If you’re not familiar with The DEA Store, you’ve not been to what is arguably Sydney’s best homewares shop. Although, describing it as such feels like we’re underselling it. A knick-knack shop it is not.
Karin Huchatz opened DEA on Redfern’s Regent Street in 2014, and for seven-and-a-half years has been filling the tiny space with beautiful objects for the home and kitchen that appeal, as she says, to the “delicate eye area” (hence the acronym DEA). There are elegant pieces in ceramic and wood, glassware, and other handmade items by local and international designers and producers. And now there’s a new DEA: DEA East.
DEA East gets its name because of its location in east Redfern – on Bourke Street not far from Cleveland Street – and because it’s east of the original store (which is now DEA West). “We didn’t know what to call the new one,” Huchatz tells Broadsheet. “It was just a working title, but it actually perfectly describes what we do – it’s east meets west.”
A big part of the east component is Japan. Huchatz has a big fascination with Japan, and visits often to source pieces for her store. She works closely with the makers and DEA is often the only place in Australia to stock their wares.
DEA East will have some of the same products as West, but it’s doing something slightly different. “It’s more a salon where we have a mix of shows and exhibitions alongside the homeware and gifting – so ceramics, artwork, and items made from wood, glass, clay and paint. It would be wrong to think of it only as a store where small local makers and artisans from Japan, and globally known names and brands, are sold,” she says.
“It’s more than that – it’s also an experimental place. It’s about the joy of showing work we are passionate about, and giving it the space it deserves.”
Huchatz and Colin Grimmer (her husband who has always been a part of the business but is now working behind the scenes full-time) have wanted a space to show more exhibitions, and held a couple of successful pop-ups at Surry Hills’ Native Drops in the lead up to opening East. They’ll host shows here whenever something, or someone, takes their fancy.
“We’ve got Scott Daniel Ellison coming up next. He’s from the Hudson Valley, New York, and recently collaborated with designer and photographer Hedi Slimane to create iconography for the fashion label Celine. I’ve been collecting his work for a while. He does small gothic folkloric paintings and we have 11 of his pieces,” she says.
Huchatz has an encyclopedic knowledge of local makers, Japanese craft-makers and also big-name designers like Tom Dixon (which she stocks). Before DEA she worked in the book trade, the fashion industry and ran the MCA’s gift shop for several years. For retailer and restaurant Fratelli Fresh, she was tasked with getting foot traffic through the doors of its Potts Point store. So, she opened a gallery and held exhibitions. When it was sold to the Urban Purveyor Group she was made redundant, and four weeks later she opened DEA.
“When we opened, the pottery boom had just begun, so there was a proliferation – and acceptance – of handmade items in Sydney. We were really lucky because we were able to get some good artists early,” she says. “And over the years I’ve been able to assemble a collection of work that expresses the many different languages of clay here and from Japan, from very fine pieces to other styles, and they sit together to create harmony.”
Not long after DEA opened, Huchatz began working with local Sydney ceramicist Peter Anderson to design a range of hand-thrown plates and bowls for everyday use (they are dishwasher-safe and the range starts from $18). “We’ve recently created a pasta bowl. I just listen to the customers, to see what they need for their collections, and we add pieces.”
Huchatz designed the new store, and she lights up when talking about it. “It was a magical event where we didn’t have any obstacles. We ground the concrete floor to reveal the most stunning galaxy of aggregate. The shelves still have a fresh smell of timber. And I designed the floating brass-box counter. It’s very posh. Hanging over the top is a delicate Hikari Masuda translucent porcelain dog lamp shade.”
Like the adorable lamp, Huchatz is all about surprising and delighting, and is not only constantly on the hunt for whimsical pieces; she’s also looking for works – and artisans – that are exciting. “I’ve got a very hungry eye,” she says. “And if the shop doesn’t feel fresh to me, it’s not going to feel fresh to my customers. We also want to have fun, and with DEA we aren’t trying to be anything but fun.
“I definitely feel the gravitation pull of beauty, because to have beauty in our life is essential. I don’t want to die with a plastic bowl in my hand.”
674 Bourke Street, Redfern