Museum shops appeal to the sort of people who believe that, as Mies van der Rohe so famously said, "God is in the details"—that a beautifully designed, say, pot-scrubbing brush can so enhance daily life that it's worth every penny, even if it costs something a little crazy, like $30.
Kaarin Lemstrom-Sheedy (below), whose new store Pookstyle recently opened in Chatham, has had a long career setting up and selecting merchandise for museum shops. She was the first manager of The Store Next Door, the shop for the Whitney Museum of American Art that opened to great fanfare in 1986. (It has since been incorporated into the museum itself.)
"At the time, design had gotten almost frenzied," says Lemstrom-Sheedy, "—too sleek, too metalic. We weren't afraid to humanize it with softer, funnier things." She stayed at the Whitney for eleven years, and in the decade plus since she and her husband Bob Lemstrom-Sheedy moved full-time to their country place in Chatham, Kaarin has found plenty of use for the skills she honed there. When MASS MoCA was just getting off the ground, she established, ran, and (not incidentally) named its store, Hardware. When the North Adams/Chatham commute began to wear, she switched to the Mount, where she converted the old laundry room of the novelist Edith Wharton's Lenox estate into a store specializing in books that align with Wharton's interests. More recently, she spent two years revamping the merchandise and presentation in the shop at Hancock Shaker Village, a post she left to work with her husband at his antiquarian bookstore, Berkshire Books
, which has occupied the second story of a building on Park Row in Chatham for more than ten years.
It was their downstairs neighbor there, Jeff Risley, owner of the Park Row Gallery
, a custom-framing shop and art exhibition space, who raised the idea that Kaarin should share his street-level storefront with him. "He wanted to shake things up, and he thought his customers and mine might be a good fit." The synergy shows every sign of working. Last Saturday, for example, two men came in to pick up something they'd had framed. "We got to chatting," says Kaarin, "and it turns out that, in the city, they live around the corner from the Whitney. So they did
a little shopping with me, including buying a book. I said, 'if you like this, you should go upstairs and see what my husband has." When, some time later, they finally left the building, they caught Kaarin's eye through the window and raised their Berkshire Books bag for her to see.
Pookstyle is a bright, airy space, where housewares, books, fine art and a wide range of "thoughtful gifts," such as a small box of addictive
caramels that taste just like gingerbread, are presented with the kind of artistry museum
shops specialize in—clean, clear, and focused. Some of the merchandise is familiar—glassware from iittala, the Finnish company—but even the most jaded shopper will find plenty of surprises here. "I grew up with the iittala glasses," says Kaarin, whose "father was Finnish and mother was an Olson, a Swede." Her Scandinavian roots show in her shop, even in the simple, colorful things she has chosen that happen to have come from somewhere else—Europe, Japan, or the States. "The plastic lunch boxes and briefcases are from someone whose designs we carried at the Whitney," she says. "David Romanoff, who lives and manufacturers his things right here in Chatham."
So what exactly is Pookstyle? "It's my style," Kaarin admits. "Pook was a baby name that some people in my family still use." As for the rest of us: "Anyone who spends $50,000 in this store is allowed to call me that." Even at $30 apiece, it would take a lot of exquisite oak-handled pot-scrubbing brushes from Sweden to add up to that, so for now, let's just keep it at Kaarin.
2 Park Row
Monday, Wednesay - Friday 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.; Sunday noon - 3 p.m.