“I want the ladies who lunch across the street to be confronted by this thing that has been so stigmatized,” says Elle Florescu, the owner of Elle’s Boutique, a new high-end sexual wellness shop in Austin’s historic Clarksville neighborhood. The store, tucked inside a 1930s bungalow, welcomes customers with sensual ceramics from Los Angeles–based Heather Rosenman; vintage Italian furniture; and a lush dressing room, a total rebranding of the often kitschy experience that typical sex accessory retailers offer.
Florescu grew up with the subject being openly discussed, much like it is in Europe. “When first conceiving of this concept, I knew the interiors needed to reflect a sophistication and wonder that is not often considered in that space,” she says. “Those who walk into Elle’s should feel disarmed, curious, inspired, and playful.” Here’s how she brought those emotions to life.
Faux Stained Glass
Faced with a limited footprint, Florescu, alongside her boyfriend, Larry McGuire of Lambert McGuire Design, whose team helped execute her vision, aimed to create a sense of grandness by lifting the ceilings, spackling on moody blue Venetian plaster, and installing skylights. The front showroom transports visitors back to Italy circa 1970, and when it came to the dressing room, cloaked in high-gloss paint and amber-hued lighting, Florescu wanted that same level of splendor.
“To ask someone to take off their clothes is already uncomfortable, so I wanted the dressing room to be as luxurious, safe, and complimentary as possible,” she says. Lighting was a critical detail. “There are no overhead fixtures; the mirror is backlit to create a flattering glow, and all the lights are on a dimmer,” she adds. Walking through the heavy Raf Simons fabric curtain reveals a custom mohair sofa underneath another soft light source: faux stained-glass windows. Cut-to-fit colored gel from Sensational Solutions gives the illusion of the real thing for much less.
Not Your Average Built-Ins
In lieu of cheap retail shelving that would only detract from Elle’s offerings, Florescu worked with local millworker Jon Williams to design two custom plywood pieces covered in a cherry veneer, inspired by French designer Pierre Yovanovitch. “I didn’t want it to feel like a merchandising display but rather something that disappeared,” she says. One runs the entire west end of the shop and another features a hand-bent arch that tucks perfectly into the wall, a curvaceous take on your standard built-in bookcase. “Jon wasn’t sure that the wood would bend without snapping, so he stayed up all night prior to opening day making sure it was done slowly,” recalls Florescu. (His trick: building a form in the desired shape and clamping the wood to it for 24 hours.) All the ledges rest on a custom peg system, allowing them to be removed or adjusted depending on inventory or events hosted in the shop.
Italian architect and designer Vincenzo De Cotiis was another one of Florescu’s biggest influences, with his bold jewel tones and rich textures. Another arch, this one leading to the dressing room, is a nod to the talent. She looked to friend and metalworker Biff, from DOB Fabrication, to line it in thin, linseed-polished steel, giving the arches an alluring sheen that contrasts dramatically with the plaster walls and coral-toned kitchen. While the architecture is Instagram-worthy on its own, it sets the stage for some of Florescu’s favorite things: Oseree swimsuits; Poppy undergarments; Tsubota Pearl lighters; and delicate, lacy Kiki de Montparnasse lingerie sets. How could you not feel sexy walking into Elle’s?