What would you do for a better quality of life? To get out of the rat race and spend more time with your loved ones?
After 9/11, Luisa Cerutti, who was working in the fashion industry, and Nicki Lindheimer, a chef, took a long, hard look at the life they were living and knew they wanted to make some changes.
“She would have to get up at 4am to go and do big events,” says Luisa, “and I would go home at 10pm and we never really saw each other.
“Really, I think 9/11 was an epiphany moment for a lot of people, where they really questioned what they were doing. And it was the same for us.”
The current COVID-19 crisis may prove to be a similar pivotal time for many.
They noticed people were nesting more – spending time at home with friends and family, so opened Domus on W44th St – 9th/10th Ave selling homewares, pillows, scarves, and other beautiful things. But what they hadn’t bargained for was what they would get in return.
“Seriously, for the first two years solid, every day we would leave in tears because people are really kind in the neighborhood,” says Nicki.
“When we were here doing the construction, we were here until 2am/3am, and people were bringing us soup and sandwiches,” recalls Luisa.
“People bring you music that they like or a newspaper article that they love. I mean, they’re just so really giving and we felt part of a community from the very beginning.”
As the store grew more established, they started to take the month of January off – “it was so cold and so slow” – traveling to France and Italy. They’d see something gorgeous that would be perfect for the store; something so unique and special, they’d bring it back to Hell’s Kitchen.
“Then that became the reason for traveling,” says Luisa. “Let’s go somewhere where there are crafts, you know?”
Over the years, they’ve travelled to remote villages in Vietnam, Cuba, Indonesia, Columbia, Mexico, Morocco, searching for exquisitely handcrafted goods – wooden olive spoons, intricately carved and decorated soapstone boxes, woven Berber pillows, little mariachi figurines.
In Vietnam, they brought a camera and printer with them, and photographed villagers who had never seen themselves in print before.
“We literally turned into a photo booth,” says Nicki. “It was magical. People would go and borrow the best jewelry, go and comb their hair and grab their husbands. I mean, it was so great.
“One family ran and found an elderly woman – their mother – and they invited us in for tea and she said, ‘Now I can die. Now I know they won’t forget me.’ She never had a picture taken in her life.
“It was very special.”
Domus was voted by W42ST readers as one of their favorite businesses in Hell’s Kitchen, in our Best of 2020 awards. Since closing the store for the “pause,” says Luisa, “is allowing us to catch up on stuff that got pushed down on our to-do list. The pace is definitely slower, which means deep rest. We feel healthier because of this and we are giving ourselves the permission to feel good and enjoy this wonderful opportunity to let our creative juices flow. Like most people, this is a rare event in our working life, so we are making the most of it and feel really fortunate.
“There has been an outpouring of support from friends and customers buying gift certificates from our website. More than the amount, it’s the support that touches us. We’re lucky to say our customers are our family, we miss seeing them and interacting with them. But with the internet, we can keep in touch. We’ve been reaching out for no other reason than to say hi, what’s up? We feel it’s important, especially for people who live alone, where a walk in the neighborhood was how they kept in touch with the community.
“We’re also posting on Instagram recipes and crafts ideas to try to stay relevant with our customers. It’s a ‘pause’ to appreciate everyone that has made Domus what it is, and a time to listen for how we can be there going forward. We’re taking time to listen.
“When we first started traveling and buying for the store, and bringing back stories of the artisans, it was a fairly new idea , especially for a small store. But we are happy to see the world getting a break from all the travelers. Even when you try to tread lightly, there is an ecological and sociological impact, especially on the more vulnerable populations. Now swans are back in Venice’s canals, and people in India can see the Himalayas because of lesser pollution. We hope there will be more of a balance when we all return to our routine. We feel the earth is telling us something and we need to listen.”
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