I learned about Kerri Rosenthal and her eponymously named concept shop, in Westport Connecticut from my friend/designer Nikki Kule. Nikki said, ‘Go and see it, you will love it.’ That was an understatement. My all-time favorite shopping experiences take place in those rare emporiums that have a unique, succinct vision, warmth and vibe that feels very personal. However, they are few and far between (John Derian and Claire Vivier shops fit into that category). I love everything about the store. Kerri, herself, is a whirlwind of kinetic, creative energy. I have met people like her before, most of them have been household names in the fashion/design world, which is exactly where I feel like Kerri is headed. If you don’t live near Westport, there is always her site, or you could plan a Saturday afternoon road trip around it. (Apparently a lot of people do.) And if you’re lucky and Kerri isn’t home painting, you will get to meet this charismatic woman. Also of note: Because Kerri’s forever onto the next, the store will evolve as well, getting an update every few months with a new theme based on a new color palette. Think of it as a good excuse to make a return trip.
Tell TFI a bit of your background and how you came to open this store. Once when I was studying at NYU in the 80s, I was walking on West Broadway and walked into Henry Lehr. It was just so cool and I thought, ‘I’m going to work here.’ I started working there and clicked with Henry and stayed on. Soho was really cool then; Sting would walk around like it was nothing and he’d pop into the store. Then I moved from shop to shop and opened up Madison Avenue for Henry and then went over to Columbus. I became Henry’s sort of right hand. And he was my mentor. His work ethic, the way he saw things differently, the way he deconstructed things. Things would come from Europe…once there were these wool blazers. Nobody washes wool. But Henry would send them out to the Chinese laundry and the jackets would all come back beaten up. Or you’d sit there and you’d bedazzle scarves and belts. It was so creative.
Then I stopped and had babies and somehow got involved with Oilily the children’s clothing. Oilily was about color, color, color. It’s made in Holland. I ended up becoming the president of one of their subsidiaries, Cakewalk, and spent a lot of time in Holland. Henry was creative, but this was a whole different story, the people at Oilily are truly artists. For the 80s and 90s, it was the coolest situation I could possibly have been in. I did that for 10 years. I stopped to have more kids. Then when I was ready to do something else, I was out to dinner one night and was staring at a painting and thought, ‘I think I want to do this. I think I want to paint.’ The next day I went out bought paints and canvases. I was painting down in my basement next to the boiler.
Had you studied art before? No, not at all, but I had worked for these super creative people. And it just came out of me. For a year I just painted. Painted and painted and painted. It would go on my walls. People, designer friends, would come over and they’d ask, ‘Whose art is this?’ After two years someone convinced me to have a gallery opening. The owner of the building liked my art so I traded him a painting to let me have his space for two days.
I sold every piece. It was amazing. Some key shops and designers picked up some pieces. HB Home was one of them, that’s located in the same shopping area where we are now. They were the first to represent me. The art took off so quickly, it just kept going from there, and then my drippy hearts came out. They are one of the more iconic things that I do—I have sold them all over the world. At the same time, people would want to come to my gallery, which was at my house, because it’s where my studio is and they would walk through my house and love my style and ask if I would help them with their homes. I’m not a designer, but I thought ‘Let me try this. I’ll do it one time and it’ll get me out of my studio once a week.’ Six years later I have an interior design business too. It’s just crazy how one thing keeps morphing into another. Now my whole life has merged into this one gallery space.
When did you open the store? Two and a half months ago. It’s really new. Clothing inspires me. Books inspire me. Candles inspire me. Jewelry inspires. Whatever inspires me to create what I create is in the shop right now. It’s kind of my world, what you see in my head. People walk in here and they’ll say, ‘Oh you sell hats. Oh you design? Oh can you design my house and I can buy this hat?’ I think to have a retail store these days just selling clothing is not the greatest situation. Your environment is everything. I feel like that’s what this is here. It’s like Pinterest in store. Instagram in a shop. You get somebody in here who comes in to look at the art. Next thing you know they’re buying the art and they’re having us do a design consultation. They’re walking out with a sweater. It’s so cool.
You also launched an interior decorating line? Yes, the XOKR brand is a brand launched from the art. It’s fabrics, wallpapers, and some made-to-order furniture that we put our fabric on that we’ve designed, so about 5 or 6 pieces.
What are your current collection favorites? So hard to say. I love the contrast of this kind of burnt black and the marigold yellow. I think it’s interesting and fresh to put black and white and yellow together. And the Bic ink blue, not your typical pop blue, with that black and then the pops of marigold and a bit of mauve. I love this collection so much. It’s deep in my heart. When I merchandise the store, it’s like painting. It feels the same creatively.
Your favorite items from other designers? Again it’s everything that I love. It’s not that we go out and we look for vendors. It’s just stuff that has inspired me through the years. So someone like Nikki Kule, I’ve been an admirer or follower of Nikki’s for as long as she’s been around. It was the natural thing for me to have her sweaters and her stripes here. Same with Clare Vivier, again the stripe thing. I absolutely love their leathers and I’ve been wearing them for years. And books. I’m a book-a-phile. Again the books are also very personal. The books are on artists that inspire me; sometimes they’re travel related. I found somebody out in California who is doing ceramics for us; we send her the mood boards and she sends us things in our colors. Just finding people like that and people who inspire me creatively and that’s who I have here and nothing more than that.
What inspires you? Color. I am 100% color driven. I take out the paints; I have really no idea what I’m going to paint. I just go at it and it becomes what it becomes. It’s very natural. Unless I’m painting my tiki people or a drippy heart, but if I’m painting an abstract I have no clue what that abstract is going to look like. It’s a very instinctual process for me. Right now, these colors [in the space] inspired me. But I get bored. I change things a lot in my house. I keep my furniture the same, but I swap out my pillows and I swap out my art. This is what you can do. You don’t have to live with the same color stories in your home for 10 years. It doesn’t have to be that way. People come in here and they think, ‘I can do this.’ I say, ‘Yes. Let’s throw these pillows in your car. Go take them home and try them and hang this painting up. Put your other ones away for a couple months.’ You’re decor can be more like fashion. You know what I mean? What clothes are you buying this fall? What are you wearing? Your home can be very much like that and I think that’s changing the way people think.
How much time do you spend painting? I have to paint religiously two to three solid days a week. It’s a lot, but I have to keep up with my commissions. I love commissions, they’re wonderful, but they really are painting what the client wants exactly, which is a real pressure. And not very easy for an artist to do. But I’m happy to take on the work and sometimes, as an artist, it leads me in different directions. For the most part, the client’s very happy. The painting is being painted by me and the client. I always say that. I don’t know if all artists are like that.
Three words that describe you: Impulsive, hyper-creative, passionate
Three words that describe your work: Happy, colorful, solid vision.
What’s next? I have so many ideas. Immediate next will be launching our wall paper line in a bigger way. I have a lot of amazing projects I’m working on that are 15 months to two years down the road which I really can’t even talk about yet, but I’m designing incredible homes with these wonderful people. Maybe a clothing collection? Maybe a second shop down the line somewhere? I don’t know. East coast? West coast? California? Everyone’s asking for a pop-up. And then getting people to go to my website. I’m also working on that. I feel like that takes time. Oh and I started making bowls. Why not? I feel like I could almost do anything creatively and that’s why I have Keri [her p.r.] here making me focus on one thing and get it going.
Follow Kerri: Instagram