Raleigh, the capitol of North Carolina, is a creative hotbed of design, home furnishings and lifestyle retailers. From what shop owners told me, I didn’t even scratch the surface. We visited Lavish, a hybrid interior designer/retailer (featured in the June issue); Port of Raleigh, a unique lifestyle shop in the heart of downtown; and Capitol Lighting Gallery, a new lighting showroom in the city.
Port of Raleigh
Just off of Route 40, as you arrive in downtown Raleigh, you’ll find Port of Raleigh. Peppered with home accents, home goods and gifts you really, truly won’t find anywhere else in the city, Port of Raleigh is the brainchild of Anna Maria Munoz, a world traveler and mom of two. We caught up with Munoz to learn the motivation behind her lovely shop, which sources the bulk of its products globally, and some locally. As an interior designer or consumer, this is a place you’ll want to visit for the finishing touches that the next-door neighbor will definitely not have — unless they’re shopping at Port of Raleigh too.
The retail establishment, which opened in December 2015, is a treasure trove of unique and new. “We’re all about design-driven products for the home,” Munoz says of the shop’s selection. “Ninety-five percent of the products we carry, we’ve introduced to the area, to the Southeast region, in some cases, the entire United States. Our customers appreciate that.”
Before settling in Raleigh five years ago, Munoz and her husband lived overseas where he worked in London, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and elsewhere. “Because we knew we could move again at any time, we had to be intentional with the things we brought into our tiny flat,” Munoz says of her time in London. It was there she realized these unique design shops existed with modern, forward-thinking products. “What we found there was intriguing, beautiful and brilliant.”
Fast forward a few years, and the couple decided to settle in Raleigh. “Raleigh is such a creative community. The art scene is so strong. There are wonderful museums, great food and a ton of creative people who are making things happen,” Munoz says of the decision to settle here.
The one thing she couldn’t find in Raleigh, however, was the unique home design aesthetic she’d become so enamored with overseas. What to do about that? Open a store and bring the aesthetic to Raleigh — for herself and the community she instinctively knew would also embrace the design, functionality and uniqueness. So Munoz set off to source bath towels and clocks from Japan, lighting from Denmark and Israel, picture frames from Poland, Belgian linen bedding woven and stone washed in Portugal…the list goes on. If it’s something you can’t find in a larger store or on Amazon, chances are you can find it at Port of Raleigh. To balance out the aesthetic, Munoz also features local artisans and makers in the shop.
Finding these unique products takes talent and patience, which Munoz apparently has in spades. “Initially, I had a list of companies I wanted to reach out to. I’d been preparing for a while,” she says. “From there, I’ve gone on a digital hunt. Instagram is a great resource. We follow people who we think have great taste and are on the ground with makers and new companies in their areas.” In her search, Munoz is looking for what’s new and what’s first. “Retail trend-spotting is so exciting,” she says.
Port of Raleigh has to stay on top of its “new” game as well, she adds, noting that keeping newer products in place keeps her on her toes. “It’s been an interesting landscape to see a lot of the brands we’ve introduced over the past three years start to show up in more stores. I don’t want to carry products that others are carrying.”
Making It All Work
While finding the cool products is half the battle and much of the fun, Munoz says, owning a successful shop takes more than that. “This business brings together all of the things I’m passionate about and things I’ve done before,” she says. “I enjoy the writing and photography, but to be in business you also have to be a business person. My brain is equally split. I knew I could do it myself in the beginning as everything I’ve done in the past bleeds into what I’m doing now.”
As her family has grown, Munoz has added help in the store, but she still handles much of the back end. The store has become a destination, as those who visit tend to come back, tourists and locals alike. For now, one store is enough, Munoz says. “I want to nurture our store and grow our online presence.” Port of Raleigh has a website (portofraleigh.co) as well, which has allowed Munoz to reach a broader audience without expanding her physical footprint. It works for her, and keeps Port of Raleigh a fun and balanced adventure.
Capitol Lighting Gallery
Want to know what’s trending in lighting design? If you’re in the Raleigh, NC, area, the place to visit is Capitol Lighting Gallery, a 6,000-square-foot, full-range lighting showroom with more than 75 lighting vendors represented, including Visual Comfort, Kichler, Progress Lighting, Hubbardton Forge, Littman Bros., Capital Lighting and so many more.
Located on historic Glenwood Avenue, which conveniently connects with Route 70 (and runs from Asheville to the North Carolina coast), Capitol Lighting Gallery’s central location has served them well with year-over-year growth since the start. “Our customer base keeps increasing all the time,” says Showroom Manager Deb Dorn, noting that the most effective advertising for the company has been word of mouth.
New on the Scene
This retail showroom, owned by Jason Blackwood, opened its doors in 2017 and is already the epitome of lighting design, broken into galleries that showcase specific companies, such as Hubbardton Forge, or themed layouts, such as outdoor lighting or chandeliers. Some of its success could be attributed to its expansive selection and some exclusive partnerships. For example, Capitol Lighting Gallery is the only lighting showroom in the area that showcases a Visual Comfort-branded gallery.
The company has also worked with its vendors on showroom layout in an effort to tell their stories the right way and provide the best experience for their customers, Dorn says. Lighting at Capitol covers all price points to appeal to a wide range of buyers. And the continued expansion of LED lighting has allowed Capitol Lighting Gallery to also become more design-centric. “LED has opened up the potential for us to offer unique lighting designs,” Dorn says.
To ensure the company is providing the ultimate selection for its customers, Capitol Lighting Gallery also personalizes its space with home accents such as mirrors and original artwork from local artists and artists out of Georgia, which customers can purchase.
Keeping Happy Customers
A primary focus at this showroom is customer service and education about quality and the right lighting for a project. With customers spanning consumer, designer and builder levels, Dorn says, it’s important to stay on top of the education and lighting needs of each segment. While the retailer doesn’t offer installation services, they do provide installer recommendations, and they service the lighting products they sell for a year. As a two-year-young retailer with five employees, Capitol Lighting Gallery is carving out its niche in Raleigh and looking toward continued growth.