A Whole New World

Fresh prints and bright ideas abound inside designer Erin Flett’s first brick-and-mortar store.

Flett poses with a hanger full of totes. While you can buy a lot of her goods out of the Gorham shop, she also has created custom designs for both L.L.Bean and Anthropologie.
Having the Gorham storefront has opened new doors for Flett. It allows her to showcase how her designs can be used and marketed. Plus, it gives her a chance to meet neighbors (she lives just minutes down the street).
At work in the studio, where Flett hand-draws her designs and her team prints, stitches, and finishes each item.

Erin Flett had a feeling about this building. Located just three minutes down the road from the designer’s home, the 1800s Victorian stands at the junction of Routes 202 and 114 in downtown Gorham, so it was on Flett’s way to almost anywhere she went. For a few years, she simply watched and waited as businesses opened and then shut. Locals in the area (of which I am one) joked that it was cursed, since nothing seemed to stick in that street-level storefront. There was nothing happening upstairs, and Flett eventually learned why. Up there was a theater that was no longer in use due to fire codes. Still, Flett wanted to buy it.

Her husband “pooh-poohed the idea,” she recalls, “but I had this vision for what it could be.” She imagined turning the theater into a studio and the storefront below into her first brick-and-mortar retail space. She could manufacture her punchy, bright prints, pillows, bags, and home goods upstairs and sell them downstairs. One day, the building came up for rent, and Flett jumped at the chance. “I had to fight for it,” she says. Not because a bunch of other people wanted to rent it, but because town officials had become accustomed to saying no. “Finally, I asked what I could do in that upstairs space,” she remembers. “They said I could have seven people. And I said, ‘Perfect.’”

Then she got to work. “I fell in love, and I made this building sing a song,” she says. “I stripped it down to the bones. We took out asbestos. Scrubbed every inch. Finished the floors. Painted it all bright white.” She brought in her printing equipment and put in double doors so she could ship and receive palettes. Because she didn’t have to make money off the storefront (business was doing well enough without it), she could enjoy the space without “putting weird energy or pressure on it.” Instead, the store became her “storytelling” space. “I had never had a brick-and-mortar location, and now I can take people into Erin Flett world,” she says. She can strip the wallpaper and change it whenever she likes. She can embrace her current favorite colors and showcase her favorite new designs. Best of all, she can show buyers from big companies how they could merchandise her creations.

And it’s working. Flett is currently producing custom lines for L.L.Bean and Anthropologie. She’s made fun, nature-inspired prints on sturdy canvas for L.L.Bean in “a colorway I developed just for them,” she explains, and she’s continually thinking up new, funky designs that might work with Anthropologie’s whimsical and eclectic aesthetic. “I’m having a blast,” she says. “I’ve gone into my vintage archives, and I’ve been poring over old, cool color stories. It’s almost like a light bulb keeps going off in my brain. There’s something fresh and exciting that happens when you partner with somebody,” she adds. “It creates this new edge.”

It’s not the building that made this happen, but Flett’s energy and tenacity. Yet she feels grateful for the shop, because it allows transparency and accessibility. “What’s really awesome is that people come in, and if they don’t know me or my work, I can show them the process upstairs,” she enthuses. “We draw it all by hand. Here’s the stitcher who sews it. Here are our fabrics. Their eyes, they light up.” There’s one sentence that’s just music to her ears: “Holy smokes, you do everything up here?” And she can answer, “Now we do.”

Flett’s Rules for Styling Seasonally

White and Bright: “I think the easiest thing to do to brighten your space is to paint the walls a bright fresh white, everything from walls to trim,” says Flett. “Then clear out everything in the space and only put back a minimal amount of things you absolutely love. What is nice about a white wall is that its always amazing and bright, and you can change everything inside the white box each season which keeps things fun and interesting without any real commitment.” Store what you aren’t currently using and rotate art and antiques in and out.

Try on an Accent: Flett believes strongly in the transformative powers of wallpaper. “It instantly transforms a space,” she explains. “Go big and go wild in small bathrooms, behind book cases, or with an accent wall.” But be sure to hire a professional to put it up because it makes “taking down a breeze.” (“Get a few quotes,” she adds. “It doesn’t have to be expensive.”)

Add Art All Around: You can work prints, color, and art into unexpected places, like the kitchen backsplash. “I measured my stove and bought a thick piece of glass. I used chunky stainless steel screws to coordinate with the color of my stove,” the designer reveals. She can print on mat board or use wallpaper to create “an art installation I can update whenever.”