Issue Date: 2018 OCTOBER, Posted On: 10/7/2018

10082018 California Home Boutique 'The Duchess on Cambridge' Gives Rugs the Royal Treatment
By Jessica Harlan

Designer Shelly Kim welcomes clients to her unique home furnishings emporium, The Duchess on Cambridge, where everything for sale is on display in fully decorated rooms in a 1923 historic home.

ORANGE, Calif. -- Stepping inside The Duchess on Cambridge is like visiting the home of your impeccably tasteful best friend. Indeed, it seems more like a residence than a home furnishings store, and for good reason: it actually is a historic home.

Built in 1923, the 4,000 square foot house underwent a painstaking, two-year-long restoration project by its owner, designer Shelly Kim. She opened the space as a full lifestyle boutique and design studio in November, 2016.

In this exclusive interview, RugNews.com learns how Kim's unique retail concept brings her California-casual style to life, and how she merchandises area rugs in spaces inside and out to help consumers visualize the look in their own homes. 

The Duchess on Cambridge is housed in a 1923 historic home that has been restored and transformed into a lifestyle shopping experience for everything from furniture to gifts and rugs.

Those who lose themselves wandering through bedrooms, kitchen, and inviting living spaces will not be surprised to learn that Kim's background includes a stint with the Walt Disney Company, where she was part of the team that opened Tokyo Disney. She also worked for high-end retail giants Nordstrom and Bonwit Teller & Co., and then left the workforce for 14 years to raise her triplet sons.

Having studied interior design as her sons were growing up, Kim knew she wanted her return to the workforce to focus on residential design, and she loved the idea of establishing a shop in an actual home, rather than a store in a mall or on a shopping street. The reason: she could truly merchandise the goods in a lifestyle setting.

"People often come in and say, 'Ah, I want to live here!'" says Kim, "Which to me is the ultimate sign of approval."

This elegant room in the Dutchess on Cambridge features a textural transitional geometric area rug from Feizy.

The store sells furniture, area rugs, linens, garden goods (the property features a 10,000 square foot garden with a carriage house and a porte-cochere), tabletop, art and design books, wall art, candles, gift items, toiletries, and more. Because of the layout of the house, everything is displayed in the area where it makes the most sense: toiletries in the bathroom, tabletop goods in the dining room and kitchen, bed linens in the bedrooms, garden goods in a sunny window.

While the customer base is primarily women in the 35- to 60-year age range, a surprising number of men come to the store. They're often drawn to hearing about the renovation process and to learning more about the historic home's architectural elements. Men also gravitate to the maple-paneled media room, with a 75-inch television and leather club chairs, where they can watch sports while their wives shop.

Throughout the house are the beautiful hardwood floors that Kim refinished and stained herself.  "Here in California, we love our hardwood floors," Kim notes. And the floors make the ideal showcase for the store's selection of area rugs, most of which are from Feizy.

Explains Kim, "We looked at several rug lines, and Feizy is absolutely the most encompassing of everything we need with regard to design and price point." The sweet spot, she says, seems to be handmade wool rugs in the $4,500 range. In addition to Feizy, The Duchess on Cambridge carries an assortment of mats from Spicher and Company.

"It's not the linoleum of our mothers' kitchen," says Kim of Spicher's products. "They have really great vintage throw mats at a great price."

A blue and white theme at The Duchess on Cambridge is a nod to California's coastal lifestyle decorating.

Kim is the primary buyer for all product categories sold within the store, and with area rugs, she's just as discerning as she is with other products throughout The Duchess. "Quality is number one, and design is right there with quality," she says of her selection process. She tries to curate a broad assortment of rugs to cater to the various design styles that her clients might embody, which could vary between coastal, cottage, contemporary, traditional, and transitional. 

While the majority of the offerings are handmade, about 20 percent of the store's sales are in good-quality machine-made rugs. "Not everyone can afford a hand-created wool rug, and nor does it meet every purpose," Kim says, noting that vendors like Feizy "have reproduced some of their one-of-a-kinds into a machine-made version, and they've turned out beautifully and at a good price point. That really helps, when clients can't invest in a huge rug purchase."

But the one-of-a-kind rugs definitely have their following, and Kim especially likes to use those in high-focus areas within a house she's designing or in her showroom. Custom rugs are also a frequent request, particularly with California's oversized homes. Kim says most of her custom rugs are ordered through Feizy or a private-label source.

With outdoor living being an integral part of the Southern California lifestyle, indoor/outdoor rugs are around one-quarter of the store's total rug sales. With the extensive outdoor space at The Duchess, the designers will assemble outdoor vignettes with an area rug as the focal point. "To be able to show them the [outdoor rug] in its element is a huge advantage. We can tell them, this has been down for three months, and this is what it looks like. We just hose it off every so often."
The Duchess has even been known to sell the manufacturer's sample sizes, particularly to use as mats in bathrooms or kitchens. Explains Kim, "They're so pretty and beautifully made!"

A cozy seating vignette on a stairway landing at The Duchess of Cambridge is finished with a Feizy rug, and a decorative basket holds rug samples offering clients additional decorating options.  

All told, area rugs account for around 20 percent of the store's total sales. At any given time, there might be only about 40 area rugs on display or in stock in the store, but Kim can order many more. Local warehouses store inventory that The Duchess can draw from. 

The Duchess on Cambridge offers interior design services and has a staff of four designers available to work on projects, but also caters to the local interior design community. Designers have access to a design room where they can look at fabrics, paint swatches, and catalogs, or get recommendations for resources like contractors. The store offers competitive discounts to trade members.

Kim believes that her shop is successful because of its unique positioning. "In the state of California, it's difficult for a small company to stay in business, with all the taxes and licenses and insurance needed," she says. "But the thing that sets us apart is that people can actually see these products in a home setting. It's such an advantage to see the product in action.  We've captured a lot of customers from stores that are closing."
Customer service is also key to The Duchess' success. "With my Nordstrom upbringing, service is paramount to everything we do," says Kim. The layout of the house allows the store to host classes -- options have included floral design and wreath making -- and even host special events, such as bridal showers. "In the end, we just like pretty things and love to help other people have pretty things!"

Above and below, seasonal and garden accessories add to the allure of The Duchess on Cambridge's total home decorating concept. Above,  fall decor is showcased with a Spicher and Company vinyl mat.

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