Kate Rheinstein Brodsky’s store, KRB on East 74th Street, sells what she declares are “objects of charm.” Her mother is the well-known interior designer Suzanne Rheinstein and when initially stocking the store the question they asked each other when it came to selecting inventory was “Is this saleable or is this something only you and I like?” That speaks in part to their shared aesthetic but Kate says she’s more into “juicy color”. Although she worked for Jeffrey Bilhuber on graduating from NYU, Kate had long harbored a desire for her own store. When her second daughter started kindergarten, she took the plunge: “I got a storage space. I started shopping … but first I made a business plan. So boring.”
So given your background with your mom (interior designer, Suzanne Rheinstein) and all of that, was there ever a moment when you didn’t think you were going to go in this direction?
Oh definitely. I mean I wanted to have a bookstore. I always loved retail and I didn’t think I would work in interior design. I interned in fashion when I was in college … but I really like the decorative arts, even more than design. I like objects; I love furniture; I love fabric and layers. I loved playing with my dollhouse when I was a child. I didn’t want to play with it but it was very elaborately decorated.
What instinct do you think it’s satisfying in us, decorating a space? Is it ultimately just nesting?
I think it’s definitely nesting. I like being at home. I’m a total homebody. I grew up with parents who loved to entertain and have people over.
Do you design now or just have the store?
I just have the store. Interior design is hard. I’m very impressed by anyone who can do it.
So we’ve talked with a few people like Michelle Varian about the future of retail and the shopping experience—what is your take on the change in retail, so many stores closing, so much online shopping and so forth?
I think that—it sounds stupid to say—but retail is evolving. We are changing the way we interact with it. For every brick-and-mortar store you see close, something else opens that basically amounts to a showroom, a Warby Parker or a Peleton or something like that. The inventory isn’t all there—you can’t go into Restoration Hardware and buy anything.
How do you make it enticing for people to come in to what is essentially a showroom?
I have no idea—I think that is why we do well. We’re not like that. You can buy things when you come in. I also do well because I don’t have a huge amount of competition. We have great walk-in traffic because we’re between a bunch of schools. We sell one-of-a-kind pieces and [price-wise] I would say we’re “Upper East Side reasonable”. We sell objects of charm.
But Restoration Hardware is now offering restaurants and café-type spaces as part of its image—and you said earlier you were going to be using your store more for events and cocktails. Is that something you have to step up?
I think it’s necessary. Or we could have pop-ups too. But there’s a limit to how many of these things we can do. They’re really fun but they take a lot out of the staff.
Do you buy things you only personally like or do you also buy things because you know they will sell?
If I love it, I will buy it. There are certain pieces of furniture, antiques—and people think that brown furniture is out of fashion—but these pieces continually sell. For example, tiered butler’s trolleys work really well in a modern house. Hall chairs are still super chic. And it’s gateway-druggish for certain people!
What’s the best gateway drug for brown furniture?
[Laughs] I have to think about it.
What else sells well?
Mirrors. You have to have at least on mirror in your house.
Katie Ridder told us that when she had her store, one of the reasons she shuttered it was that she got so tired of the shoplifting. Is that a problem for you?
You know in the five years that I’ve been open, we’ve only had one thing shoplifted. It was a set of six silver forks. I was like, “Clearly these people don’t know what they’re doing because they have no street value.” It would be hard to walk out with a Christopher Spitzmiller lamp.
How do you find dealing with the public?
I don’t mind it. I have a “seller” mother! I’m good at being nice … like being performative! I do not like people who are rude to my staff. One thing is that people don’t want to pay for shipping …
How was working with Jeffrey Bilhuber—you were his personal assistant when you graduated, right?
After a year of working with him, I felt so confident in my own abilities. Jeffrey is an exacting boss and, he’ll be like, “Okay you need to find Victorian carolers within 24 hours.” Just never say no to Jeffrey. I left there believing in the art of the possible—it was wonderful.
What led to you opening your store?
My second daughter was about to start kindergarten and I was like, this seems like as good a time as any to open a store. If not now, when? It’ll never be a good time. There is never a “good time” for anything. I got a storage space. I started shopping … but first I made a business plan. So boring.
What did your interior designer mom think?
My mother is wonderful. She doesn’t ever say anything negative, about people, things, anything. She said, “If you love it, it will work.” We did sort of say about some of the things, “Is this saleable or is this something only you and I like?”
How are you different in terms of taste or aesthetic from your mother?
We like the same things but we use them in different ways. I’m more colorful. She’s not “un-colorful”. She just has a much softer palette. I just love a lot of juicy color—and I wear black.
And does your husband have opinions?
Oh my gosh, yes! He likes color! Clear, bright color. My husband grew up in the most beautiful apartment. His parents have exquisite taste—a more formal apartment than ours. His two requests are generally “Please make sure there are chairs I can sit in,” and “I’m not interested in grey.” He wanted a French blue bedroom.
So you grew up in L.A. – are you ultimately a California girl?
I love Los Angeles. You have outdoor space. You can do indoor/outdoor. The traffic is a bummer but time slows a little bit. Fewer people work 9-5 jobs … not that they don’t work. It gives a different rhythm to daily life. But I love it here—I like the anonymity of the city.
I like this quote I found from you: “You’re either anonymous or you’re out there”. Are those two sides to your personality? Which is the “anonymous” and which is the “out there”?
Well, I wear a lot of black, which is sort of anonymous. Having a white room is about the most anonymous thing I could do. The bathroom that we’re not photographing has white subway tiles and you can’t get more anonymous than that. I think what I like is something severe and simple, say a Parsons table, then paired with a rococo mirror. Regency is probably my favorite period. This is also why I could never be a designer and it’s so fun to have a store. I love everything!