At home in Oriental exoticaDomicile brings Tibet to Bainbridge.
June 9, 2008 · Updated 6:46 PM
"Geographically, Seattle is closer to the Orient than any other major American city. That closeness manifests itself in the Northwest's affinity for Oriental decor.People here are trying to create a Northwestern look by combining Asian and craftsman styles, says designer Jerry Carlin. Or they will mix very contemporary pottery with Chinese accent pieces.To cater to this affinity, Carlin and Keith Edgar have opened Domicile, a combination antique store and interior design service in Lundgren Station, immediately north of the Magnolia shoe store.The store's specialty - antique Chinese and Tibetan furniture and accent pieces - stems from Edgar's recent three-year residency in Beijing, where he worked for Hilton Hotels.Sunday was shopping day there, and for three years, I spent each Sunday shopping for antiques, he said. Ultimately, I discovered the warehouses where furniture is brought in from the countryside for sale.When Edgar and his partner moved to Bainbridge Island in mid-1998, the Chinese pieces they had bought for themselves overflowed their Rolling Bay home. The obvious solution - open a furniture store.Carlin, meanwhile, had operated Basic Coverings, a fabric store in Lynwood Center.There wasn't enough drive-by traffic there, Carlin said. The retail sales were slow, but the design business was fantastic. So when I met Keith and we started talking, we decided to team up and open this store.The store at 104 N. Madison opened the day after Thanksgiving. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 12 to 5 on Sundays.Despite the longevity of China's civilization, it's not the most fertile field for antique hunting, Edgar said.In Beijing, many of the beautiful pieces were destroyed during the cultural revolution (in the late 1960s). It's really tragic to think about how much was lost.In the outlying areas, people will have pieces of furniture that have been passed down for generations, so you find some nice furniture, particularly in southern China. But in northern China, where it's quite cold, a lot of furniture has been burned for firewood.What offsets the relatively modest supply of Chinese antiques is an equally modest demand.Most of the homes in China are starting to get televisions, Edgar said. They want their homes to look Western - glass and chrome are really big looks.Edgar also imports Tibetan furniture, which is much harder to find than Chinese.It's more decorative, hand-painted, Edgar said. The pieces are small because the Tibetans for the most part are nomads, and had to take their furniture with them.Edgar's other job is consulting with American restaurants that want to open in China. That job requires frequent travel to Beijing, and he uses those occasions to do more shopping.While Edgar specializes in the Orient, Carlin has similar access to antique emporiums in England and Europe, and that, along with his design expertise, is what he sells.A lot of people here have a personal style, and what they're after is access, Carlin said.The pair say that their personal contacts in the Chinese and European antique markets cut down on their operating costs by eliminating various layers of middlemen. That, plus the lower overhead costs on Bainbridge compared to Seattle, give them a pricing edge. We can produce a real high-end product without the Seattle price, Carlin says.Both men are relatively new to Bainbridge, having relocated here with their respective partners in 1998. Both made the move for the lifestyle.Edgar learned about the island while browsing on the Internet for homes in the Seattle area. He found a farm-house style new home on a full acre for what he thought was an attractive price, then had to look in an Atlas to find Bainbridge. And when he saw the house in person, he bought it. Coming from a city of 12 million - Beijing - the opportunity to live in the country was unbelievably attractive, said Edgar.Carlin had been making several visits a year to friends, fell in love with the place, then decided to make the move for good.Both say that despite the relatively small size, Bainbridge can support their business.People here are very knowledgeable, Carlin said. We've had people literally walk in off the street and zero in on the Tibetan furniture. In addition to antiques, the store carries numerous small accessories, many for less than $20, for gifts or spicing up decoration.Life is simply empty without an accessory, Carlin said. "