Shish Interiors: The subtle art of making homes more beautifulDec 21, 2020 09:41AM ● By Tricia Hoadley
By John Chambless
Tucked away in Centreville, Shish Interiors is weathering the national shutdown and economic upheaval of the past few months by quietly offering furnishings and decorator items that bring peace to the home.
The company founder and visionary, Sally Guare Hunsinger, started Shish in Wilmington, but moved it to Centreville two years ago. A tour of the shop shows a consistent, clean style that is both welcoming and unifying. Nothing is stuffy or too precious to be actually used. That’s part of an aesthetic that goes back many years in Hunsinger’s life, as she recalled in a recent interview.
What are the roots of your design sense? Did you paint or draw as a child? Where did you grow up?
My family is from Vermont. I think that is probably a huge factor in my design. My grandmother had an incredible sense of style. Her home was livable and beautiful and always smelled amazing -- it was magical! Perhaps because I have four children, my design tends to be functionalIy based. I think a well-designed home brings peace to its inhabitants, allowing them to flourish. Teasing out the likes and dislikes of customers and figuring out how to incorporate their tastes is so much more important than imposing trends and way more fun to determine. My mom has long been famous for saying “Different strokes for different folks.” In many ways, that is my design style. Life would be so boring if we were all the same!
Did you have an artistic family? Were you encouraged to create?
One of my daughters is an artist, but that’s about it. I am not sure I was encouraged as much as allowed. We moved around a fair amount, and I was always allowed to rearrange furniture and convert closets to special play spaces and even change rooms with my siblings on occasion. When I wanted a dollhouse, my dad built it and then used balsa wood to make the furniture as I described it to him. Later, when I had time to envision the furniture I wanted, but not the time or cash to obtain it, he would build it for me.
Did you study art or design in college?
No. My degree is in special education, and I truly loved my time working in that field, but decorating and creating has always been my passion. For as long as I can remember, I have been rearranging and designing and working on projects in my own homes, friends’ homes, the residential facilities where I worked … creating functional and beautiful spaces has always been great fun for me. I used to do it in my free time and I guess now I do it all the time.
How did your career path evolve? When did the idea of doing interior design come about?
This is what I have always loved, and I am fortunate that my husband and my kids have pitched in a lot over the years to help and allow me to do this. In 2004, my husband read an article about interior designer and minister, Denny Daikeler. He gave me a gift certificate for a weekend workshop with her, and everything that I felt about decorating and interior design was validated. I chose to stay home with our kids, and in doing that, met people who asked me to help them work on projects or spaces, and I always did it because I loved it. I had one friend who really encouraged me and showed me the value of my passion. I have always dreamed of having a shop of my own, but I am not sure it was something I ever really thought would happen. Having a retail store is so helpful to the design portion of my business because clients can meet me and see how they feel before committing. They can also see the quality of my merchandise, and in many cases see and try pieces before committing to purchase them.
When did you open Shish Interiors in Greenville? Have you always had this same space, or did the business move at any point?
I moved Shish to Centreville two years ago. Prior to that, I had a small store on North Lincoln Street in Wilmington. I was there for almost five years. That space was good to me. It allowed me to build a client base in Delaware, and it was small, which kept my costs manageable. The store in Centreville is quite a bit bigger and the community here is incredible. There are several similar stores Centreville and we all support one another and share resources and customers. I am so thankful to be here.
The store and the items you offer have a clean, comfortable “look.” Are all the items a reflection of what you personally like? So it’s a matter of finding like-minded customers? I actually love the fact that my customers are all so different in their tastes, needs and wants and in their budgets. The common thread is that I think most people want their homes to look and feel good and function well. The furniture I sell is sturdy, most of the fabrics are washable, the pottery and bedding is all commercial grade, most of the lamps have three-way switches. While I think each piece is really beautiful and many items are handmade, nothing is too precious for life –for me, that would defeat the entire purpose.
You offer a wide range of services – from selling a piece or two to designing whole rooms. What’s the percentage of each – Do you do many whole-room projects?
It seems many store sales morph into design jobs, and vice versa. I try to stick to one or two bigger design jobs at a time and always seem to have lots of smaller projects tossed in. My cell phone is my business phone and customers text me all the time. If they need a cheese board for an upcoming party, or are looking for a coverlet but do not have time to stop in to the store, or are stuck with something and want some ideas, they reach out. I really enjoy those interactions, and if I can’t provide what they need, I can usually head them in the right direction.
What is the room or home design process like? I imagine there’s a lot of listening on your part, then finding something you think would work? I do not go into a job with thoughts about what I would like to see or a direction I think a client should go. I tend to ask a lot of questions and yes, listen a lot. Regardless of the space we are working on, I like to see the entire home as it is lived in, rather than perfectly tidy in anticipation of my arrival. While there, I tend to brainstorm with clients, and by paying attention to their reactions, I can usually tease out what they want and need even if they are unsure. Then it is really just a matter of offering plans to fit their budget. It is easy to design a beautiful space, but that is useless if it does not fit the customer’s taste, budget and needs.
How has the shutdown inspired people to redecorate or re-design? It is kind of exciting! This idea that our home is so important is really true now. Having to shut down the store for 11 weeks was a bit unnerving. So many of my customers graciously reached out to place orders that could be drop-shipped or placed outside the door for pickup, or just to say that they would return once things opened up again. It was nice to know that I remained on their radar. Since reopening, the store has been busy and my tendency towards functional design is being reinforced. People really need that now! Given the economy, it may not make sense for a person to spend frivolously, but there is no denying that most homes need a bit of modification to accommodate work, school, daily living and recreation, all under the same roof. For some, a beautiful smelling candle may be all they need, and I have those also!
How important is good design to an improved overall mood in a home?
SO important! It matters so much! I really think that there is something sacred about our homes. They should allow us to be our best selves, so that we can do whatever it is that we are called to do, and we can do it well. For some people, that means providing spaces for rest. For others, it is offering uplifting or energized spaces. For most of us, it’s a bit of all of that.
The custom farm tables you offer -- Where are they made?
For years, Shish, has offered all kinds of custom furniture. In moving to the larger store, I have tried to keep the custom furniture to tables only, but we recently finished a beautiful four poster bed to go with a media cabinet we had just completed. I have used the same local builder, David Nelson, for years. He builds and I finish. We primarily use reclaimed lumber, tung oil and pigmented waxes. He is so talented, and along the way has become a good friend. I am really very fortunate to work with him.
Do you work with regional artists and artisans when possible?
I do! I have been fortunate that several local artists share their work with Shish, and it has allowed me to offer really beautiful and varied art. I often say that their work makes my store look legit! Additionally, many of the products that I carry are from smaller companies where the owners are also the makers, or work very closely with the makers. This is true for the pottery, bedding, candles, and lighting. I have local artisans who make pillows, candles, tables, artwork, stationery, etc.
There’s probably a sense that people have to be rich to have good design in their home. Can a simple rearrangement or a key piece or two transform the look of a room for an affordable price?
You absolutely do not need to have a lot of money to have a beautiful home, and typically it is a combination of price points that make the most beautiful homes. While you may find a $300 pillow at Shish, it is likely right next to a $40 or $50 pillow. You may find a $200 lamp sitting on a $40 desk. I try really hard to carry a wide variety of pieces and price points.
What’s the satisfaction of doing what you do?
Teasing out what a person needs or wants and helping them facilitate that is so rewarding! It really does not matter how big the scope of the job is, or how much money a person is spending. It is the excitement, and sometimes the relief, of the customer that makes me happy. I think I am approachable and I like helping others. I am also a bit of a perfectionist about some things. These characteristics have allowed me to work with customers of all walks of life, which hopefully helps me to keep an open heart, with tons of fresh ideas. I am thankful for that.
As a one-woman company, what’s your schedule like? In normal times, and now?
It is pretty much nonstop. I tend to go all day and work late into the evenings. I think it is important to deliver as promised and sometimes there are just barely enough hours in the day to do that. Because I enjoy what I am doing, sometimes it seems a bit harder to rein it in!
For more information, visit www.shishinteriors.com.