This Artist Filled Her Oaxaca Gallery With Vintage Terrazzo and Her Own Ceramics
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Published Mar 9, 2022 1:38 AM
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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 to ask them what items are trending right now—and beyond. For this installment, interior designer and potter Stellah De Ville takes us on a tour of her Oaxaca, Mexico, store, Stellah Gallery, where she sells her own ceramics alongside work by local artists.
What made you decide to open Stellah Gallery?
I had been wanting to open a gallery project for a long time. Back when I was living in SoHo, I spent a bunch of years working for other people. And finally, when I got to Oaxaca, I found a place that’s incredibly supportive and welcoming to a community of artists—and landlords are actually excited about having an artist rent their property.
How did your design background determine what you sell at the gallery?
I actually started out in fashion and had a hat business back when I lived in Australia. And then I moved into studying interior design because I have always loved designing—making furniture and even custom tiles are a big part of my practice. I also have a background in fine art and have been making ceramics pretty seriously for the past five-plus years. So the gallery project is very much a reflection of all those lives. And I feature a mixture of vintage furniture by designers such as Don S. Shoemaker as well as my own designs and loads of small sculptures. One of the things about this project that’s special is that it has pretty unapologetically shaped my point of view. I don’t have anything in there that I don’t desperately want for myself.
What was the renovation like?
I started with a really raw space with a lot of potential. The building dates back to the 1700s! I worked with a local architect, Arturo, and the terrazzo floor tiles came from a local manufacturer—it was vintage stock that they had from the ’50s. I really wanted to put a skylight in the space, so I just cut this long, kind of horizontal slit, and it completely changed the character. And in the process, this terracotta dust fell straight down the walls and it was perfect. I had originally meant to paint the walls with pale pistachio, but when I saw the terracotta, I was like, the building is telling me what to do. And so Arturo went and found these beautiful colors made with local clays and brought giant vats of napellus cactus fermented in water, which he mixed with lime and pigment to make this beautiful paint. It was very much a team effort inspired by the local architectural traditions here.
How has being a foreign resident impacted your business?
People have been incredibly welcoming, and I just received permanent residency, which is incredible. There’s always this thing when you’re bringing a new thing to a place like Oaxaca, which relies on tourism: How do you offer something that’s for locals as well as out-of-towners? I don’t want to be a colonizer. So one of the ways is bringing my experience and knowledge and sensibility and embarking on collaborations. I feel like we’re all getting something good in exchange. Working together feels really gratifying.
How do you find the artists you feature?
It’s pretty organic. Sometimes someone literally just walks through my door. Other times it’s through friends’ introductions. I have this flocking theory: I think good people just tend to know good people. On my website, I have an open call for collaborators.
What is your overall approach to interior design?
Creating spaces is always about having objects that reveal the hand of the maker. It’s the idea of being the midwife tapping into the deepest desires of my client and collaborator, and wanting the spaces to be sort of a marriage of the space and the personality of the people who inhabit it. I think that homes should be a sanctuary and reflect the places that we come from and have traveled to. I firmly believe that spaces shape us as much as we shape them.