I’ve written so many stories about homes where designers have mixed their high-end custom pieces with lamps, chairs and other furnishings from Ballard Designs. It seems to be their go-to for finishing off a room. My sister’s designer, Rebecca Penno, ordered gorgeous shelving for her home office recently, so I got to see Ballard’s work up close and personal—which has been hard up until now, because it’s largely a web-based retailer.
That’s why I was so excited to see that Ballard just opened a brick-and-mortar shop at Tysons Corner today. It’s one of only two recent openings under a new concept, where retail offerings run the perimeter of the store while a “Make it Your Own” studio lies in the middle, where you can customize furnishings with their fabric selections (or you can bring in your own), and work with designers on hand to make sure everything will fit in your space.
“It’s bringing the customer into the entire process,” said Mollie Kitchens, head of PR and marketing for Ballard, which is based in Atlanta. The Tysons store joins one in King of Prussia, PA, near Philadelphia, she added, because DC is one of Ballard’s top-performing markets.
“I really feel like the DC customer is bold and metropolitan and open to embrace different colors, textures, and patterns,” said Aly Brooks, Ballard’s head buyer. “Other markets are more conservative.”
Here, she said, Ballard customers don’t mind mixing velvet and acrylic and brass, for example, as they have displayed here front and center:
Ballard starts with a traditional mindset, which is appropriate for this market, Brooks explained, but the fun lies in layering in more contemporary features. Here’s what they’ve got on hand:
The vignettes in the store match almost exactly what you can see in the catalogs, so the store allows you to come sit in its pages, Kitchens explained.
There’s also two large, vertical video screens on hand that allow you to upload photos of your own room, so that you can get a sense of how a Ballard sofa, for instance, or rug, will look in that room.
There’s also accessories galore to fill it in:
The new model, which essentially places a design studio within a retail shop, seems to be a spreading trend. Restoration Hardware is due to open a new store here under that concept this fall. Basically, instead of telling the clerk you want to order this particular couch in one of its four basic colors, there are many more options:
And you can take samples home with you:
I like the idea that they have design assistants there to make sure whatever you order will be in scale with your room—and will fit through the door—but I still prefer the idea of hiring an independent designer to guide you in the right direction overall, no matter which store or vendor might be offering that lamp or this armchair. I don’t like the idea of a store designer selling you on just items from that one showroom for your whole house.
Nonetheless, Ballard has shown its chops to many designers who use them as a source for solid design profiles, and getting extra help on measurements and ideas is certainly much better than going it on your own.
And because DC is one of its biggest markets, it certainly helps to have a physical presence where you can sit in that chair before you buy it.