Calling DEA a “gift store” isn’t entirely accurate. That description gives the impression of tacky souvenirs and shiny wrapping paper. But if you come to this homewares store on Regent Street looking to find something special, you’re in luck.
Every surface of the shop is crowded with beautiful objects of varying styles and purposes, yet it manages to look cohesive and consistent. “Having a closed door is usually retail death,” says owner Karin Huchatz. “But I want it to feel like a haven.”
Huchatz says shoppers are encouraged to take their time. “I don’t follow people around like Dracula, breathing over their shoulder. I want people to feel like they can browse undisturbed.” And there’s plenty to look at. A small sample size of the stock reveals an exotic array: cloud earrings by Venice Jewellery; a sculptural brass mist sprayer; an elegant Japanese dust pan with natural broom; a stone spice grinder; a metallic pink ice-cream spoon; an egg-shaped reading light; a crocheted rattle; a tripod oil burner; a knot-shaped cushion; Public Holiday matcha tea seat; handblown sake glasses; and a tongue scraper.
If you do want some assistance, Huchatz and her staff – many of them artists themselves – are experts. They ask questions about the recipient and have extensive knowledge about every piece they stock, as well as the artist who made it.
“It’s probably bad business advice to keep everyone happy, but I try,” says Huchatz. “I’ve got 20-year-old interns from FBi [Radio, located down the road] who like the Georgia Perry pins, to glamourous gay couples who love Tom Dixon and a bit of marble. Plus all the older women who have been visiting Beverley at the hairdresser next door for 30 years. They’re downsizing but they love a good-quality tea towel. I have generic items here at a really good price, and then items that you absolutely cannot find anywhere else.”
Some of those are exclusive to DEA. Ceramicist Peter Anderson makes on-off pieces for the store, as does Japanese artist Hikari Masuda with her kokeshi sake jugs and respected potter Kuniyuki Sashihara from Oita. They sell fast – to be in the know, join the mailing list.
Frequent return visits are justified says Huchatz, who is constantly updating the store with new makers. “I’ve got too much,” she says. “I can’t help it. I want my shop to be exciting.”
Huchatz attributes the success of the store to its location. “My customers are really open-minded and receptive, more so than other neighbourhoods,” says Huchatz. “When I opened, everyone was so supportive and excited that a beautiful shop was opening in their suburb.” She says businesses on the Regent Street strip, both old and new, support each other and together make the street a go-to destination. That includes for locals, who know to visit DEA on the first weekend of each season for a voucher to get a free gelato pop from Ciccone and Sons across the road, one of the city’s best gelato stores.
The business owners here help each other out. Huchatz says she really wanted a “ding-a-ling bell” at the entrance to the shop – it was the owners of Ciccone who found an antique bell and gave it to her as a gift. Blake from nearby Blake Watson Antiques installed it. You’ll find Huchatz at Thai Thai for lunch (“they make a special dish for me”) or at Bart Jr or The Bearded Tit after work.
Regent Street mainstays Wild Cockatoo Bakery and the Redfern Butcher are also favourites of Huchatz’s. “[The butcher’s] chopping board is like this [indicates a curved shape with her hand] because they’ve been using it for 30 years,” she says. “They make all their own sausages, they have 1950s tile work on the floor. They are old-style butchers. They really make you laugh. Their Greek sausages particularly are excellent.”