When you walk into RePOP Design on Washington Avenue in Brooklyn, N.Y., any number of wildly unique pieces in their vintage shop might catch your eye.
Maybe it’ll be the cylinder of a phonograph that hangs overhead as a lamp, a George Nelson credenza, one of many dolls or mannequin heads, possibly the skeleton of a shark mouth in the corner, one of the huge antique Coca-Cola advertisements in the back hallway, or the Life magazine portrait covers hanging on the walls. But no matter what you point out, owners Carl Grauer and Russell Boyle will surely be able to tell you the story behind it.
“You see a piece of history,” Grauer says of their finds, as he runs his hand lovingly over a desk in the front of the store built during the Great Depression by a law school student at Penn State. “It’s one of a kind, you’ll never find another piece like this.”
Grauer and Boyle opened RePOP together in 2006 after a sabbatical in Kansas City where they pursued their shared passion for art. After helping a designer there get her vintage shop and homegoods store off the ground, they decided to return to New York and open one of their own. The company got its name from Boyle’s father, a collector as well, who used to call reproductions “repops.”
“He used to say ‘Oh you don’t want to get that, that’s a repop.’ He was mad at me when we decided to call the store that because he thought people would misunderstand us,” Boyle explains, as the name refers to reuse, rather than reproduction.
RePOP now offers interior design, home rearrangement and apartment staging services. But the big news is that they just recently finished their first commercial project: Nighthawk Cinema, the first movie theater in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Nighthawk also offers food services, including table service during viewings, and two bar areas.
“It was really intense because we worked hand-in-hand with the architects who’d made the building. We’d never done that before. We had weekly meetings to go over blueprints and schematics. It was like a crash course on design for us, on a larger scale,” Boyle says.
But what was particularly exciting for the dynamic duo was that the project gave them the opportunity to be themselves. From antique theater seats to placing an old barber’s station from the 1930s on the wall as a bar back, it allowed them to think out of the box, something they don’t always have the chance to do on residential projects. The space is filled with unconventional details, including a VHS collection display and case next to the upstairs bar.
“The goal was to make this new building look like it’d been there forever,” says Boyle. That meant doing a lot of construction themselves. The two say they’ve finally learned to ask for help, and laugh as they recall unleashing their frustrations on each other as they stood atop ladders and hand-buffed the tin ceilings in the Nighthawk.
But it’s those personal touches on the interiors they work on, and all the amazing finds that the two uncover and refurbish or enhance that have made them so successful. With self-proclaimed “creepy” senses of humor, they can see the beauty in pieces that many might turn away from. They both recall some controversial window displays they arranged in the past that some local rabbis offered them money to remove.
“I’ve had different obsessions,” explains Grauer. “It started with nuns, then all things religious, then the medical stuff, then white nurses.” Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that Grauer’s mother was a former nun.
Both Boyle and Grauer are artists and in the back of the RePOP shop is a room dedicated to repairs, which also houses a number of their paintings. One of them is a painting of a manipulated photo of Grauer’s mom on her wedding day. She is dressed in white on the right, and everyone in the pews to the left is dressed in black. Walk over to the other side of the room, peek behind the door, and you’ll find Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart staring back at you—a portrait painted by Boyle, who confesses to being a big fan.
But no matter what obsessions may come and go, there is one that will never go out of style for RePOP: a lifestyle and business that focuses on sustainability. Their motto, “respect the past to enhance the future,” summarizes their philosophy perfectly, as much of their business revolves around finding new uses for items that might have ended up in a junkyard otherwise (such as the shoe rack towards the back of the store that was turned into a wine rack).
“We both believe there are a lot of problems with manufacturing as far as outsourcing goes, and it’s a way we can have a small business that grows in a respectable manor that is sustainable and is everything that we value about working in New York and America,” Grauer says.
The pair shows clients how to see the value and beauty in their vintage finds, but more importantly they show them how to be risk-takers, too.
“We listen to what people want and nudge them to go where they might be afraid to go. Because no one wants to be beige. There’s nothing wrong with beige, but at the end of the day, none of us want to be beige,” Boyle says emphatically.
Amen to that.
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Carl Grauer and
Owners, RePOP Design
They’d love for their next project to be designing a bar.
68 Washington Ave.
Brooklyn, NY, 11205