Friday, April 19, 2024 Apr 19, 2024
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A Look Inside Thrift Studio’s New Studio

After years of bouncing around in temporary spaces, Dwell With Dignity’s annual pop-up shop finally has a permanent location in the Dallas Design District.
Dwell With Dignity's Thrift Studio has a new permanent location at 1833 E. Levee St. Courtesy of Dwell with Dignity

Over the years, Thrift Studio has become a darling in the Dallas design industry. The annual monthlong pop-up shop offers luxury home décor at a fraction of the usual price. Interior designers are invited to stage rooms—called vignettes—which shoppers then pick through. All the proceeds fund Dwell With Dignity, which donates furniture, art, bedding, linens, kitchen supplies, and food to families in need.

People look forward to the fall shop, says Dwell With Dignity executive director Ashley Sharp, but searching for a space every year was a headache. Or, in Sharp’s words, “the bane of my existence.” Thrift Studio recently bought a permanent location on Levee Street, where it will throw its annual pop-up as well as host smaller shops and community events. And it frees them from the scramble of finding a temporary space every fall.

Here is how it used to work. Each year, the Dwell With Dignity team would ask industry friends for intel on who was moving in and out of the Design District. They wanted to know where “we might be able to squeak in” between leases for the monthlong shop, Sharp says. But that meant they couldn’t announce dates until confirming a space. And even then, the location was fungible. Landlords would kick them out early if the new tenant wanted to move in ahead of schedule. 

“Right now, we have to beg, borrow, and steal a space,” Sharp says. “And they kick us out of a space because they sold the space, which of course they want to do.” 

When their contacts couldn’t find a location for Thrift Studio last year, the Dwell with Dignity team drove around the Design District. They peered in windows looking for empty spaces, Sharp says. They found one and confirmed. But the studio space didn’t have lighting, air conditioning, or toilets. The landlord asked if Dwell With Dignity would cover the cost of a new bathroom.

Then, while installing the pop-up shop’s signature vignettes, painting walls, and looking into renting “really pretty porta-potties,” Sharp says the studio was sold and they were turned away. Luckily, the landlord helped them find a new spot. 

The second location was prettier, Sharp says, but it still needed AC and a finished bathroom. It also didn’t have internet—which makes running a pop-up shop all the more difficult—and the designers had to run extension cords all over the place in order to light their vignettes. 

Sharp was exhausted. Designers get frustrated with all the moving and having to change their designs each year. The official dates have to be changed. All the shifting “damages our brand credibility,” she says. And considering 65 percent of Dwell With Dignity’s fundraising comes from Thrift Studio, something needed to change. 

Before all that drama, Sharp already knew the organization needed more space. Dwell With Dignity’s 13,000-square-foot warehouse was where they kept furniture for projects, stored home goods for Thrift Studio, up-cycled pieces, and officed. It was “overflowing with donations,” she says. “To the point that we’re actually turning away donations.” The issues with the transient Thrift Studio only exacerbated the problem. 

So she started looking at bigger warehouses and studio spaces in the suburbs and in the Design District. They wanted to stay in the neighborhood because “that’s who our supporters are,” but prices were “astronomical.” Finally, last October, Sharp found a spot at 1833 E. Levee St. on sale for $1.8 million. “I was like, ‘sold.’ Literally took it the day I saw it.” 

The 9,000-square-foot space is smaller than what Sharp was initially looking for, but she has big plans for it. 

There’s a 613-square-foot lobby, which will have florals and a living wall of greenery. They’ll sell Dwell With Dignity-branded merch, like custom The Worthy Co. candles. They plan to use it as a co-working space, too, Sharp says, and open it up as a community space when needed. “Project Mockingbird can come do a retreat up here for a day,” she says, or any other organization. “You don’t have a home? We’re your home.”

In the warehouse, there will be a gallery wall just to sell art and mixed-media pieces, a loading dock, and a front desk. Crayola is sponsoring a children’s play area. They’ll set up spaces for eight vignettes spread out on either side of a center aisle, with shelving in the back for linens and other smaller merchandise. After Thrift Studio ends, the back half of the space will be used to store the 25,000 to 30,000 items they sell during the pop-up. 

Because they don’t have to worry about getting kicked out, Sharp says they’re planning to expand Thrift Studio’s timeline. Instead of four weeks, this year’s shop will last six weeks, and they’ll keep extending dates. They don’t want the shop to be year-round, though. “There’s a certain special excitement that comes around Thrift Studio,” Sharp says. “We don’t want to over-saturate the market.” About eight weeks is their ideal length.

In the off months, Sharp says they plan to keep the front few vignettes open for smaller events. They’ll have day- or weekend-long pop-ups called Thrift Too, and surprise flash sales. Like the lobby, Dwell With Dignity will open the vignettes up to other organizations that want to have their own pop-up sales. They want to bring in Asian designers for AAPI Month. The Bridge can come do an art exhibition. “The space is going to be hopping,” she says. 

The empty studio is currently under construction. Luckily they don’t have to set up electrical, Sharp says, but they’re currently transferring all their Thrift items to the new space. The first time anyone will see the completed space is Thrift Studio’s opening day in August.

But Sharp hopes having the new space will help them build name recognition. “We don’t want to be the best kept secret,” she says. “We want to be the best, but not secret.” And with a permanent location, people can trust that Thrift Studio will always be around. 

“This is a big investment for us,” she says. “We’re not going anywhere.” 


Catherine Wendlandt

Catherine Wendlandt

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Catherine Wendlandt is the online associate editor for D Magazine’s Living and Home and Garden blogs, where she covers all…

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