In Search of Beautiful Things
One of the triumphs of Provincetown is that in the face of ever rising real estate values and a national trend to cede downtown retail spaces to national chains (see Newbury Street in Boston and Harvard Square in Cambridge), the community has stubbornly maintained its independence. The consistent hard work and talent of storeowners like the three presented on the following pages and their commitment to offering unique, well-crafted, and beautiful objects, for which they often scour the country and the globe, has made this possible.
“Beautiful things do matter,” says Mitch Yates, owner of Yates & Kennedy. “They are not the end-all, but they do enrich our lives and that is not to be discounted.”
If beauty is what you seek, here are three must-see shops in Provincetown.
With a name that suggests the space where land meets water, it is no surprise that at Shor, visitors will find a little bit of the outside world as inspiration for the inside. “You have to reflect your surroundings, even if it is just through color,” says interior designer and partner Herbert Acevedo. “We don’t hit you over the head with it but you have to reflect the sea in some way. Who doesn’t love a beautiful shell? Everybody collects seashells on the seashore, don’t they?”
It is not just the nautical and natural that drives the carefully curated furniture, décor, lighting, and more that populate the bright, airy showroom at Shor. Acevedo, who along with his partner, architect Kevin Miller, also offers full design/build and interior design services, seeks and presents a mix—vintage with new, contrasting textures, and organic materials whether in the form of woven jute, glazed ceramics, stone counters, or linen upholstery. Furnishings are generally neutral and classic in color palette—the white of a canvas sail, the pale beige of sand. “I do like a neutral background. When you put furniture against that background, you can play with anything. You can also add color with toss pillows,” he says.
At Shor, there is always a handful of unusual statement pieces: a hand-painted sign complete with the visible patina of time, or an elegant chandelier made entirely of shells. “As long as it’s a texture, color, or scale that is simpatico, it’s important to me to mix it up,” explains Acevedo.
The showroom, which Acevedo describes as a laboratory to change and try new things, is essentially a showcase of Shor’s design choices, although Acevedo notes that his job is really to help guide his clients into discovering their own aesthetic. “I help people to live comfortably and stylishly,” he says. “My job is really to bring out the best in people. Everybody has an aesthetic of what they like. What I do is guide them through the process of editing so that scale works, color works, the room functions well, and of course, it should look really good.”
Yates & Kennedy
As a modern day cabinet of curiosities, Yates & Kennedy is a must. From the antique taxidermy that owner Mitch Yates brings back from Britain to the popular line of screen-printed t-shirts with motifs reminiscent of scrimshaw, the offerings at Yates & Kennedy touch on the nautical and often feature animals—whether in the designs, the materials, or in the case of taxidermy, the beings themselves. “It is all very organic. If I see things that I like, I buy them,” says Yates. “I travel around and collect things. The shop is definitely influenced by P-town and its whaling and fishing history.”
As an expression of Yates’ tastes, the shop features classics with a twist and handmade items that bring the 19th century into the present day. Small editions of letterpress cards. Beeswax candles made in New York City. There are canvas totes stitched with leather trim, and vintage china. “I am attracted to things that are a little off, but interesting, like the Cape is—a little eccentric—but ultimately a practical place,” he says.
The selections at Yates & Kennedy are all well-made, quality pieces, minus any astronomical pricetags. For Yates, the product’s price point is as important to consider as its craftsmanship.. “One of my goals is giving people things that are interesting and the best quality for the price,” he says. “I think you have to have that balance.”
Growing up in New York City, with a fashion designer mother and a photographer father, Yates got his aesthetic education early. He spent his childhood in every fantastic store in New York. “My grandmother was always dragging us to stores,” he remembers. “I’ve lived all over and traveled all over. I’m more of a visual person.” Yates has lived in Provincetown off and on for the past 26 years. He acknowledges that the Cape, and Provincetown specifically, can be a challenging place to run a successful retail business. “It is definitely a labor of love,” he says. “I’m fortunate that I have a place to live and I am able to scratch out a living.” How fortunate for us as well.
“Every thing in the store has the essence of sculpture,” says Tom Rogers, president of Wa. “I can take the simplest thing here and display it in a sculptural way.” For Rogers, ‘Wa,’ which means harmony in Japanese, is the keystone of the store’s philosophy. “We harmoniously engage your senses—everything is displayed in an artistic array,” says Rogers. “When everything is where it should be, it is very calming.” The thread is a strong sense of craft, whether it be a new sofa by Gus, a company specializing in sustainably built furniture, the woven vinyl Chilewich rugs, or a lamp hand-painted by painter, Ana Maia.
In addition to its retail space, which offers furnishings, lighting, wall art, and home decor objects, Wa also offers interior and landscape-design services. This approach is ideal for Rogers, who studied horticulture and design and ran a Boston floral design business for 15 years. “It’s all about how beautiful things make you feel, ” he says.
The highlight of Wa, now in its 19th season, is meandering through Rogers’ impeccably edited vignettes of objects from his travels to Asia. Rogers takes pride in knowing the stories of the objects he sells, like his vintage, cotton saris, repurposed as throws in a town near Bengal, India. He also makes sure items are practical, sometimes ordering minor repairs to a hinged door, adding a shelf to an antique cabinet, or choosing ceramics that are dishwasher-safe.
The “gathering,” as Rogers calls it, is his favorite part. “I love the dynamic of meeting people who make things. In Thailand, we were invited to this basket maker’s home up on stilts and the monkeys were running around underneath and the grandparents were weaving baskets with their toes; you understand the human condition. We all want a good life,” he says.
Then there is the delivering. “Once the store is put together and my offerings are here—to see the customer respond to it is the half a million dollar test,” he says. “Having it be received by our customers is really fun.”