Earlier this month, Rebecca Atwood opened her first flagship store just a few blocks away from the bustling center of SoHo on a quiet street in Nolita. The light-filled space feels apropos to house Atwood’s spring and fall collections, which feature a mixture of soft goods and versatile, woven fabrics with a distinct painterly quality. The neighborhood is already home to a several other design-centric shops, including The Primary Essentials and Concrete Collective, so Atwood’s boutique is a natural fit for the area.
Here, Culture Trip chats with Atwood about her new retail location, the aesthetic allure of her hometown in Cape Cod, and how she blended her background in painting into designing for the home.
Culture Trip (CT): If you could describe or sum up your design aesthetic in a few words, what would they be?
Rebecca Atwood (RA): Calm, livable, and personal patterns.
CT: Before becoming a home décor designer, you studied painting—and it’s very obvious in your textile creations. Can you talk a little bit about this?
RA: I loved to work with my hands for as long as I can remember. When I was little, I had these books about Monet, Van Gogh, and Renoir, and I wanted to be a painter like them. Fortunately, my parents were very encouraging and supported my interest in art. I took classes throughout my childhood, and attending Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) seemed like a natural choice. RISD opened my eyes to a wider world of art that I hadn’t really known about.
CT: Do you prefer to work with watercolors, oils, or acrylics?
RA: My favorite type of paint is gouache. It’s a water-based paint similar to watercolor, but it’s more opaque and allows you to create flat colors or build up color. You can also make soft washes [similar to] watercolor. I try to mix things up, though, and love cut paper, potato printing, and marbling.
CT: How did you translate your background in art into designing for the home?
RA: In retrospect, it seems so obvious that I was interested in making things that people could use and touch. I love that about home products.
[My first job out of college] was at Anthropologie on their home design team. That was really my training ground, and I learned so much during my time there. I was given the opportunity to design everything—dish towels, aprons, measuring cups, bowls, bedding, curtains, rugs, candle packaging, and more. After two years, I moved to New York.
CT: Was that when you started your own company?
RA: Prior to starting my own line, I primarily worked for a small design consultancy company where we designed private label programs for all levels of the market, [with brands such as] Bed Bath & Beyond, Amazon, Urban Outfitters, and Kate Spade. I also traveled a good amount for development in Europe and India, so I learned what it was like working on the ground with factories and that side of the business. [All of] that experience was invaluable.
When I left my job to start my own line, I was driven by a desire to do things differently. I wanted to create product that I truly believed in, but also to control how and where that product was being made. I started with just 60 pillows that I hand-painted, printed, and dyed myself, and then had sewn in [Manhattan’s] Garment District. So that’s where it all started! It’s been quite a ride since then.
CT: I can definitely see the influence of Cape Cod in your work: light, airy colors that evoke the sand and sea. What other “Massachusetts” cues do you incorporate into your work?
RA: So much of this collection comes from my personal history and memories. I grew up on Cape Cod. The water and soft neutrals of the coastal landscape became so much a part of my sensibility. The off-season was very muted and highlighted the textures and natural patterns. The shifting light would create varying hues of one shade.
My family also saves everything, so I was always surrounded by antiques. My mom has dresses from the 1920s, beautiful hand-painted china, and an attic full of interesting objects. We were a family that used the good china and silver—my mom taught us to live with these beautiful things. Why have them if you aren’t going to use them? I think this idea of wanting to create products that are truly special, but also not so precious you can’t use them, comes from my mom. My pillows have been made with a lot of care and attention, but they are meant to be used.
CT: Why did you decide to open up your store in Nolita?
RA: I love that we’re a little bit removed from the full-on pace of SoHo, but still close by with a good amount of foot traffic. I love the energy in this area right now. We’re on a great block with the boutique Warm right up the street. A little further north you have Oroboro, as well. We’re not far from our friends, The Primary Essentials, as well. There are a lot of great boutiques opening up in this area, and it’s an area I enjoy spending time in.
CT: Your store also features other home goods from local designers. How did you go about selecting them?
RA: I love that having a physical space is going to allow us to do more with the surrounding community. There are so many designers doing completely different things, whose work I admire, and I wanted to involve them in the space. It was really fun picking out pieces for the store. Honestly, they were based on my personal preferences to start with, but I also asked some of the designers what pieces they wanted to feature.
CT: One very cool thing about your textiles is that they all seem to work together as a cohesive unit, while maintaining a separate identity on their own. How did you achieve this?
RA: I think this comes from having a very specific, personal aesthetic. I think about how the new colors are going to sit with existing colors, so that they will complement one another, but also feel fresh.
[I want our customers] to be able to create their own personal story with our patterns. Depending on which ones you put together you can create many different looks.
CT: Some of the more water-inspired looks remind me of Martyn Thompson’s collection from 2016, which was inspired by the Ionian Sea. Which designers do you take artistic cues from?
RA: I try to stay true to my own studio practice as much as possible. In a world where there is so much access to images that it can almost feel like a bombardment at times, I try to avoid some of that.
CT: What do you find most inspiring right now, and why?
RA: I find inspiration everywhere! I find it in my daily life walking around the city, the shadows on the sidewalk, a beautiful blush color against a rusted metal, or a woman’s floral dress reflected in a glass building.
CT: Has travel helped you create in any way?
RA: Travel is a time for me to paint and see the world in a new way. In the past few years, a trip to Zihuatanejo, Mexico, as well as Japan have inspired me.
I stay inspired by allowing myself time to recuperate and stay fresh. It’s so important to allow time to relax, otherwise you just can’t be inspired in the same way. I also make time to just play and experiment in my sketchbook without pressure. That’s when my best ideas come out.
Rebecca Atwood Designs is located at 175 A Mott Street, New York, NY 10012.