Walking into smallhome, a matchbox-sized storefront on Metropolitan near the Graham Avenue stop on the L train in Williamsburg, feels like spiriting through a portal to rural America. Cluttered with handcrafted wares that range from white sage body wash to the perfect red plaid handkerchief, the store’s displays feature creative props like a rusted ladder, and assortment of wooden twigs and a vintage wicker chair. Although smallhome is, well, small, you could spend days sorting through the goods, uncovering treasures that you never even knew you wanted (like an astrologically-themed embroidery hoop).
The store was opened in 2014, when Small O’Kelly was four months pregnant. Having sold her handmade items at the Brooklyn Flea and Artist & Fleas, she knew that she needed a more stable schedule with a baby. “The goal was to house my own work and that of other artists, many who I’d met doing markets, in a permanent space with a pop-up feel,” she says.
These days she’s likely to find wares through social media submissions, but she makes sure to get to know all of the artisans she works with. “I’m supporting people who are supporting themselves,” she says. The shop is curated with her specific eye, but it’s much too inviting to call it a gallery. All these “big city, small batch” items are asking to be handled, loved and carried home.
O’Kelly doesn’t have to look far for her customer base. “Being along the L in a pocket near Bushwick, Greenpoint and Williamsburg, my life source is the locals,” she explains. Whether it’s neighbors on the way home from brunch, dog walkers out for a stroll (who spot the “All Animals Welcome” sign in the window), or new moms looking to commiserate about child rearing, there’s a strong community of customers at smallhome.
The store gets new merchandise weekly, and locals come in often to browse. While I was there, a steady flow of return customers strolled in, charmed by Small O’Kelly’s passion for their purchases. “Every object has a story,” she says. To explore that idea further, we asked Julia Small O’Kelly to tell us the tale behind three of her favorite items in the store.
Diorama Lamp ($65) by smallhome
“My diorama lamps have been a favorite for years, decorating bookshelves and bedside tables all over the world,” Small O’Kelly says. “We make each diorama lamp in our workshop using vintage imagery from storybooks and nature texts.”
The influence for her signature lamps started early–Small O’Kelly’s father recently reminded her that she was always fascinated by the dioramas at the Natural History Museum when she was growing up on the Upper West Side. Combined with her passion for urban green spaces, she builds these lamps as a way to bring nature inside to the darkest corners of the home, an urge so imperative that she named her son, Wild, after her love of nature. Being a mother, a maker, naturalist and shopkeeper is “a balance between heart and soul,” she says. “I’m always trying to find the wilderness in urban environments.”
Mason Jar Sippy Cup ($10/ $14) by smallhome
Like pretty much every other creative person in New York, Small O’Kelly worked in the service industry for a time. The Mason jar sippy cup was born from the health department demand that all service folk keep a lid on any beverage they might be consuming on the job. Instead of drinking out of a quart container with a hole punched in the lid like many of her co-workers, Small O’Kelly started “finding these old jars and jabbing holes in them and it evolved from there.”
Since then, the Mason jar craze has taken over the aesthetic of every Brooklyn bar (and all of Pinterest), but there’s no denying just how useful Small O’Kelly’s invention, available in two sizes, really is. Not only are they re-useable, these cups are glass instead of plastic. Even the straws are glass! “Our sippy cups have been outfitted with glass straws from a family-run glass blowing company in Colorado and are drilled and assembled right here,” she says.
Keep It/Lose It Wallet by Misc. Goods Co. ($58)
“Our leather keep/lose wallets are beautifully made and are good luck,” Small O’Kelly says. “They have been known to return to their owner after certain misplacement.” The oil-tanned wallets are made in Nashville by Misc. Goods Co. They’re the perfect size for folded bills and cards, and the back is inscribed with a poem to inspire your spending. “It will all fade, along with you, it will turn to dust, so be generous, and leverage it well,” each one reminds its owner.
This is beautiful advice for the shopper standing in smallhome, which has a hand-lettered sign that declares: Every dollar spent, every person told, keeps us open.
770 Metropolitan Avenue