Meet the Irish woman who runs New York’s coolest vintage furniture shop
When it comes to interiors, the Instagram set has gone gaga for a particular pink-hued 1980s aesthetic recently — and one Howth native is certainly fuelling our obsession.
Sara Swan initially moved to New York City just over a decade ago to pursue a career in fashion. After cutting her teeth at the likes of Zac Posen and Rag & Bone and welcoming her son, she decided to jump at her childhood dream of opening up her own bricks-and-mortar shop.
Her store in Tarrytown, a pretty village about a 40-minute commute from the hustle of midtown Manhattan, is aptly named The Swan’s House. The vintage interiors mecca houses everything from velvet couches that look like they’ve been plucked from a Hollywood period movie set, to porcelain animal statues and highly-in-demand Jaru ceramics from the 1980s.
The store’s popular Instagram account is a veritable smörgåsbord of mauve, marigold, metallic and marble for the eyes — not to mention enough pastel pink under one roof than you ever thought possible.
Home is where the heart is, and here is the story of how the mom-of-one found her ultimate passion project in The Swan’s House.
Were you always passionate about interiors?
My mom has a great eye when it comes to interior design and my dad owned a clothing company, so I’ve always had a real appreciation for design. My dad used to let me design jackets when I was younger and he’d get them sampled for me so I was immediately bitten by the fashion bug. From about the age of nine, my dream job was to be a fashion designer and one day to own my own store. I can’t believe it actually worked out that way!
Is there any piece of invaluable advice you learned early on that always stuck with you?
My first real job was waitressing in a local restaurant when I was about 16. It was hard work, but it really helped instil a strong work ethic in me. I think it’s important to remember that whether you’re running a million-dollar company or cleaning plates in a restaurant, you have to give it your all. Take pride in your work and know your worth. Definitely don’t be afraid to ask for the salary you think you deserve and I think that is especially important for women.
What did you study?
I studied Fine Art and then went on to study Fashion Design at the Grafton Academy. The Grafton Academy was fantastic and taught me lots of skills that were invaluable when I moved to New York to become a fashion designer. People I worked with that had attended some of the best fashion schools in the world didn’t have the same pattern making knowledge — that really helped me move up the ranks quickly.
How long have you lived in the U.S?
I moved to NYC in 2009 to work for the fashion house Zac Posen. It was an incredible experience working on gowns for extremely prestigious 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 moving on to become the head designer at a denim company.
When did you open your store in Tarrytown?
My husband and I moved to Tarrytown just before I gave 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 infant son for about a year, my husband asked me if I could do anything, what would it be? I immediately said that I would love to open my own store and he said, “Let’s do it!”
Once we knew that we were going to open a store, I launched our Etsy site to help generate a following and introduce people to the type of product we’d be selling in the store.
Can you sum up the vibe of The Swan’s House in one sentence?
Well, our slogan is, “A uniquely curated selection of vintage and new home decor and gifts” — but I’d say our vibe is Miami Vice meets Mad Men.
Could you describe an average workday?
On an average workday, we open the store at 10am, get all our Etsy orders shipped off, re-merchandise things so it’s constantly looking different, and then clean, clean, clean! We try to go sourcing once a week. My husband does a lot of it now while I manage the store so it’s great having him on board too!
Do you find it hard to part with some finds?
I find it really hard to part with things and I often think about pieces weeks after they have been sold, but it’s important for me to love everything we sell. I think that’s what helps us stand apart from our competition, we genuinely love everything we’re selling and it shows!
What do you love about what you do?
I get to be really creative in this space! Funnily enough, working in fashion was not as creative as I had envisioned. It was a lot of designing the same type of thing over and over again, so it really became monotonous after a while. In the store, we get to create a space that is 100% our vision and fill it with incredible treasures that we find from all over the world. It’s thrilling! We receive such wonderfully positive feedback from people too. Although it’s a lot of work, it is so rewarding.
Biggest risk you have 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 am really happy we made the decision.
For people who want to get into your line of work and open their own treasure trove, what’s your parting advice?
It is really important that you have a unique point of view. Retail is a very competitive field so it’s crucial that you stand apart from your competition. Have a strong brand identity and stick with it and be prepared to work extremely hard.
This article was originally published in 2020.