Meet the Irishwoman who runs New York’s coolest vintage furniture store

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When it comes to interiors, the Instagram set has gone gaga for a particular pink-hued 1980s aesthetic – and a Howth native certainly fuels our obsession.

Sara Swan first moved to New York 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 shop.

His store in Tarrytown, a pretty village about a 40-minute drive from the hustle and bustle of Midtown Manhattan, is aptly named The Swan’s House. The mecca of vintage interiors is home to everything from velvet sofas that look like they’ve been pulled from a vintage Hollywood movie set, to porcelain animal statues and are in high demand. Jaru ceramics from the 1980s.

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’s the story of how the mother-of-one found her ultimate passion project in The Swan’s House.

Have you always had a passion for interiors?

My mom has a great eye when it comes to interior design and my dad owned a clothing business, so I’ve always had a real appreciation for design. My dad used to let me design jackets when I was younger and he would give me a taste of them, so I was immediately bitten by the fashion bug. From the age of about nine, my dream job was to be a fashion designer and one day own my own boutique. I can’t believe it really worked like that!

Is there an invaluable piece of advice that you learned early on that has always stuck with you?

My first real job was serving at a local restaurant when I was about 16. It was hard work, but it really helped me instill a strong work ethic. I think it’s important to remember that whether you’re running a million dollar business or cleaning plates in a restaurant, you have to give it your all. Take pride in your work and know what you are worth. Certainly don’t be afraid to ask for the salary you think you deserve and I think that’s especially important for women.

What did you study?

I studied fine art, then I studied fashion design at Grafton Academy. The Grafton Academy was fantastic and taught me many skills that were invaluable when I moved to New York to become a fashion designer. The people I worked with who had gone to some of the best fashion schools in the world didn’t have the same knowledge when it came to pattern making – it really helped me move up the ranks quickly.

How long have you lived in the United States?

I moved to New York in 2009 to work for the fashion house Zac Posen. It was an amazing experience working on dresses for extremely high profile clients and events like the Met Gala and the Oscars. After a few months I found a new job with a great company called Rag & Bone. They sponsored a new visa and I worked there for several years before becoming a chief designer at 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 return to fashion. After staying home with my toddler son for about a year, my husband asked if there was anything I could do, what would it be? I immediately said that I would like to open my own shop and he was like, “Let’s do it!

Once we knew we were going to open a store, I launched our Etsy website to help generate a following and introduce people to the type of product we would be selling in the store.

Can you sum up the atmosphere of The Swan’s House in one sentence?

Well, our slogan is “A unique selection of vintage and new decorations and gifts” – but I would say our vibe is miami vice meets Mad Men.

Could you describe an average working day?

On an average workday, we open the store at 10 a.m., ship all of our Etsy orders, rearrange things to be constantly different, and then clean, clean, clean! We try to go stock up once a week. My husband does a lot now while I’m running the store, so it’s great to have him on board too!

Do you find it difficult to part with certain finds?

I really find it hard to let go and often think of pieces weeks after they’ve been sold, but it’s important to me to love everything we sell. I think that’s what helps us stand out from our competitors, we really love everything we sell and it shows!

What do you like about what you do?

I can be really creative in this space! Oddly enough, working in fashion wasn’t as creative as I had imagined. It was a lot of designing 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 matches our vision 100% and fill it with incredible treasures that we find from all over the world. It’s exciting ! We also get wonderfully positive feedback from people. Even though it’s a lot of work, it’s so rewarding.

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 a few months but I’m really glad we made the decision.

For people who want to jump into your work and open their own treasury, what is your starting advice?

It’s really important that you have a unique point of view. Retail is a very competitive field, so it is crucial that you stand out from your competitors. Have a strong brand identity and stick to it and be prepared to work extremely hard.

This article was originally published in 2020.


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