When it comes to interiors, the Instagram set has gone gaga for a particular 1980s-hued rose-hued aesthetic – and a Howth native certainly fuels our obsession.
Sara Swan first moved to New York City just over ten years ago to pursue a career in fashion. After cutting her teeth at Zac Posen and Rag & Bone and welcoming her son, she decided to jump on her childhood dream of opening her own brick and mortar store.
His store in Tarrytown, a pretty village about a 40-minute drive from the hustle and bustle of Midtown Manhattan, lives up to its name The Swan’s House. The mecca of vintage interiors is home to everything from velvet sofas that look like they’ve been plucked from a Hollywood era movie set, to porcelain and much-requested animal statues. Jaru 1980s ceramics.
The store’s popular Instagram account is a veritable assortment of mauve, marigold, metal and marble for the eyes – not to mention enough pastel pink under one roof that you never thought possible.
Home is where the heart is, and here is the story of how the mother of one found her ultimate passion project in The Swan House.
Have you always been passionate about interiors?
My mom has a great sense of interior design and my dad owned a clothing business, so I always had a real appreciation for design. My dad used to let me design jackets when I was younger and he had them sample for me, so I got bitten by the fashion bug right away. From the age of about nine, my dream job was to be a fashion designer and someday own my own boutique. I can’t believe it worked like this!
Is there a valuable piece of advice that you learned early on that has always stood out?
My first real job was as a waitress at a local restaurant when I was about 16 years old. It was hard work, but it really helped instill a strong work ethic in me. I think it’s important to remember that if you’re running a million dollar business or cleaning plates in a restaurant, you’ve got to give it your all. Take pride in your work and know your worth. Above all, don’t be afraid to ask for the salary you think you deserve and I think this is especially important for women.
What did you study?
I studied fine arts, then I studied fashion design at Grafton Academy. Grafton Academy was fantastic and taught me a lot of skills that were invaluable to me when I moved to New York to become a fashion designer. The people I worked with who had attended some of the best fashion schools in the world didn’t have the same knowledge of pattern making – it really helped me climb the ladder quickly.
How long have you lived in the United States?
I moved to New York in 2009 to work for the Zac Posen fashion house. It has been an incredible experience working on dresses for extremely prestigious clients and events like the Met Gala and the Oscars. After a few months I found a new job with a big company called Rag & Bone. They sponsored a new visa and I worked there for several years before becoming the chief designer of a denim company.
When did you open your store in Tarrytown?
My husband and I moved to Tarrytown just before giving birth to our son in 2017, and although it was a very difficult decision at the time, I decided not to go back into fashion. After staying at home with my baby for about a year, my husband asked me if there was anything I could do. I said right away that I would love to open my own store and he said, “Let’s go!
Once we knew we were going to open a store, I launched our Etsy site to help generate an audience and introduce people to the type of product we would be selling in the store.
Can you sum up the vibe of The Swan’s House in one sentence?
Well our slogan is “A unique selection of vintage and new home decorations and gifts” – but I would say our vibe is Miami vice meets Mad Men.
Can you describe an average working day?
On an average business day, we open the store at 10 a.m., get all of our Etsy orders shipped, resell things to be constantly different, and then clean, clean, clean! We try to source once a week. My husband does a lot of it now while I run the store so it’s great to have him on board too!
Do you have trouble separating yourself from certain finds?
I really have a hard time parting with it and often think about parts weeks after they are sold, but loving everything we sell is important to me. I think this is what helps us stand out from our competition, we really love everything we sell and it shows!
What do you like about what you do?
I get really creative in this space! Oddly enough, working in fashion was not as creative as I had imagined. It was a lot to design the same type of thing over and over again, so it got really monotonous after a while. In the store, we create a space that 100% matches our vision and fill it with incredible treasures that we find from all over the world. It is exciting ! We also receive such wonderfully positive feedback from people. Even though it’s a lot of work, it’s so rewarding.
The biggest risk you’ve taken so far?
Having a young son and leaving my successful career to start my own business was really scary. We’ve only been open for a few months but I’m really glad we made this decision.
For people who want to get started in your job and open their own treasure, what’s your farewell tip?
It is really important that you have a unique perspective. Retail is a very competitive field, so it is crucial that you stand out from your competition. Have a strong brand identity and stick to it and be prepared to work extremely hard.