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The gentle birds that could

Posted in Home & Decor

Gemma Orkin
Gemma Orkin’s birds

On Boxing Day, my baby cousin – all of 42 years old – will arrive for her first visit to my Los Angeles house, new boyfriend in tow. “I am the last one to make the trek” and, indeed she is, with most friends and family members having come to stay more than once. The draw of living in a place with beach and Disneyland.

Last year I renovated the guest bedroom but, since my stepson moved out a few months ago, his room and guest bathroom have been lying fallow and forlorn as I have no clear idea of what I want, other than a blue/grey shade I already picked for the bedroom wall. But it was time to tackle at least the bathroom, full of a mixture of masculine black utility objects he picked, and childhood art on the walls I hang when we first moved in. Ideally, I would like to redo the bathroom completely, tear out the tub and replace it with a giant shower, but such major work is not at the top of the list of things to address first in this house.

With a minimal budget in mind, one morning, last week, I swept up mats, soap holders, bamboo trays and other assorted crap and threw everything out; cleaned the cabinets and then took a field trip to West Elm in Santa Monica, where I marched to the very back of the store where the sales wall is located. As I have an aversion towards standard bathroom accessories, I was not in the market for conventional soap and toothbrush holders – for less than $80 I walked out weighed down by two large green vases; two green glass candle holders that would stand in for toothbrushes; two long rectangular white and lime green striped plates that would hold soap; lime green rugs; one white, lime green and grey mat and two cotton white and lime green monogrammed towels. Most objects were not intended for bathroom use but served exactly my purpose. Also, West Elm will be glad to know, they fulfilled their mission of letting customers use their creative spirit to decorate their spaces, rather than selling an overall look – Pottery Barn style. I never thought of the chain that way but, after having read that, it makes sense why it appeals to me.

Cape Town artis Gemma Orkin
Cape Town artist Gemma Orkin

A few months ago, sofagirl, asked me to go and check out some pillows at West Elm printed with her favorite birds. In her bathroom in Cape Town, she has a series of ceramic plates on the walls with delicate birds, the work of South African artist Gemma Orkin and she was excited to see the birds had flown all the way to the States. It wasn’t until yesterday that I saw an article on West Elm’s president Jim Brett’s apartment in Brooklyn, in which he talked about a bowl with Ms. Orkin’s birds he bought when visiting Cape Town, which, in turn, translated into her work debuting in the US.

West Elm opened a couple of weeks ago, to much fanfare, in the UK. What wasn’t talked about nearly as much was Mr. Brett’s belief that a company, no matter its size, can act responsibly and still run a profit. With the endorsement of the Clinton Global Initiative, West Elm has promised to pay $35 million, over the course of 2015, to artisans in 15 countries who use handcraft techniques (source New York Times ). This kind of ethical merchandising allows craftspeople to keep on living in their villages rather than migrate to look for less skilled labour in urban areas.

When capitalism, common sense and ethical business practices come together, companies, consumers and manufacturers all win. To keep on shopping at one of my favorite stores with a clear conscience adds to the experience. To think my interest started with some birds on a bathroom wall in far-flung Cape Town – talk about global economy.

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  1. Delighted to hear that West Elm has opened an outlet in London – I’ll be there for 10 days in January and will go and forage!

    December 21, 2013
    • World domination for all these chains! Let me know what you think

      December 21, 2013

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