Walking into Amy Falcon's inspired design store, Relative, you'd be forgiven for doing a double-take. The airy, warmly inviting space sits in the heart of downtown Miami — an area known more for, say, unpleasant smells than smart, bespoke home furnishings — and if you're not paying attention to the signage outside, you might miss this diamond in the rough.
"Miami feels transient. Microcities pop up. You can't take the downtown away from any city center, you know?" Falcon says. "There are so many good buildings downtown: the DuPont, the Ingraham. It's a bit slept-on, but that adds a bit of charm."
In choosing the location of the shop, Falcon says, "We were interested in creating a space that was a home, in a sense. That's where Relative stems from. We want it to feel very homey when you come in, not the stiff feeling you get entering a gallery."
She sits on one of several chic deco couches, adjacent to a spotted postminimalist throw blanket, musing about the drive she felt to open the space. "I wanted a great platform to show not only local artists but designers from all over. We want people to encounter these brands and designers that weren't seen before in Miami... This blanket, for instance, I've seen people hang it as a wall piece. It's a thing with a dual purpose. This one in particular is [designed by] the guy from Toro y Moi, for a collection called Slowdown Studio."
Open since May, Relative maintains a low profile amid the hustle of downtown. The response to its unusual approach to retail, Falcon says, has been warm. "People say it's filling a bit of a void in Miami," she notes. "I go to galleries all the time, but if you're not an artist or looking to purchase, you feel a bit intimidated. I want the opposite of that here. I want it to come naturally and organically."
This organic approach can blur the lines between creator and audience, and Falcon prefers to remain open-ended when discussing the aims and potential of her space. "I don't want to say it's limited to design. There may be opportunities with clothing designers or painters, but primarily it stems from a design premise," she explains. "It could be interior landscaping, furniture. We're open to that. There's a ceramics studio upstairs. We're just interested in producing things."
Establishing Relative in the area has been leading up to Design Social, an event that Falcon and assistant Jessica Martin consider the space's inauguration. "This will be the kickoff of everything for us, so we are excited to get some momentum from this, aside from the word of mouth we've had so far," Falcon says. It's a group show pulling together some disparate threads in the Miami design scene. "We're going to have vitrine shows where we invite people to show work in the windows. I've been following Deon Rubi's work for some time now, and I approached her about the first show. I told her, 'Look, the window is up to you; whatever you want to do in there is great,' and a conversation about local design and how to engage came up." From there, organizers reached out to other local designers, including Emmett Moore, Gabrielle Baez, Jessica Martin, Nice 'n’ Easy, Office GA, and Pia Toribi.
"There's no centralized design school or way for people to meet [in Miami]," Martin adds. "There's never been a situation where I felt like all the designers could come together before, a place for the community to have a platform and meet each other." To her, the beauty of Design Social is seeing all the different viewpoints the event has tied together. "Everyone participating arrived at design in a different way: some through architecture, painting, study at RISD, and set design," she notes. "Once all the different work is in the same space, they create a formal dialogue."
Design Social falls in line with the ethos of the Relative shop, existing in the tenuous space between commerce and art. "The reality [is] that you do need to sustain yourself," Martin says. "Your career is making things, but you don't always want to create your moneymaking things, and you don't want to have another job." Martin herself has an affinity for artisan goods. "Artist-designed things have a different presence. They always have the feel of an edition."
Falcon nods in agreement. "To see it presented by another artist, that's cool too," she says. "They'll have a different outlook than maybe I would and a different relationship to the pieces."
Design Social. 6 p.m. Friday, October 13, at Relative, 32 N. Miami Ave., Miami; 305-912-6162; relativestudios.com. Admission is free.
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