Owning a Brooklyn Design Shop

Food & Wine: Brooklyn Design Shop Collyer’s Mansion
Collyer’s Mansion Photo © Maren Ellingboe
By Maren Ellingboe Posted October 30, 2013

With its tree-lined streets and rows of Victorian mansions, Ditmas Park feels more like a small town than a neighborhood in the middle of Brooklyn, which made it the perfect location for the husband-and-wife team of Benjamin Heemskerk and Mauri Weakley to open their first store, Collyer’s Mansion. The couple leveraged her background in merchandising (Weakley worked for Steven Alan for several years) and his small-business experience (Heemskerk owns a restaurant down the street called the Castello Plan) to create a store offering a beautifully curated collection of antique finds, artisan goods and flea market curiosities. Located just off Ditmas Park’s main street, Collyer’s Mansion is packed tight with beautiful items for the home, including antique furniture, custom lighting and the couple’s own line of textiles and pillows. The shop’s name seems to perfectly describe the tiny space: “Collyer’s Mansion” is a firefighter’s term from the 1940s, referring to the house of a hoarder.

What’s your favorite part about owning a store?
Benjamin Heemskerk: It’s great to be able to run a business with my wife. It’s really a family operation—my father restores all of the vintage and antique furniture, and I love working with him too.

Mauri Weakley: My mom is a third-generation seamstress, and we make all of the pillows in-house, as well as making linen tablecloths, napkins and table runners together.

What influences you when sourcing items?
BH: A lot of our customers are renters and when you rent, it’s hard to make a commitment to decor. We always keep that in mind when buying pieces for the store. For example, chandeliers and lighting can help you put your signature on your rental apartment without changing the walls and knocking things down.

Where do you find your products?
MW: Most of the items are American-made or from American companies. The ceramics are all handmade by New York artists, and you can really feel that. We have a number of things from the always-great Canvas and Fog Linen.

BH: We also go to auctions and estate sales to look for antique prints, furniture and other objects.

What else do you love about owning your own store?
MW: I love being able to buy beautiful things, but not having to worry about having them go together in your apartment. We might stumble across something that I think is gorgeous, but might be too modern for our house. It’s great to find things that would work well in someone else’s apartment.

Do you pay attention to decor trends, or do you tend to focus on more classic items?
MW: I think that trends influence us subconsciously, but I don’t think it dictates what we buy. Mostly, I just started picking out fabrics and items that I liked. I think we have a good mixture of quirky and sophisticated, form and function.

Any big plans for the future?
MW: We just launched e-commerce on our website. Eventually, we would love to expand the store outside of New York—it would be great to be able to explore other cities and bring these wonderful products elsewhere.

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