DARA Artisans Decorate With Global Treasures
The founders of the online marketplace fill their Little Compton home with handmade pieces.
Behind Closed Doors
Stones walls and ribbons of puffy hydrangeas are standard in Little Compton. It’s only once you’re inside the waterfront enclave that you get a clue that something’s different: an artful clay wind chime by Michele Quan sways in the salt breeze not far from a craggy mill stone (the couple reassembled the pieces) dating back to the eighteenth century. This engaging mix of old and new, east and west references, is reflective of the Brewsters’ sophisticated design vocabulary, a blend of modern on one hand, old school on the other, but minus the stuffiness. Unexpected juxtapositions lend their approach an irresistible spin.
A 1700s Queen Anne table sits by the front door. The living room sconce is a flea market find. The dining room’s antique chandelier is French. The flower vase, by Michele Quan, is also available on DARA. Roberto Diago’s art elevates the guesthouse.
Built in the 1930s as a summer destination, the picturesque house was in need of help when the Brewsters claimed it in 2002. Rampant vegetation was making its way to the roof and numerous higgledy-piggledy remodels were hiding the building’s best bones. “It’s been a labor of love ever since,” Dara says.
Such a traditional backdrop — Dutch doors, beadboard and black iron hardware — seems a quirky showcase for ancient Korean pottery and Indian textiles, right? Yet, surprisingly, these storied items seem as much at home as do a Shaker table and bench. The glue that binds them together is perfect workmanship.
Indigo dyer Aboubakar Fofana’s heavenly linen throw covers the couple’s bed. On their door (bottom, right) hang Turkish towels and a cashmere scarf. The delicate table is Shaker. The shipshape new bath, at the end of the second floor hall, echoes the color of the ocean.
The Brewsters launched their uber successful company to gain artists and artisans, wherever they may be, a platform. “Help an artist,” Dara says, “and you help his whole community.” At the same time, they’re preserving myriad cultural heritages and giving followers the opportunity to acquaint themselves with an inventory of meticulously executed handmade items.
To mimic their sensibility, they tell us, think of William Morris, soul of the Arts and Crafts Movement. “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful,” Morris wrote.
Close Up and Personal
Since claiming ownership, the Brewsters — with help from Dara’s stepfather, New York architect J. Gregory Crozier, Dan’s son Graham, and Tiverton carpenter Joe Aiello (who also happens to be a sea captain) — have been on a non-stop upgrading kick.
Essentials like insulation and tight windows were priorities. But over time, a rocker-filled porch also appeared, ceilings were lifted, a stunning Sultan-would-envy bath was added and yesterday’s forlorn kitchen was awarded soapstone counters and doubled in size. Dan swapped his heirloom gun collection for the vertical grain, southern pine flooring that once graced a Fall River mill. The dining room floor sports a diamond pattern, while most of the rooms (the snug dark blue library is the exception) are painted Benjamin Moore’s Linen White. Spatterings of color come by way of the art, nineteenth-century Turkish and Caucasian rugs the couple have amassed and pillows smartly clad in handmade textiles.
If the proximity of the ocean weren’t dazzling enough, sun floods the place highlighting poetic pairings in every room. Syrian artist Adam Salha’s painting is teamed with an antique Hepplewhite chair and two Korean ninth-century Koryo Dynasty bowls in the living room. Upstairs a polished Sicilian inlaid chest sits beneath a moody Haitian oil painting. And along with its knock-out water views, the master bedroom includes an appealing blend of vintage wood chickens, Shaker furniture and cloud-soft peshtemels (traditional handloomed Turkish towels with a history that can be traced back some 600 years).
Given their congeniality and dedication, it’s easy to see why the Brewsters have become good friends with many of the artists and craftsmen they represent. A house tour generates travel stories as well as childhood remembrances. The plump Steiff bear overseeing the hall belonged to Dan’s aunt. The sky blue pillows perched on the couple’s bedroom chairs (facing page, top) are dressed in an inexpensive sarong Dara discovered in India and had reworked by a local seamstress.
Although the majority of offerings at DARA Artisans hit an upscale audience willing to pay for unique, well-crafted items (a headier status symbol these days than any flashy name label), Dara reminds us you don’t have to spend a fortune to own something wonderful. She and Dan, after all, have turned a log that washed ashore into a chic, iron-legged console. And that witty piece sharing space with a cool South African sculpture? On close inspection, it reveals itself to be a strange pinecone culled from the couple’s yard.
Dan uses the easel when he paints, and the blue Japanese plate belonged to his mother. The chickens hail from Vermont. Blueberry branches in a tub make a statement in the al fresco dining room.
How they found time is a mystery. Nevertheless, the Brewsters and their team also moved a rickety shed, transforming it into a fully equipped guesthouse where they hole up — the main house is closed — on winter weekends. No surprise, this lair contains a stash of its own. The sitting area incorporates a fantastic monograph by Cuban artist Roberto Diago evoking a raft, Fez bowls, a Tucker Robbins handmade coffee table (part of DARA’s Tucker Robbins Collection) and a West African tribal chair. A carved Pitcairn Island bird perches on the shelf. “These things are inspiration. They’re representative of why we started our company, how we live and collect,” says Dara. “We bring them all home and meld them into our life.”
Forever searching, these frequent fliers, who also maintain a nest in Manhattan, have literally scoured just about every country we can think. Since one artisan often leads to another, their leapfrog search is ever widening. From Laos to Cuba, the hunt is on. In 2012, in fact, the fearless couple was visiting Syria when civil war broke out. “We were lucky,” recalls Dara. “The fighting was in the south and we were in the north.” Their list of future destinations — Iran this month, Africa to be announced — reads like a storybook.
And, yes, the couple enrich their company with myriad products from this country, too. Take the gorgeous New Mexican Acoma pottery (some meticulously handpainted with a traditional yucca brush) they feature, for example. Or, maybe, the blue and white speckled tableware out of New Jersey. Along with stunning handmade lamps from Oregon, there’s unbelievable jewelry from Brooklyn and sumptuous leather goods from Los Angeles. Not to be left behind, our design-conscious state is also represented. The Brewsters showcase Rhode Island handweaver Amy Lund’s handsome placemats and the gleaming copper pans made by Jim Hamann.
With so much beauty all around, these online entrepreneurs might be forgiven just a tiny bit of complacency. But that’s not the case. The couple speak of every item they own, each product they feature, be it Bhutanese maple burl bowls, Mexican market bags or slick buffalo horn-handled Italian cutlery, with reverence. And they practice what they preach. Avid cooks, they wield — we checked — the very hand-hewn wooden spoons and stainless knives they sell.
If you’re thinking your budget doesn’t allow for such indulgences, take heart. DARA products range widely anywhere from about $49 for a Kashmir Collection noodle bowl to around $4,000 for Dorothy Torivio’s made-in-the-USA seed pot, which sold out in forty-eight hours. (Tip: Check daraartisans.com for their sales. A Juma canvas and leather tote the color of a sunset was marked down recently to $59. Jewelry frequently sells for less than $100.)
Making an Impact
Envious of the Brewsters’ ability to embrace the world, we asked Dara for advice. How can we protect heritage crafts and enrich our lives in the same vein but closer to home?
To start, she suggests, “we consider what we perceive to be artful and then slowly layer whatever it is into our lives.” Maybe, it will be handcrafted plates or handwoven rugs. The idea is not to dash off to a box store when we can buy, for instance, a salad bowl or cutting board from a nearby woodworker. Sure, we’re going to pay a bit more. But, they’re handmade, maybe from a tree felled in one of our coastal storms, and they’re a zillion times better looking. “It’s important to pay attention to your local artists and artisans,” Dara reiterates.
When we get the opportunity to travel, we’ll do as advised: keep our eyes open. A lone porcelain dish could ignite a lifelong passion for collecting. “Before you go, read up on what the country you’re visiting is known for, say, cloth or pottery,” Dara says. “It will help you understand the process that’s involved.”
In the end, the Brewsters have left us thinking, nothing tops handmade. More than just a beautiful object, it’s the whole story behind it, one that could easily be lost, that comes home with us. It doesn’t matter if we never get to Mali or Marrakech. Something as simple as a shawl will connect us.