Calling All Treasure Hunters
Like many out-of-towners, Alexis Smith had long viewed Carmel-by-the-Sea as an idyllic vacation destination.
Its proximity to the East Bay, where she was raised and continued to reside as she started her own family, made quick getaways doable. Yet, with its miles of pristine beaches and quaint stone-clad cottages, “it feels like a world away,” she says.
A few years ago, the interior designer recalls, “our kids were getting to the age where we were asking ourselves: What’s the best environment for them and for us?”—a place that she and her husband, Jerry, a real estate developer, along with their two daughters, ages 11 and 12, could pursue a slower-paced lifestyle. “Somewhere with less hustle culture might be a better fit for all the personalities in our family,” explains the founder of Studio Shoshin. “We landed on Carmel. We never considered it before, and then once we got the idea in our heads, it was the most obvious thing to do.”
In August 2020, they relocated from Piedmont to Carmel. This past March, Smith celebrated the one-year anniversary of her interior design brand’s storefront, Shop Shoshin, on San Carlos, between 5th and 6th avenues. “Just about anything you could ever require for home decoration can be found at our shop, although I often tell people that we are in the business of selling ‘wants’ rather than ‘needs,’” she says, adding that she “buys things that delight me, that might make your heart skip a beat.”
“I buy things that delight me, that might make your heart skip a beat.”
<div class="quote-attribute">Alexis Smith</div>
Smith has curated an experience that she likens to a “treasure hunt.” Think: pillows and lampshades by Fermoie, vintage Japanese lusterware, English crystal match strikes, and revamped furniture such as the Art Deco chairs she picked up at auction and reupholstered in Natasha Baradaran’s Sabine performance velvet. “I try hard to source products that can’t be found in other local shops—or any other shops, for that matter—which is why we always have an array of vintage and antique furnishings and accessories on hand for our customers,” says Smith, who carries close to 100 different vendors. Starting in late June, customers can browse and buy online, too, as she rolls out e-commerce.
Amid its various vignettes, not to mention a library with a floor-to-ceiling bookcase and a 10-foot-long custom banquette, those who shop in person are enticed to stay a while. “My goal was to create a space where people feel welcome and want to linger,” says Smith. “I also am working to establish the shop as a space where other local designers can connect and be exposed to new products and design resources.” To that end, she previously hosted an event with Holland & Sherry’s San Francisco showroom, and Hewn and Schumacher pop-ups are forthcoming.
While her inventory is ever-evolving, some goods are so popular that Smith has stocked them since day one, like the pillows by Walter G, a company out of Australia whose textiles are block-printed in India. For alfresco summer entertaining, she endorses the portable lamps made in the U.K. of hand-blown Murano glass, as well as the acrylic cake stands in vibrant hues, to top tables dressed in Matouk Schumacher Collection linens.
And there’s a special item that is exclusive to Smith: a $26 set of notecards depicting eight iconic Carmel structures—among them, the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Clinton Walker House; Robinson Jeffers’ former residence, built by the poet for his family; Carmel Mission Basilica, which dates to 1771; and the charming building that houses Shop Shoshin. The drawings were done by her architect father, Tim Ward, who is retiring this year. Those interested in having their own homes immortalized are in luck: Ward is slated for a Shop Shoshin “summer residency,” as Smith puts it. From July 30 to August 5, he will take appointments for custom sketches. Slots can be booked through the store; the cost for a framed piece is $1,400.
Smith’s affinity for older homes, often the focus of her interior design work, can be traced to her father. Growing up in Lafayette, she would frequent his office, and she briefly majored in architecture at UC Berkeley. She ultimately ended up earning a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Chicago and pursuing a career in public policy and public affairs. It was “a long process,” she says of the decision to return to design to “try to find out what my new passion was.” After undertaking interiors projects for friends, she secured more jobs through word of mouth. “It all happened by accident,” Smith continues. “I was so lucky to be able to fall into it the way I have.”
Her foray into retail—a tiny spot in Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood—was an offshoot of her practice. “When I turned my design hobby into a business a handful of years ago, I quickly filled my garage with vintage art and furniture that I thought I might eventually want to use for a project,” she elaborates. “As these treasures started to creep further into our home, I realized that having a small retail presence would not only give me a space to store them, but also would make installation of the last layer of decoration for my design projects so much easier.”
Today, Studio Shoshin is based out of her 2,400-square-foot store. The clientele is split between the Bay Area and Monterey Peninsula. She is particularly excited about a current Carmel Highlands project—a roughly century-old abode purchased by two siblings desiring a shared family compound.
Since her arrival in the area nearly three years ago, Smith, who resides in Carmel Valley, has discovered a “small yet really supportive community” on the Monterey Peninsula. “You have access to these rural, beautiful settings and the cosmopolitan things that come with being a global destination, where wonderful food and culture are happening.” Case in point: Chez Noir, which acclaimed chef Jonny Black and his wife, Monique, opened last fall. Smith relates that people would visit Studio Shoshin after admiring the Geodesis Neroli candle in the nearby restaurant’s bathroom. (According to Smith, the Blacks have switched to the Fico d'India perfume diffuser by Ortigia Sicilia.)
This summer, Smith is traveling to Europe, with an itinerary that includes the Paris flea markets, which she last visited prior to operating a shop. “I feel like now I could do some damage,” she says with a laugh. Small-scale furniture, like side tables and bar carts, are on her shopping list—so keep an eye out for those in the coming months. “People who visit or reside in Carmel love it for its artisan spirit and one-of-a-kind charm,” Smith observes. “I like to think that Shoshin brings that same kind of singularity to the local design scene.” <img src="https://assets-global.website-files.com/6457f19f1c1e1601e2c9c3f6/6487a9355b63a6818c705cea_CC-Icon--20.svg"alt="CC"height="20" width="20">
THIS SUMMER AT SHOP SHOSHIN
July 30-August 5, Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA
Book one of only 10 appointments to have your home (or other sentimental structure) hand-sketched by architect Tim Ward. Slots can be booked through the store. The cost for a framed piece is $1,400, and includes a digital file of the artwork.