I first met Aaryn Walker in her store’s original location over 10 years ago. Her shop was next door to my take-out Thai place and when I had time over lunch, I would pop in to say hi and wander around, admiring her nostalgic and unique collections and furniture. In this edition of How she does it, Aaryn talks about her decision to quit her job in fashion, write a business plan at the age of 25, and self-fund her own shop at 29. Her mid-century modern store, Red Chair is now in its 13th year of business.
Name: Aaryn Walker
Occupation: Curator, Artist |Owner of Red Chair, an eclectic home decor store
Family life: Married (to an Aaron!) with daughter, Brooklyn, age 5 1/2
Location: Reno, Nevada
M.O.: Buy the things that you love and everything will work
Best hack: A tip from Martha Stewart – Even a bad piece can be painted black
Pandora station: Hotel Costas
Secret weapon: Sharpie
About the name Red Chair
“I have a love for chairs, always have. In my late teens I unknowingly started a mini chair collection. When I moved to LA I had several all over my apartment. When I made a second move I boxed them together. When I unpacked, I grouped them on top of an armoire. I got more selective at that point but it grew. When I was forming a name for my decorating services and future shop I knew the name would include “chair”. I looked at my collection and said, blue chair, green sofa…. Red Chair came out and it was clear that was it. I never thought twice about it!”
In her early 20’s, Aaryn was splitting her time between Los Angeles and New York, working for two fashion designers. One evening, during a work dinner with industry insiders, Aaryn felt distant and disengaged. Afterward, her boss pulled her aside and expressed disappointment in her contribution to the conversation at dinner.
“I had a full grasp of the business, but when it got to the stuff that didn’t matter [to me] it was because I lacked interest. They told me you should eat, breathe, and sleep fashion and I thought, well that is ridiculous.”
This was a wake-up call for Aaryn who then set out to eat breathe and sleep something. She loved her job, but didn’t love the fleeting trends – in one day, out the next – aspect of the fashion world. Enter, her obsession with mid-century modern design.
“Who doesn’t love a Jackie-O sunglass? As far as furniture goes, I don’t want the typical imported machine-made mass-produced [piece]. I want beautiful sleek lines that have been around and can stand the test of time. My grandparents’ stuff can live on 3-4 generations later. It’s fun to recycle, reuse, and be creative every day.”
Aaryn, who went to school for design, wrote her business plan when she was 25 and worked hard to save enough money to open Red Chair four years later.
“I had spent many years working for entrepreneurs and executives as an Executive Assistant. I made good money doing so and saved the money to open Red Chair. I was the bank and treated myself like a prospective client. No sensible person would open or start a business without a plan. I knew if I left the corporate workforce at the level I was at I may never be able to re-emerge. By nature, I’m a bit of a planner. I will always have a plan A, B, C, and D.”
Over the last 13 years, Aaryn has grown her business and grown into a new retail space that is more than three times the original square footage she started with. She now occupies 5,600 square-feet, a space where she eats, breathes and, yes, sometimes sleeps. As hard as she works and with little to no time off, Aaryn doesn’t seem to mind.
“As I thought I was sacrificing my income, benefits, vacations, and all those things, I also feel like that’s something that the world has created. I don’t feel like that’s what I gave up. I feel more like I found a well paying job with stability. If I want a pay raise, I give myself a pay raise and work that much harder. There was a leap of faith, but no sacrifice here.”
The tactile experience of magazines; turning pages, dog-earing, marking tabs is where Aaryn sources a lot of her creativity. Architectural Digest is a medley of everything that she loves. (Her dad is an architect and taught at the college-level for 25 years.) The magazine Dwell is essentially what she does, and she is delighted to see Domino back in print. Other entrepreneurs and restaurant owners in town – people who understand the magnitude of the business are also an important, energizing source of inspiration for her. They’re always talking shop, sending and referring.
On becoming a mom
“Red Chair really did stem from my desire to be a mom. My mother was instrumental. She was a stay-at-home mom. She also was an artist. I couldn’t have my daughter’s life be any different. I had that luxury [as a child] and the only way to have that luxury [in my mind] was to be self-employed.”
“My mom passed 10 years ago. Life is short. Enjoy your family. This affords me that every day. I really needed to be there for my child the way my mom and dad were.
It’s terrible to say but bringing in a newborn never phased me. The business was already seven years old. I set up a nursery in the store. It wasn’t really a transition – she has always been here. She grew up in this environment – she didn’t know any different. Now her Grandma picks her up from school and brings her to the store. This is her home away from home.”
On taking time for herself
“There is very little separation [between work and home]. I look at my parents. They never went to dinner without us. If they did it was my dad’s annual Christmas party. We did everything together. I guess I’m old fashioned. I mean, I’m surely not barefoot and pregnant behind the stove…my husband cooks.”
“Please, I’m not judging anyone, but when I see other women taking time from their families to go on a retreat – I don’t even know how you do that. I’d rather come here and spend extra hours. As a mother, waiting to have a child until I was 36, I had plenty of time for me. I feel like that is behind me.”
“Trust me, I do three massages a year, I just have never been one of those people. I’ll steal a few moments when I can. I don’t feel cheated. I chose a career and a lifestyle that I love. I don’t know what time to myself means. It’s foreign to me. I understand how people want, appreciate, and need it. I have the luxury of being with my family all the time and we’re used to being together. It’s not like I’m like, “Oh I need some me time.”
On her days off (Sunday and Monday)
“Rarely relaxing. Catching up at work or home. We have lots of deliveries – sometimes five on a Sunday. What I do is 24-7 so it’s great I absolutely love it. We do close shop (Gone fishing!) to hunt for furniture and treasures. We scour the West Coast.”
What to avoid when buying furniture
“Buying what your bestie or neighbor has or what’s trendy instead of buying what you like and what speaks to you. I think it’s best to use one’s own imagination and style. This also pertains to feeling the need to match everything! Make it eclectic and buy what you like. Mix periods, colors, and metals. Color outside of the lines.”
According to Aaryn, there’s one thing every home needs
“A vintage Ekornes lounge chair and ottoman (early 70’s). The Eames is so trendy and beautiful but no comparison in comfort to the equally stylish (and affordable) Ekornes. Mine is black leather. My advice to my customers is to buy the things you love and it will work. My house looks like a magazine and Brooklyn jumps on all the furniture. Buy what you love and enjoy it. It’s just furniture. Get the things you love and teach your kids respect. White couches, white rugs – I get that – the rules still apply – no balls in the house. But let your children have a childhood with beautiful things.”
Aaryn, you are a delight and your store is a treasure. Thank you for sharing your story with us.
Photos by Gagewood
Pssst! You can find more How she does it interviews, here.