April 26, 2018

Arkansas Interiors: Q&A with Chris Clement

Everyone has an “a-ha” moment when it comes to discovering something inspiring. I’ve known artists who discovered a particular museum or school of art and thought, “This! This is what I love!” For writers, it’s stumbling upon a particular genre that peaks their interest, or a chef tasting something for the first time and becoming inspired. These are the kinds of “a-ha” moments give direction to already existing passion. 

I’ve often joked that if interior design were an NFL level sport, I would be the crazy person in the front row with a painted face and a lucky jersey. But it’s one thing to know you’re interested in interiors, it’s quite another to understand what style inspires you. I found my answer, and my own “a-ha” moment, when I stepped through the doors of shared shops clement. and Sweet Home many years ago. I discovered a treasure trove of eclectic furniture, rustic combined with mid-century. I discovered toleware light fixtures, crystal paperweights and orchids. I discovered a creative and eclectic style of decorating that changed the way I lived in my own home.

Chris Clement opened his shop, clement., in 2005 in combination with mutual friend John Bell’s shop, Sweet Home. Their styles and tastes blended and meshed well together and have grown into a thriving business located in the SoMa (South on Main) section of Little Rock. Chris was able to utilize his background in interior design to create a retail haven. Customers will find everything from farmhouse tables, to antique doors, to Murano glass lamps.

I can personally attest to the fact that this store will bring out your own interior design stalking tendencies (mine culminated in a purchase of a vivid green piece of furniture that I proudly named “The Weasley China Cabinet”). Customers can follow Chris on Facebook, or be inspired daily by the photos on his Instagram account.

Chris is with us today to answer a few questions, and to inspire the decor lover in all of us.

How did clement. get its start?

I decided to try my hand at this business after I was laid off from a job in 2004. I had collected, bought and sold for fun during my free time, at least since college, so I decided to give it a shot. But I did ask other dealers questions and gathered their opinions before I made the leap. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t doing anything stupid, or if there was room in this market for another dealer.

What does your own home look like?

I would describe my home as maximalist. It’s a mix of textures, colors and shapes. I like the visual interest of mixing disparate items. But that said, I’m not insane, and I don’t want my living space to look that way either. I love color, and I have lots of artwork in different media, but there is a fairly consistent color palette throughout the spaces. Most of the walls and furnishings are inspired by nature, with a color palette of greys, blues, and greens. For instance, my living room furnishings include a vintage marble top coffee table with brass legs, a dark green leather chesterfield sofa, and a teak Danish armchair with cushions upholstered in a dark grey wool boucle. My artwork and accessories include at least one of these colors, so it all works together.

What’s the most amazing find you’ve ever stumbled across?

I truly can’t think of one particular find at the moment, but the items that “got away” early on stick out in my mind, things like really unusual pairs of lamps, huge 70s and 80s Italian art glass vessels and paintings. As a fresh young dealer, I naively thought, “Oh, if I found this, I’m sure I’ll run across others at some point.”

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What are the most commonly collected objects?

I don’t know if my customers consistently collect anything, they are all interested in different things. One collects floral oil paintings, from humble and folky to masterful. But lately, we’ve had so much more interest and inquiries about mid-century modern furniture and credenzas. A lot of these customers are young, but they are savvy about what they want. They’re not interested in 50s, 60s, and 70s kitsch. They want named pieces, Danish pieces, etc. Of course, some customers just want a certain look and don’t give a flip about the authenticity or the provenance. But many of them seem to be more informed and educated about what they are looking for.

What advice would you give those interested in venturing into the antique business?

My advice to anyone interested in this business is pretty basic. Make sure you love it! Especially early on, you’ll spend the majority of your time looking for inventory. Once you’re established, you’ll have relationships with other dealers and occasionally the general public, or your customers may approach you with items for sale. But be prepared to ‘check your traps’ regularly, and make it a big part of your life, because great stuff isn’t easy to find.

And speaking of other dealers, they’re one of the greatest joys and greatest resources in the business. Other dealers are “your people.” They often share your love for accumulating old stuff. And best of all, we all have our own affinities and areas of specialized knowledge. You may know nothing about rugs, but your friend down the street does. And she may come to you for information about things she’s not familiar with.

It also helps to have an innate curiosity and interest in history. You could be in this business for 100 years, and still, never know everything. It helps if you’re open and willing to learn. A background or interest in history can come in handy when an object stumps you, and you have to make educated guesses about its provenance. “Going with your gut” and intuition occasionally works, but not always!

What advice would you give someone who is just getting started decorating their home? 

If you’re just getting started decorating your own home, educate your eye, and get inspiration from books, magazines, movies, and other sources. Pinterest is a good resource for some things, but it’s frustrating to me that you often see beautiful images that are uncredited and offer zero context, so it can kind of be a dead end if you are looking for more specific information about furniture, styles, art, antiques, and accessories.

But above all, buy what you love and what speaks to you. If you do, odds are that it will organically work together, even if you have to tweak things later. And again, be open. You may love something and think you always will, but your experiences and your taste may change. It’s always great to be able to move on and “upgrade” to something else. Goodness knows that’s one of the perks of having a shop. Many times, I’ve been obsessed with something and I take it home to live with me. But if it doesn’t work in your space, or if it does, but you find something you love more later on, it’s pretty fantastic to be able to put a price on it and sell it to someone else!

Liz Harrell

Arkansas Women Bloggers member Elizabeth Harrell is a native Arkansan, author, and freelance writer. Her book, My (not so) Storybook Life, was published in 2011. Her blog projects have been featured in At Home Arkansas, Apartment Therapy, Design Sponge, and Better Homes and Gardens. Visit her at https://elizabeth-harrell.com .