By CHRISTINA RITCHIE ROGERS
Viive Ralston has always had an eye for little touches that make a big difference.Â As a child, she loved to make breakfast in bed for her mother. Even then, the tray was not complete without a small vase of freshly picked flowers, she said, and sheâ€™d walk down her street in New York City to â€śborrowâ€ť a few stems from an unknowing neighborâ€™s window box.
Now, as co-owner of Smart Deco Home Furnishings and Consignment in Cornelius, which opens this weekend, Ms. Ralston (whose name is pronounced “VEE-va”) approaches her new business as she once did her motherâ€™s breakfast – always looking for the perfect, beautiful accent or splash of color that turns something nice into something special.
â€śViiveÂ can see the beauty in everything, and what I bring to the table is I can see the value in it,â€ť said her husband and business partner, Ben Ralston. â€śThereâ€™s a very practical side to decor.â€ť
And that focus on practicality as well as aesthetic value puts the “smart” – and the “art” – Â in Smart Deco. The Ralstons carefully select pieces that are functional as well as good looking, and wonâ€™t break the bank.
The Smart Deco space, in Kenton Place off West Catawba Avenue, near Lowes Food, combines new furniture, accessories, rugs and lighting with carefully-selected consignment items. Original artwork by Lake Norman-area artists also is for sale.
The couple chose to combine new and consignment items because it is a realistic, eco-friendly business model thatâ€™s accessible to people shopping at all price points, they said.
â€śWe decorate the store the way people decorate their houses,â€ť Ms. Ralston said.
And the couple chose to spotlight the work of local artists because â€śthere are so many talented artists in the area that need a space to display their work,â€ť Mr. Ralston said. There was no need to look elsewhere for high-quality, original pieces, he said.
â€śIf youâ€™re looking for a unique look for your home, having unique art is one way to get there,â€ť he said.
â€śItâ€™s a chance for you to go in any direction design-wise,â€ť Ms. Ralston said, â€śand itâ€™s also great for renters who canâ€™t paint their walls.â€ť
From art to furniture and everything in between, the couple selects only those pieces that fit with their style and meet their high standards of quality, whether they are new pieces or consigned items.
â€śIâ€™m trying to design the way I think consignment should be,â€ť Ms. Ralston said. â€śI want people to shop consignment with a boutique experience.â€ť
The couple, both 28, began dating nearly 10 years ago as freshmen at Davidson College and married a little over two years ago. While at Davidson, Ms. Ralston studied art history and studio art and Mr. Ralston majored in economics. He later earned an MBA from Wake Forest.
Ms. Ralstonâ€™s arts background and Mr. Ralstonâ€™s economics background complement each other – after all, they are in the business of aesthetics.
And while starting a new business is always daunting, the couple believes that Lake Norman is the perfect place to do it. They are thrilled to return “home” to the area.
â€śOur decision about the location had two sides,â€ť Mr. Ralston said – an emotional one and a practical one.
â€śWe love it here,â€ť he said. â€śWe met here, and it was one of the first places we looked at for the business.â€ť
But emotions aside, â€śitâ€™s a developing area with an artistic culture that appreciates design,â€ť he said.
Though their skill sets may be different, the Ralstons share an important motivation: a desire to help people. It’s at the heart of their business philosophy.
â€śIâ€™ve always liked to please people and help make their lives easier,â€ť Ms. Ralston said. She sees herself, as a buyer, as the â€śfirst line of defenseâ€ť for customers, responsible for making sure they know what is available from wholesalers and seeing that they get what they want.
â€śMy favorite thing about it is finding solutions for people,â€ť said Mr. Ralston, who sees himself as more of a problem-solver than a salesman.
Giving back to the community is also part of the Ralstonsâ€™ business model. And theyâ€™re wasting no time getting started: They will donate 10 percent of sales from their grand opening weekend to Great Dane Rescue of the Carolinas, and some of the adoptable dogs will be at the opening.
â€śWe wanted to plant ourselves in a real community where people take an interest in whatâ€™s going on around them,â€ť Ms. Ralston said. â€śThis is where we want to start our livelihood and start our family.â€ť
WANT TO SEE SMART DECO?
The grand opening weekend begins Thursday night with a store preview from 6 to 9 p.m. The reception is an opportunity to meet Ben and Viive (pronounced Vee-vah), enjoy wine and cheese and get a sneak peak at the collection.
The store is located in Kenton Place near Lowes Food, at 17015 Kenton Drive in Cornelius
The official grand opening is Saturday, Aug. 20, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Ten percent of all proceeds from the opening weekend will be donated to the Great Dane Rescue of the Carolinas.Â There will also be an adoption tent out front with several puppies and dogs who are looking for a good home.
Call 704-892-1360 or email Ben and Viive with any questions.