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In our Ask a Shopkeeper series, we tap the coolest store owners we know for a tour of their space and ask them what items are trending right now—and beyond. For this installment, we spoke with Joanna Williams, founder of Kneeland Co., a textile library and consulting service, which, as of 2020, includes Kneeland Co. Rarities, a Los Angeles shop purveying beautiful objects and antiques. Williams discloses adventures designing the shop’s interior, merchandising the space with globally sourced home goods, and how Kneeland Co. came to be the Southern California showroom for heritage brand Sister Parish Design

Tell us how you got started. What drew you to textiles? 

I began my career in fashion but was always passionate about home design and travel. I would regularly take trips, work-related and personal, and collect beautiful objects and fabrics from all over the world. This led me to the textile business, and on a whim I decided to start my own library and consulting service. In 2010 I opened with a small collection of 200 items, and now I have more than 20,000.

Photography by Amy Chin

Then in 2018, I was lucky enough to host two pop-ups in Los Angeles, and they went really well, so a retail store felt like a natural next step. A year later, I moved to a new studio space and decided to open a permanent store right next door. My consulting business is definitely more trade focused, and the shop has given me a chance to create something more accessible and casual. 

How did you design the shop?

I started with the color pink. I knew I wanted to use it in the space, and I would joke to my friends about choosing between “50 shades of pink” because I truly looked at so many samples before deciding to paint a single wall. I also built custom shelving and sourced vintage tables. Beyond that, decor inspiration comes from the products I carry. I love creating beautiful displays of fabrics, ceramics, and antiques that mix patterns, colors, and shapes.

Photography by Amy Chin

Sourcing objects from all over the world must take a discerning eye. What do you look for in an object, as well as an artisan or designer? 

I’m always seeking objects and designs I’ve never seen before. That unique quality is the first thing I gravitate toward. As for my partners, it’s really important that I establish a personal relationship with the people I work with, which usually begins with identifying those who have a passion for beautiful things. My partners are located around the globe, but sharing that ethos and spirit helps us stay connected, especially when it comes to those I haven’t met in person yet.

While you’ve had Kneeland Co. for 10-plus years, your store opened in 2020. Anything surprisingly different about running a shop?

The best part is meeting so many interesting, cool people and watching them get excited about the pieces. The one thing everyone comments on about the shop is that the experience is even better in person. I just think that nothing beats interacting with an object and experiencing it in all its glory. It’s made me realize that there’s still such a strong desire for brick-and-mortar. Personally, my absolute favorite thing to do while traveling is to wander into a store and find something special to take home. 

Photography by Amy Chin

How did the Sister Parish Design (SPD) partnership come to be? 

I met Eliza Harris—SPD’s creative director and Sister’s great-granddaughter—through a mutual friend. We immediately had a connection and started chatting about my carrying some of SPD’s designs. Eliza is so open and creative, and the conversation quickly grew into Kneeland Co. becoming SPD’s retailer and official Southern California showroom. 

Do you have a personal connection to Sister Parish? 

Growing up I looked to her as an inspiration. Sister started her design firm during the Depression without a design background and went on to achieve so much in her lifetime. I went to school for public relations and have been figuring out the design world for myself since I launched Kneeland Co. As for the brand itself, I really adore SPD’s design ethos, as well as how much it champions craftsmanship. Its thoughtfulness and attention to detail is wonderful and what I look for in an ideal partner. 

Photography by Jon Pacio
Photography by Amy Chin

What Sister Parish items can we expect to see at the shop? 

We’re carrying SPD’s fabric and wallpaper—about 30 designs of each. Those designs are completely integrated within my store’s existing merchandise. For example, our window currently showcases one of Sister’s textiles surrounded by lots of Mexican pottery and antique lamps. We’re also working on some new colorways, which will be available exclusively at my shop.

Eliza writes on the SPD website, “Innovation is often the ability to reach into the past and bring back what is good, what is beautiful, and what is lasting.” Do you share that philosophy?  

Yes—I love that quote! I actually have it on my desk. That’s the thing with Sister’s brand; it launched so long ago, but it still brings these incredible archive pieces to life in a contemporary way. It’s so fantastic! I love vintage and antiques, and mixing pieces in a thoughtful way is what it’s all about. 

Photography by Amy Chin

Shop Talk 

Favorite textile: I have a special connection to Indian textiles. 

Instagram accounts I go to for inspiration: @cupofmeat, @julystars, @reathdesign.

Music that’s always playing in my store: Reggae, classical, or jazz. I like to mix it up. 

Dream person to walk into Kneeland Co.: Dries Van Noten. 

Favorite nearby shop that’s now my own: High Fidelity Records. 

Favorite piece in stock right now: Sister Parish’s Sintra wallpaper in red. We actually just wallpapered the store in it. 

Entertaining hack: I like to have plenty of alcohol available and a good mix of people. Always keep it chill—even if there’s a very decorated table, it should feel casual and fun.

Three favorite objects: My 1960s tantra paintings from Jaipur, my vintage Art Deco tea set from Paris, and all of my Santa Maria Novella bath products.

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