It’s a bit hard to concentrate when visiting The Swan’s House in Tarrytown.
That’s because your eyes will be constantly darting from one intriguing thing to the next. You may find yourself wondering where those Art Deco-inspired lamps were found or noting what glamorous accents those scallop-shaped pillows make. More than once, you may even find yourself, as I did, trying to convince yourself that you’d find a space that would merit such stunning artwork — a pair of oversize, arched panels each depicting a mysterious woman in elaborate robes.
And we could go on — and on — but you get the idea.
The Swan’s House is a trove of furniture, decorative goods and gifts both contemporary and vintage, the latter focusing primarily on the 1950s through the ’80s.
It’s all come together exactly as owners Sara Swan and Arthur Gandy had hoped and planned, while also just happening to fulfill Swan’s longtime dream of having her own store, a wish nurtured since she was about 10.
When asked what she thought it might look like, her answer is simple: “This. This is my store. This is my dream store.”
But it was — and is — far from a solo effort. The Swan’s House is a true collaboration between husband and wife, each bringing their own talents to the project. Swan, a native of Ireland, has a background in fine art and years in the fashion industry, while Gandy, a Midwesterner who spent his earliest years in Chicago, has extensive experience in construction and set design.
“I used to build sets for fashion and advertising,” Gandy says. “It was all for print ads.”
Swan and Gandy, together nearly a decade, met in New York — at Swan’s going-away party as she was moving back to Ireland. She did, for a time, but the rest, as they say, is history. The couple eventually moved to Tarrytown from Greenpoint, Brooklyn, some two and a half years ago. Commuting to the city for work got old, with the new parents wanting to find something closer to home.
OPEN FOR BUSINESS
The resulting new business opened its doors this October, a pink-and-green color scheme creating a retro-chic backdrop to a wealth of finds.
With the two, as Swan says, “both so design-oriented,” they saw potential in a former hair salon vacant for several years. The space would be utterly transformed by a total revamp spearheaded by Gandy.
As Swan says with a laugh, “Other than the things that are nailed down, everything’s for sale — chandeliers, rugs…”
And that everything includes a lot more, from vases and mirrors to sculptures and sofas, étagères and cocktail tables to chairs and throws. Murano glass is prominent in much of the shop’s lighting, from “mushroom” lamps blown from a single piece of glass to exotically shaped light fixtures.
There are also Jaru midcentury ceramic sculptures and those contemporary shell-shaped pillows by Tamar Mogendorff. A Milo Baughman for Morex smoked glass, chrome and brass dining table from Italy anchors the front of the shop.
“We had a really clear idea of what we wanted to do and how we wanted to look,” Swan says. “Everything just came to life.”
That vision also guided the buying process.
“We’re very specific with what we choose,” she says, adding that the goods also have a well-defined appeal. “It’s definitely not for everybody.”
But that focus allows them to buy with confidence — and a good eye.
“I feel everything we have is impeccable,” Swan says. This isn’t a thrift shop filled with items in desperate need of care. Exceptions are sometimes made, most often for wooden pieces when a minor fix can easily be handled by Gandy.
They love hearing the history of what they’re buying — “It makes the pieces more attractive to us,” Swan says — and love to pass that story on to customers.
And people are responding.
“Our demographic is definitely broader than I was expecting,” Swan says.
There are those who grew up with what’s featured but also younger shoppers connecting with the retro feel, ideally exemplified by the collection of Muzen mini Bluetooth speakers in the shape of record players and classic radios.
ON THE ROAD
Creating the right space was important — but filling it was equally so.
It was, Gandy says, “eight months of doing nothing but buying product.”
The couple not only stored but also lived with much of the merchandise in their home prior to the opening, which created a challenge when it was time to set things up.
“It’s hard not to get attached to things,” Swan says.
Even their 2½-year-old son got into the act, says Gandy, pointing to a knee-high chalkware sculpture that guards shop’s front door.
“The lion used to be in our living room. When he comes in, he gives it a hug.”
With seeking out vintage finds a shared passion of the couple, Swan adds that, “We knew where to go. We knew where to find these things and what we liked.”
The need to restock constantly allows the adventure to continue with frequent buying trips. Gandy says he will pick a direction — and a distance — and then research stops along the way. He might head out, for example, one day to Western Connecticut or another down the Jersey shore.
Otherwise, the longtime collectors might score big in a single stop, such as an interior designer’s estate sale; draw on sources they have cultivated over their years of collecting; or take advantage of Gandy’s professional contacts in the design field. Sources can be local or international, with the made-in-America goods at The Swan’s House joined by works from Italy to the Netherlands, Norway to Australia.
The selection process was no less stringent for contemporary goods.
“When it came to sourcing the new pieces, it had to really be about well-designed, thoughtful pieces,” Swan says.
The shop is also filled with gift items that include books, candles, chocolates, plush slippers, velvet bags, trays and ornaments, with an entire section devoted to artful greeting cards.
“We work with a lot of small, independent designers with the cards,” Swan says.
In addition, the shop has begun hosting events such as its recent “Meet The Maker” reception featuring Brooklyn-based Monster Crackers, a handcrafted twist on nutcrackers that add an offbeat touch to the surroundings.
The Swan’s House may be about singular finds but that doesn’t mean prices are sky high.
“The prices are good here,” Gandy says. “We want pieces to leave. We’re not a museum.”
That things would indeed move quickly was demonstrated very early on.
The night before the official opening, Swan says, she was in the shop working when an older gentleman asked to come in, as he wouldn’t be in the area again soon. He fell in love with a mirror and bought it on the spot.
“He took it on a bus,” Swan says, smiling at the memory. “I just felt like that was a good omen.”
And it seems to have been.
A growing online audience continues to translate to new customers.
“It’s a very Instagram-able store, which has helped me build up a following,” Swan says. Social media posts have been part of the story since before the doors opened. In those early days, Swan says, some 100 people were following The Swan’s House on Instagram. By mid-November, that number had topped 3,300.
And the name? Swan says it’s a nod to her parents and her earlier days growing up in the suburbs of Dublin, when everyone would want to gather at “the Swans’ house.”
Looks like some things never change.
The Swan’s House is at 37 N. Broadway in Tarrytown. For more, visit the shop on Instagram and Facebook.