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New York Boutique Offers Valuable Connection with the Designer

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The Gurhan Atelier, New York

OWNER: Gurhan Orhan; URL:gurhan.com; FOUNDED: 1994; OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2014; EMPLOYEES: 2 (plus resources drawn from Gurhan Jewelry); AREA: 1,500 square feet; ONLINE PRESENCE: 15,411 Likes on Facebook; BRANDS: The boutique sells Gurhan jewelry exclusively.; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/abbyjakobeyes; BUILDOUT COST: $675,000


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SCARCE AND COMPETITION HIGH, New Yorkers are no strangers to adapting offbeat spaces to fit their needs. And when Gurhan Orhan was unable to renew the lease on the offices he and his staff occupied in 2013, it was time to follow in that tradition.

A potential location for the first Gurhan boutique was found in Manhattan’s Tribeca, a neighborhood of industrial buildings turned luxury residential and shopping district. Housed in a landmark 19th century structure, the space possessed a list of features — exposed brick, concrete floors, sky-high ceilings — that commonly fill the pages of tony shelter magazines. But before the 1,500-square-foot expanse would be ready for its big reveal it would have to shed its past as a food refrigeration unit. Despite its unusual backstory, Gurhan was instantly enamored: “I had no doubt about it.”

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While the brand’s headquarters relocated to new offices some 25 blocks north, in Tribeca work began on a boutique that would reflect Gurhan’s distinctive sensibility. “About three or four years ago I noticed that lots of jewelry started to look alike — with similar clasps and stone setting — because so many people are using the same factories,” he explains. “But our jewelry is different from what’s on the market and I wanted to create a retail space that’s different too.”

The collection got its start in 1994 when Gurhan, an Ankara native, still lived in Turkey. He was intrigued by the properties of 24K gold from the first time he handled the material. Though more experienced artisans tried to dissuade him from working with pure gold, insisting it was too soft and heavy for use in jewelry, he persevered. During months spent sequestered in a Grand Bazaar workshop he taught himself many of the techniques that remain the basis of his brand.

During the build of his store that tenacity would come in handy. While contractors performed the most complicated parts of the project, starting with creating a storefront entrance where there had been none, they weren’t always present. Gurhan labored at the site, too. His sweat equity was both essential and rewarding. “It’s nice. You feel like you own a part of it. But you’re also paying rent and just have to finish the thing!”

Then, there were the complications of working on a landmarked building. “I was so naïve,” Gurhan recalls. “You can’t put a nail anywhere without permission.” The project architect, however, navigated the maze of rules well enough that the boutique was permitted to hang a simple shingle from its façade with its name. That privilege isn’t shared by any other business on the block. And the sliver of signage is crucial. “It’s our biggest advertisement. Many of my customers come in because they see the sign when they’re visiting [Japanese restaurant] Nobu.”

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Once construction inside the boutique was finished, more work continued outside. And this time it was entirely beyond Gurhan’s control. The facing street became a staging area for a massive road project nearby. Bulldozers and pipes blocked the progress of all cars and many pedestrians. What he was told would be an inconvience of little more than one month lingered for a over a year.

Those that did hurtle the gauntlet to reach the Gurhan Atelier when it opened in 2014 discovered a gracious reprieve from urban chaos. The first of two rooms is long and narrow with whitewashed brick and dark wood floors. Queen Anne style desks for a security officer and both members of the full-time sales staff sit at regular intervals. Floor-to-ceiling draperies with fringed details in tones of wine and gold are elegant throwback accents, like the series of mirrors with ornate gilt frames — each different from the next — that flank one wall. Jewelry made from silver and touches of gold dominate. The accessible pricing of the pieces makes it possible to display them in the open so that clients can touch them at will.

Towering wooden doors with ironwork details bisect the space and separate the entry from the workshop and consultation area. Salvaged from a 19th century building in Argentina, they were the first things Gurhan selected for the boutique. “I wanted to use them for the front door until my architect set me straight,” he recalls. Beyond the imposing portal is an expansive room that houses his high-end work in 24K gold and precious gemstones, micromosaics and other rarities. All the jewelry appears around the perimeter in wall-mounted displays Gurhan built himself from a collection of antique frames.

Behind a low wall sits his bench, his most frequent perch when he’s in New York. One of the reasons behind opening the boutique was to provide space where Gurhan could consult with clients on custom designs or merely work on new ideas. Collaborating with him directly is not a service reserved only for VIP clients. “It’s the first thing we tell anyone about,” he says. “If someone has jewelry that they don’t use in a safe we can utilize that gold and the stones.”

The small workshop area is a fully multipurpose zone. Gurhan also maintains an area where he photographs all jewelry for website and marketing purposes. Learning the specialized task was a time and cost-saving measure but also another creative outlet for the designer, who admits, “I like anything technical.”

Beyond the jewelry that surrounds visitors, there’s eye candy in every direction. Shelves brim with books, vintage lamps and seating give character to the formerly industrial environment, and personal mementos from the home Gurhan shares with Fiona Tilley, his wife and the brand’s president and CEO, linger around each corner. They’re all elements that make everyone feel welcome. “This place has good chemistry. People feel it when they walk in. It’s never boring and we have fun.”

ONLINE EXTRA: 5 Questions with Gurhan Orhan

1. What’s your primary hobby?
Jewelry started as a hobby, even though I make a living at it now. Everything relates back to it. I’ve started cutting stones. I like it. It’s quite new.

2. With so much travel on your calendar, do you have a favorite stop?
When I get back to New York I love it more. The nicest thing about traveling is coming back.

3. What’s your sales philosophy?
It’s so relaxing here. It’s a soft sell. We listen to music. People come just for the bar. There’s no stress.

4. What do you look for in an employee?
They love talking to people. They love selling. We’re a small entity, so it’s about being able to build a special relationship with a client.

5. What’s your favorite part of the boutique?
The bar, of course! It’s a very serious bar. I have real, serious bottles.

Five Cool Things About The Gurhan Atelier

1. BAR TAB. Gurhan’s hospitality is a big draw. He jokes, “After 5, people come for the bar.” It houses a fully equipped wine refrigerator, a cache of rare spirits and plenty of snacks. As the day progresses, a clubby atmosphere prevails: friends drop in, students come by to show off works in progress. “This is just a place where people can relax.”

2. FAMOUS FRIENDS. The store is a paparazzi magnet … or at least its notable neighbor is. Pop star Taylor Swift lives across the street and when she’s in residence the whole block buzzes with activity. “Kids and families wait outside for her,” Gurhan explains. Meanwhile the atelier is a destination for its fair share of A-listers, including Kate Hudson, Usher and Mickey Rourke.

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3. THE AWARDS WALL. On shelves mounted along one wall stand a cluster of awards for Gurhan’s design wins, including prizes from Perles de Tahiti and a Couture Design Award. It’s not just professional acclaim that gets a prominent place. Childhood swimming and public-speaking trophies awarded to Gurhan CEO Fiona Tilley also occupy a privileged spot and lend the area extra charm.

4. A DESIGNER W.C. A zone that’s often overlooked in other retail spaces was a high priority for Gurhan when devising his own. “There are so many stores that you think are glamorous but their restrooms look like storage areas,” he says. “One of the first things on my list when we got started was a good bathroom.” To make the facilities as inviting as the rest of the boutique they’re appointed with soaring ceilings, elegant fixtures, an antique chest and flowers.

5. SCREENING ROOM. Between public appearances, visits to his Turkish workshop and personal holidays (often to far flung destinations like Mongolia), travel is a constant feature of Gurhan’s life. To make it easier to collaborate with clients at his Istanbul boutique he installed a large screen that facilitates appointments via Skype.

JUDGES’ COMMENTS

  • Brandee Dallow: This atelier just screams “come spend time in me and be comfortable.” It is warm, welcoming and homey — everything your typical jewelry boutique is not.
  • Todd Reed: I like his unique vision. The store is his personal space that he’s invited the public to. This type of shopping and “hanging out” experience would be truly memorable to a Gurhan client.
  • Ron Gay: Very unique use of a loft space.
  • Becky Stone: From the gilded, laser-cut lettered sign and deep teal of the exterior to the eclectic design of the interior, every element of the atelier is beautiful and carefully executed.
  • Debbie Fox: Everything about this business is an expression of Gurhan, from his innovative wall display cases made from picture frames to his exterior gold plated sign.

 

PHOTO GALLERY (10 Images)

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