Tag Archives: Dovecote

Zac Mathias: Young Influencer With Flair

Zac Mathias jokes that he’s “homeschooled at The Granola Bar.”

He’s not. But the Weston High School junior is clearly a unique young man.

True, he spends a lot of time at the popular Playhouse Square spot. He’s also a regular at nearby Pure Barre.

Zac Mathias at Pure Barre.

If you follow Zac on Instagram. you know that already. And you’re not alone. Zac has 15,000 followers. He’s one of the area’s top social media influencers.

He posts — several times a day — with a focus on lifestyle and design. Clothes, beauty, skincare, furniture — if it’s chic, cool and/or helps you live better, Zac will let you know about it.

But he’s not all lipsticks and lotions. Zac also delves into politics, and LGBTQ issues.

As I said: He is not your average 11th grader.

Zac is passionate about what he does. And he discovered his passion early. At 5 years old, he rearranged his parents’ house. (A babysitter helped.)

He soon started designing for his friends — and his friends’ mothers. He got ideas from magazines, but trusted his intuition. It served him well.

It’s not easy being different. Zac was bullied. Fifth grade was the worst, he says. But his teacher let him stay inside during recess — and asked him to rearrange the room.

“Weston is small,” Zac says. “You’re with the same 200 kids from kindergarten on.” But he had plenty of “kind” friends, and they’re still tight. As he — and his classmates — have grown, many have recognized his gifts.

Zac Mathias

Zac always followed his dream. The summer after 7th grade, he interned at Dovecote. Owner Sarah Kaplan — who knew him from his fledgling Instagram presence — “embraced me,” he says. He worked with store stylist Ronny Carroll, learning all about artwork, accessories and more. Sarah gave him plenty of responsibility, including helping customers.

In 8th grade, Zac focused on social media. Businesses asked him to feature them.

He moved from designer to marketer to connector. Now he’s a bona fide influencer.

Zac is grateful for the opportunities he’s had (and created for himself). “I’ve met amazing people,” he says. “Coming from a small school where being different makes you ‘odd,’ I’ve been able to connect with so many other people.”

The other day, a woman whose 9-year-old is being bullied contacted Zac. He met the youngster. “It meant a lot to them to see me living my life,” he says proudly.

As for pride: Zac is a founding member of Westport Pride, a new LGBTQ organization. He looks forward to getting involved in activities like designing a rainbow crosswalk. He’s previously worked with the Triangle Community Center and Trevor Project.

Zac Mathias with shampoo by Better Natured, a Fairfield County company. Part of the proceeds from sales of his t-shirt support the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention effort for LGBTQ youth.

Local — as in, Fairfield County — is Zac’s focus right now. He highlights area businesses, not big brands. That’s why he hangs out at The Granola Bar. “It’s not Starbucks,” he explains. “You’re handed your coffee by someone in the community. Dana and Julie (the owners) are right there for you.”

In fact, Zac says no to “90% of the offers I get. Whoever I work with has to be the right fit. And if I like them, but let’s say the shoes are ugly, I’ll say that too.”

His father taught him an important business tenet: Never say a quick no. He cites one example: He kept communication open with a brand whose packaging he did not like. But he tried the product, and liked it. He gave advice on repackaging; now they are partners.

This summer, Zac posted some political thoughts. (You don’t need to guess who he supported for the White House.) If he lost any followers because of his stands, he says, “they weren’t the right followers. There are other followers who have different views than mine. We get along fine, beyond politics.”

He’s branching out too. Recently, Zac posted about his driver’s permit test. “I want people to laugh,” he says.

But it is “classic chic” that he most focuses on. He leans toward any product or service that lets someone be “unapologetically yourself.” That can be a handbag or shoes, he says. It can also be almond milk. It’s all about lifestyle, and fostering a community, an environment.”

Though Weston is small — and Westport is not exactly a metropolis — Zac like the area. “There are so many creative people here. They’re doing good things, with a big footprint. There’s a lot of opportunity.”

Zac Mathias at one of his favorite spots: The Granola Bar. (Photos/Julia Dags)

What’s next? Zac is working on a new project with a young woman from Massachusetts. He could see branching out to his own product line, or perhaps a reality show.

“The sky’s the limit,” he says confidently. “I could be the gay Martha Stewart — minus the jail time.”

(You can follow Zac on Instagram: @zac.mathias.)

Dovecote Closes One Door

First it was The Brownstone. Then Lester’s. Now one more popular store is closing.

But at least Dovecote is not going away entirely.

Last night, Sarah Kaplan — owner of the popular, eclectic home and jewelry store, on Post Road East underneath Toquet Hall — posted this news on social media:

Dear Friends,

Seventeen years after starting Dovecote, I’ve decided to take it in a new, smaller direction.

Many factors have led to this decision. The most important being a mother to my two sons, Henry and Samuel. Raising them is the main priority in my life.

Over the past few years, I have struggled to find a balance and I realized that something had to give. I need to realign my life so my work life is smaller, less stressful, and hopefully more fulfilling.

I love Dovecote and its spirit will continue, but in a smaller way so I have more time to spend with my family, friends, and doing other things that bring me happiness.

This has been the hardest decision of my “business” life but I know it’s the right one. It is bittersweet to say the least. The main Dovecote “home” store will close this month. Dovecote Jewelry will remain open and will evolve into something new and exciting.

I want to thank all of Dovecote’s customers. So many of you have been with us since we opened in September 2002. I also want to thank the incredible Dovecote store team, who are both friends and co-workers.

Finally, I am grateful to all of our amazing vendors and would like to especially thank our landlord, Rand Real Estate. Every business owner should be so lucky to have a landlord as supportive as they have been.

Now for the details…

Dovecote will run a store-wide closing sale starting Wednesday March 6 at 10 a.m. All merchandise will be 50% off.

Please come by! We have lots of great furniture, lighting, accessories, art, gifts, books, jewelry, and more.

And just to be clear, Dovecote Jewelry will remain open, as small and as beautiful as ever.

Thank you!

(Hat tip: Marcy Sansolo)

Some of the intriguing finds inside Dovecote.

Sidewalk (No) Sales

Brick sidewalks and granite curbs — similar to the new look on Main Street — are coming soon to Post Road East.

To store owners on the south side, they can’t come soon enough.

The project — which includes an expanded sewer line — is underway, from Tiffany to the former Max’s Art Supplies.

Last week, stores like Dovecote, Joie and Fig Linens had limited accessibility.

Now they’ve been told the state won’t allow plywood bridges, until the work is done. That could take 2 weeks.

The plywood bridges, last week.

Meanwhile, those shops — some of them locally owned mom-and-pops, with only front entrances — are suffering.

The sidewalk and curb will look great — when they’re finally finished. Then, hopefully, Westporters will do more than admire them.

They’ll use them to patronize the stores that sacrificed while they were installed.

Sam Allen’s Star Turn

Page 1 of today’s New York Times Home & Garden section features a long — very, very long — story on “Sam Allen, Teenage Decorator.”

If the name and subject sound familiar, it’s because “06880” profiled Sam — the son of Double L Farm Stand owner Lloyd Allen — back in May.

But we’ll defer to the Paper of Record.  The Times piece begins:

This affluent town has long been associated with Martha Stewart, who built her domestic empire here while living in a farmhouse on Turkey Hill Road.  But in the last year or so, a new local talent has emerged: a boyishly handsome designer named Sam Allen.

Open The Weston Forum newspaper, and there he is, sharing his “latest obsession” with readers of his weekly column.

Leaf through a recent issue of Connecticut Cottages & Gardens, and it’s hard to miss the six-page spread of an Hermès-orange bedroom suite he designed for three sisters in exclusive Greenfield Hill.  Swing by the high-end home store Dovecote, and there, on a miniature brass easel, is his business card, advertising Sam Allen Interiors on thick Weimaraner-gray card stock.

“Everyone in my area of Connecticut seems to know him,” said Gerry Bush-Jaffray, who hired Mr. Allen to help decorate her 7,000-square-foot house in nearby Weston.

Sam Allen, with a client. (Photo/Tony Cenicola for the New York Times)

But while many consider him a rising star, Mr. Allen still lives with his mother in Weston, where he works out of a tiny office in her house.  And though he advises the readers of his column how to freshen up their rooms (“It’s time to abandon safe, go-to colors”), in his room, piles of wrinkled clothes are heaped on the bed.  Around town, the pampered housewives of Fairfield County greet him enthusiastically by name, but at home, he gets grief from his little sister.

That’s because the new design star is a teenager.

“Because I’m so young, some people don’t take me seriously,” Mr. Allen, 19, said one recent morning as he zoomed around Westport in his white Lexus S.U.V., running errands on behalf of clients.  “I say, ‘I’m an interior designer,’ and they think I look through a Pottery Barn catalog.”

Mr. Allen, who has been honing his skills since age 12, added emphatically, “No, that’s not what I’m doing.”

It used to be even worse.  When he was 17, he said, he was meeting with a client to discuss his vision for her austere concrete-and-glass home in Fairfield, Conn., when her husband walked in and said skeptically, “I don’t want to be rude, but how old are you?”

Drinking one Diet Coke after another and talking animatedly about ikat prints, Mr. Allen comes across like a Bravo reality show waiting to happen.  You don’t spend an afternoon with him so much as strap yourself in for the ride.

To read more — including the classic quote from a Weston High School English teacher, who remembers him as  “the boy who read Vogue instead of To Kill a Mockingbird”– click here.

Designing Sam Allen

As seniors at Weston High, Sam Allen’s friends spent free periods hanging out or driving to Westport.

Sam, meanwhile, met with painters, plumbers, electricians and delivery people.

That’s what you do when you’re a noted interior designer.  You’re always on call, always dealing with details and emergencies.

“It was hard,” Sam — who graduated last year from Weston — says.  “I’d be sitting in math class, getting emails and texts from clients and vendors.”

Sam Allen

Sam always loved furnishings and decor.  His mother — Leslie — is an interior designer, so he grew up around photo shoots.  On play dates, he “redecorated” rooms.

When Sam walked into Martha Stewart’s TV studio in Norwalk — Leslie and Martha are friends — he remembers being “mesmerized.”

At the ripe age of 12, Sam asked Dovecote owner Sarah Kaplan for a job.  Impressed, she hired him to work in the Westport store.

Eventually, Sarah took Sam on buying trips to France.  “It was hard work,” he says.  “We were out in the cold at the flea markets at 7:30, waiting for them to open.  There was a lot of photography, crating — it was tough.”

Sam took the minimum number of courses possible at Weston.  He much preferred working — and learning — at Dovecote.

In 2009, a customer at his father’s LL Farm Stand said she was stressed about redoing rooms above her garage.  Lloyd Allen replied, “My son does interior design.”

Sam looked at her space, described his vision — and was hired on the spot.

“I got a taste of the real design world,” he says.  “I learned how to really deal with clients, painters and electricians.”

The project was a great success.  He pitched photos to Connecticut Cottages & Gardens.  The editor was skeptical — she gets plenty of requests — but she loved what she saw.  The spread was published last April.

Through that — and project photos on Facebook, and word of mouth — Sam got more work.

At one home, Sam expected to decorate a room.  Instead, the owner asked him to handle most of her enormous home.

“That one, I was nervous,” Sam admits.  “The magnitude was huge.”

Why did all these women trust a high school senior?

One of Sam's projects...

“I’m less expensive than other local designers,” he says.

“But I have access to vendors, resources, fabric houses and stores.

“Plus, I’ve been trained by Dovecote and my mother.  And I have a good reputation.”

Working 2 summers ago at Martha Stewart Living in New York didn’t hurt.  He was their only non-college intern.  He learned about paint boards, cabinet lines, crafts, media production and more.

Last fall, Sam started classes at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology.  Classes ran from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.  On the 1st day, an instructor warned students they’d give up most of their lives for the next 4 years.

This winter, Sam decided to take time off.  “I know education is important,” he says.  “I’ll go back.  But right now, I want to concentrate on my clients.”

These days he’s working with women in Westport, Weston, Chelsea and the Upper East Side.  He’s also about to sign a deal with what he calls “a very exciting media-related project.”

...and another.

That’s a lot on one young man’s plate — no matter how decorative it is.  But interior design is Sam passion, and he’s pursuing it with gusto.

“I love accumulating different pieces, seeing a room come together,” he says.

“I see a fabric I fall in love with, and the rest follows.  I love the relationships I form with my clients — these housewives.  And watching construction progress is a great rush.”

It’s a rush Sam Allen relishes.  He’s come a long way from the days — a year ago — of sitting in math class, worrying about the real responsibilities of a real interior designer, being paid real money by real clients.

(To contact Sam, call 203-984-5590 or email sam@samalleninteriors.com)

Dovecote Droves

As a (very) light snow began falling just before 10 a.m., a large line formed outside Dovecote, across from the Y.

“I think they’re having a big sale,” one woman said.  Her uncertainty did not deter her from joining the queue.

Get ’em while they’re hot, Westport.

Whatever “they” are.