This story originally was published in our March 2015 issue.
Somewhere between strolling Copenhagen’s streets and dinner parties with Danish friends, Ivy Simon dreamed up a big idea. During a year working abroad, the Chapel Hill native and her husband John were exposed to great design in a country where Hans Wegner and Arne Jacobsen are household names. “The elegant simplicity of it [all] is what really appealed to us,” she says. The sleek lines and distinctive nature of the modern pieces were still in their minds after they moved back to the States. So the pair combined John’s background in quality and operations with Ivy’s time in global marketing, opening Palette & Parlor in June .
Tucked in East 54, the expansive store is industrial, softened with floor-to-ceiling curtains. The raw concrete floors show off the cowhide rugs, and pieces like The Swan Chair and The Barcelona Chair come close to resembling art pieces. But don’t think for a minute this is a museum. “We’re not a gallery where you come in and look but don’t touch. We want people to feel very welcome,” she says. “Everything that we sell is meant to be cherished, but also enjoyed, lived on, sat on, eaten on and played on.” They’ve developed a far-flung following. Customers in Wilmington drove up to see a Harry Bertoia diamond chair, and the Simons sold a chair by an Italian designer to a client in Dubai last fall.
Most everything in their store is made-to-order. “In our country, there’s been a more mass-market mindset, like ‘Oh, I’ll just have it for a few years and throw it away,’” she says. “Ikea obviously brought Scandinavian style to the masses but the furniture is very inexpensively made and not really designed to last forever.” In the era of new gadgets every two years, Ivy sees a parallel between Denmark and her husband’s hometown of Hickory – both have a dedication to quality and a long tradition of craftsmanship. But some aspects of European design get lost in translation. “All Europeans love natural wool and felt materials, and I got [a chair in the store] and thought, ‘Hm, dark gray wool in North Carolina in the summer may not have been my best choice.’” Ivy recalls.
The level of quality means they don’t seek to compete with the big box stores. “I tell people I think it’s smart to invest over time because a lot of the pieces you’ll have forever and be able to hand them down to your children,” Ivy says. Case in point, one of their first customers was a couple who have been married 50 years and are still adding to their collection. John delivered a chair to the couple’s modernist home in Durham, and they showed him all the original Hans Wegner items they bought in the 1960s. “They had a teak dining room set that had held up all those years,” Ivy says. “It’s a testament to the quality.”