Finally, CB2 comes to Los Angeles!
April 29th, 2009
I remember all those years when I lived in Seattle and eagerly anticipated my occasional trips to Chicago, New York and Boston – because that’s where I could finally shop at Crate & Barrel. It was always a challenge to see how many throw pillows, dessert plates and flatware I could cram into my suitcase when time came to fly home.
For me and countless other Seattleites, those retail pilgrimages to Crate & Barrel’s Midwest and East Coast outposts whetted our appetites for the time when the innovative home furnishings-and-accessories merchant finally came to Seattle about five years ago.
You could say the same scenario is playing out here – again – as fans of Crate & Barrel’s younger, modern-focused sister store, CB2, have been keen for a real, brick-and-mortar version to arrive on the West Coast (catalog and online shopping is cool – but nothing beats touching, feeling, sitting in and sizing up the actual product).
By the way, the first CB2 store in Los Angeles isn’t just brick-and-mortar construction. The smart, modern and affordable retail environment conforms to LEED requirements by incorporating eco-friendly bamboo floors, low VOC-paints and the re-use of existing materials.
Situated on the corner of Sunset and Laurel in Hollywood, the store’s façade is ornamented with gun-metal gray grates. Its large windows display CB2’s iconic vignettes. This is CB2’s third West Coast store – in the past six months, San Francisco and Berkeley addresses have also opened (and there are also two original stores in Chicago and one in NYC’s SOHO neighborhood).
There are definitely echoes of Crate & Barrel’s aesthetic at CB2. Althought, with its own streamlined, uncomplicated and playful vibe, CB2 targets apartment, loft and home dwellers with a modern attitude.
According to a 2008 article in the Chicago Tribune, CB2 is Crate & Barrel’s “less expensive furniture concept aimed at younger shoppers who frequent Target and Ikea.” I kept asking myself why that Tribune statement bugged me. I finally realized that it’s because CB2’s shopping environment is way more sophisticated than the two stores to which it’s compared. CB2 is everything about design, but in a specialty store setting rather than a big-box one. Unlike Target and Ikea (which are great, don’t get me wrong), you don’t have that anxious, gotta-grab-what-I-need-and-get-outta-here feeling at CB2. You want to stay. And chill out.
I predict a huge success for CB2 in LA, starting tomorrow morning, when its 8, 500-square-foot outlet opens on Sunset Strip. I visited CB2 to see and shop there during this morning’s press preview.
Greeted by Marta-Maria Calle, CB2’s brand director, I enjoyed the chance to sit down with her for a quick interview. Hey, I really like this woman, not only because she was wearing the same chambray-blue linen Eileen Fisher tunic that I wore for the taping of “Peace by Design.”
Marta-Maria shared the background of CB2’s genesis – from a seed of a modern design idea to a full-fledged retail destination – and she graciously answered some of my questions:
When did CB2 first emerge as a Crate & Barrel concept?
The first store opened in Chicago in 2000. Gordon Segal (C&B’s co-founder and Chairman) and Barbara Turf (longtime Crate & Barrel president, appointed CEO last year) wanted to test the brand’s modern attitude. They asked a few Crate & Barrel buyers to buy for CB2. I was one of them. Now, we’re a company of 16 people and we are moving away from the “mother ship” to our own office location in six weeks. [Marta-Maria told me that after about five years of juggling buying duties for both retail concepts, she persuaded Barbara to spin off CB2 as a separate retail venture with its own, fully-dedicated creative staff.]
Why has it taken 10 years for CB2 to begin expanding more aggressively?
We don’t do anything until we’re ready. We wanted to give this brand a reason to be. It’s all about value. Our emphasis is “Simply Modern and Simply Affordable.”
What is your retail philosophy?
We believe we’ll build the CB2 brand one customer at a time. We are one-hundred percent customer-service powered.
Tell me how you develop your product selection:
We work with designers and manufacturers to create CB2 products. Ninety percent of our products are exclusive to CB2. We want to allow people to bring their ideas to us (rather than only developing products internally). We always ask: how much would our customer pay for this? If we can’t meet that price, we won’t carry the product. Also, our design priority is to balance mass-produced with the “hand touch” aspect of design.
What about your outdoor products?
About two years ago, we started dabbling in outdoor. Now it has exploded and we can do even more.
Give me an example of “hand touch”:
Look at the Eco Picnic Table. It has the lines of a classic Parsons-style table, but it’s made from Forest Stewardship Council eucalyptus wood. We worked on the stain for nine months. (Note: the minimalistic grey wash brings out the wood grain and reminds me of distressed driftwood.)
I’m interested in your color palette. It’s bright, but not cartoonish:
We’re beginning to own orange. Our original CB2 logo was orange, blue and green, but we decided to just keep the orange. Grey is the other color we love.
What’s on the horizon for CB2?
We just came back from Milan and I’m pleased to say, CB2 is already reflecting some of the trends we saw there. We want to reflect calm, serenity and simplicity.
Thank you Marta-Maria. Best wishes for CB2’s success in Los Angeles.
Here are some of CB2’s outdoor products that caught my eye. You can check them out yourself beginning tomorrow – or visit CB2 online.