I prefer to go just off the beaten path like Bolivia instead of Peru for textiles, Myanmar instead of Thailand for art, and Africa is generally an untapped resource for amazing design. Plus my favorite trips have always been to the places that I have never really considered going.
Where to next?
I am going to Beirut in September for a wedding, but it is great excuse to shop for the store. And I have a very chic Lebanese customer who has already given me the inside scoop on the best of design to check out in Beirut. Mixing business with pleasure was always my goal for opening the store, so I am glad that is working out.