There’s nothing like a great set of lamps or chairs to spruce up a living space, says designer Ariene Bethea. The trendsetter and self-described “vintage huntress” is always on the prowl for signature, one-of a-kind pieces to add to her collection of vintage furnishings and decor.
Growing up in a home teeming with all things art and culture, Bethea discovered her love for design at an early age. Now she’s sharing that passion with fellow vintage enthusiasts via her newly opened vintage furniture boutique, Dressing Rooms Interior Studios in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The shop, which opened its doors in 2019, is where classic meets modern design, offering customers a plethora of eclectic pieces, from 1800s antique French chairs and abstract coffee tables to Aztec-inspired paintings and mid-century armchairs bursting with colorful patterns and texture.
For Bethea, it’s the thrill of the find that keeps her going. Each piece, dated at 20 years or older, is hand-selected for its individual charm, history and unique appeal, according to the boutique’s website. All items are first-come, first-served, however, those who are unable to stop in can peruse the shop’s many treasures online.
As a boutique owner, Bethea said she prides her business “on offering an artful collection of vintage decor and furnishings in fresh color combinations and graphic pattern patterns mixed with ethnic pieces for a soulful feel.”
Atlanta Black Star recently spoke with Bethea to learn more about her new brick-and-mortar boutique and her goals as a Black woman entrepreneur.
ABS: When did you first discover your love for all things vintage / design?
AB: I’ve always been interested in design, but originally it was fashion design. My mom loved decorating, and I grew up in a home infused with art, objects and an appreciation for different cultures that have greatly influenced my design style. I became interested in vintage furnishings after inheriting so many pieces from my mom — you just can’t beat the quality.
ABS: Tell me about the inspiration behind Dressing Rooms Interiors Studio; when did it launch, and who or what motivated you to go into business for yourself?
AB: I started Dressing Rooms Interiors Studio in 2011 after being laid-off from my corporate HR job. Under the influence of my childhood home, I was drawn to African, Asian, Indian, Italian and Moroccan pieces. So quite naturally, we offer an artistic collection of designer and designer inspired vintage home decor and furnishings in fresh color combinations and graphic patterns mixed with ethnic pieces (African, Asian, Indian, Italian and Moroccan) for a soulful feel.
Walking into a sea of gray cubicles on a daily basis was soul crushing. Wearing a patterned suit and bright tights to work, I remember walking down the hall thinking, “this can’t be all this is for my life.” I was motivated by the desire to do something creative. I took small steps, like starting a blog in 2009 and selling small items on Etsy on the side. The layoff was the push I needed to jump.
ABS: Let’s talk “pits” and “peaks,” the pits being your low points and the peaks being your successes. As a Black woman entrepreneur, what have been some obstacles you’ve faced while trying to launch your business? What have been your triumphs?
AB: The “pits” have taught me so much, choosing the wrong venue to do a pop-up, bringing the wrong kinds of pieces to an event for the target audience, and pricing items too low are all teachable moments in my career. Luckily, I’m a quick learner and don’t make the same mistake twice!
Peaks for me are anytime someone wants me to sit on panel, feature me or my shop and EVERY SINGLE SELL OF ITEM big or small. It tickles me every time someone comes in the shop and tells me they found me on Instagram or they’ve been a longtime follower. It makes my day!
ABS: For you, what’s the most enjoyable part of what you do? Do you have a favorite vintage piece?
AB: My moniker is that I’m a vintage huntress, and my favorite thing to do is hunt for pieces for the shop! It’s such a rush to find a great pair of lamps or chairs. My favorite to find are chairs, mirrors, lamps and sculptures. My personal favorite is the vintage Bernhardt sectional that I inherited from my mom.
ABS: Women of color thriving and dominating in the design industry are few and far between. What are three pieces of advice you would give other Black women looking to break into the design space?
AB: As Mary Wright Edelman said, “You can’t be want you can’t see.” If you don’t see other Black women in this space, you don’t know its an option. I do think it’s improving, however, thanks to organizations like The Black Interior Designers Network, Black Artist & Designers Guild (BADG) and Black Southern Belle Collective. They’ve been working to create directories of black-owned furniture businesses, interior designers and artists as well as providing workshops, networking and media opportunities to spread the word.
I would encourage any women of color interested in design to follow these organizations to get connected.
ABS: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers about yourself, or Dressing Rooms Interiors?
AB: The last thing I want to add is whatever it is you are pursuing, do it with integrity and grace. There is room enough for us all in all things.