Midtown boutique celebrates Detroit’s history of smart design 

Designs for Detroit

When Liz Boone and Team Detroit adman Toby Barlow co-founded the design boutique Nora three years ago, there wasn't a whole lot happening on the block in terms of retail shopping. City Bird had established itself as a destination for smart, unique gifts, and Hugh had just received a Hatch grant to bring bachelor-pad themed goods to Midtown. But the block just wasn't a destination — yet.

Boone says the inspiration for the store came from a recent trip to Paris with Barlow. "We were walking around, and we'd stop to have a coffee at a café and then we'd go shopping and we just thought to ourselves, 'This is what Detroit needs — this sense of community and this place to gather and to eat and to dine and to shop and to build community,'" Boone says. That's when they got the idea to partner with Hugh. "We thought, 'How about if we partner in another store? One store alone might not be enough to get people down, but maybe two stores will.'"

For Nora, Boone says the idea was to create something that could pay homage to Detroit's legacy of design. "At one point in time we were the cradle of modernism — you think about Cranbrook and Eames and Saarinen. We had this incredible design history," Boone says. "And we thought, 'Let's shine a light on that, let's celebrate that again, and really elevate Detroit's profile again in the area of design.'"

But Boone says they didn't want to just limit it to Detroit's design history. "We also wanted to make sure it was world-class design, no matter where it came from," she says. "It's not just about celebrating Detroit design, but celebrating design — period. But we also want to call attention to the great artists and designers that we have here."

As far as beautiful objects from beyond our city, Nora has plenty of new items for the design aficionado. There's Home, a 3-D puzzle that transforms from a house into furniture, created by a French company called Cinqpoints. Another line of interesting items comes from the Japanese company Hasami Porcelain, which creates modular mugs, bowls, and trays, which all share the same diameter and can be stacked easily.

To highlight Detroit designers, the store recently expanded into the realm of publishing. Their first book was Detroit Nights by Scott Hocking. Better known for his installation work, Hocking instead presents a collection of meditative photos shot in the still of night while exploring Detroit. "I think the book has been incredibly successful — so far we've been pleasantly surprised," Boone says. "There's something about the beauty of Detroit at night — the stillness and the peacefulness." Boone says to expect more books about Detroit designers in the near future.

More by Lee DeVito

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