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LOCAL STORIES

April 16, 2023 at 10:42:01 PM

Passion, Purpose, and Perseverance: The Galerie Sommerlath Way

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When the Art of Curating is rooted in a European Design Sensibility

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April 16, 2023 at 10:42:01 PM

Ignite Business Insider shares the stories of businesses that are making an impact in their local markets. We highlight their stories in order to inspire entrepreneurial growth and to let readers learn more about businesses across the world that are growing and scaling.

Featuring

Michele Sommerlath

CEO

Galerie Sommerlath

Thank you for taking the time to sit with us and share your story. Can you share a little bit about you and your company?

Galerie Sommerlath is an art and mid-century furniture shop located in Pasadena, California. It specializes in American and European 20th-century art and design. Galerie Sommerlath has a front store at the Pasadena Antiques & Design Center, where customers can browse a curated selection of furniture and artwork from the mid-century modern era. I have a passion for design and have carefully selected each piece in the collection to reflect my unique aesthetic.

A question so many people are interested in, is how you got started. Can you share a little bit about what you were doing before this, and what that moment was like for you when you decided to start this new journey?

I started my journey in France after having my two children. While being a mom was fulfilling, I realized that I wanted to do something more with my career. I began specializing in 18th and 19th-century European design, which sparked my interest in antiquing. At first, it was just a hobby, but it quickly grew into a full-time business. It all started with a simple ad in a local newspaper and before I knew it, I had found my calling in the world of art and furniture design. For me, the decision to pursue this new journey was exciting and invigorating, and it allowed me to pursue my passion for design and art in a more professional capacity.

Let's take a little bit of a detour, and rewind the clock a little bit. What did you want to be as a kid? And how did that influence the person you are today?

As a kid, I was always fascinated by horses and their untamed majesty. I dreamed of working with horses and being a part of their world. This fascination with nature and the world's wonders also fed my appetite for beauty and refined art and furniture pieces. I was drawn to objects that reflected the beauty and elegance of nature, and this fascination with beauty and nature has continued to influence the person I am today.

Have you fully let go of that childhood dream? And where do you see yourself going in the next ten years?

I didn't let go of that childhood dream of working with horses. I owned a stable while developing my antique business in France. It was a wonderful experience. I had 17 horses for three years in Dampierre, and I loved every bit of it. They did hurdle and steeple-chase races. However, as my antique business started to take off and require more of my attention, I, unfortunately, had to let the stable go. While I no longer actively work with horses, I deeply appreciate their beauty and majesty. Looking ahead to the next ten years, I see myself focusing more and more on the art side of my activity and less and less on the furniture side. Additionally, I would love to revisit Morocco, where I grew up, as it holds a special place in my heart.

Now, I have found that with successful people, there is always someone pivotal as either a mentor, parent, teacher, or someone that you look to for advise, that helped set you on this path. Could you share who that person was? And what impact that had on the person you are today?

For me, a few people played a pivotal role in my journey. While I had a lot of common ground with my dad and shared the same approach to life, I turned to my mother for advice regarding balancing my work and personal life. She had a unique way of looking at things and offered a different perspective that resonated with me. Unfortunately, my dad passed away before I started my business, but I'm convinced he would have been proud of me and liked seeing me lead such an exciting project. My parents have profoundly impacted the person I am today, and I'm grateful for the lessons they've taught me and the support they've provided along the way.

What was one take away that you learned from that person? And how did it translate into your business today?

One key takeaway I learned from my mother was the importance of balance. She helped me to see that it's not just about working hard but also about taking time for yourself and your loved ones. This lesson has been instrumental in shaping the way I run my business today. I've learned that success isn't just about making money or achieving certain goals but also about maintaining a healthy work-life balance and cultivating relationships with the people who matter most to me.

When we work with businesses, we focus a lot on their "Why?". What is your "Why"? What is the driver behind your company, and why you and your team wake up each day and give it your all?

The "Why" behind my company is driven by some artists' passion for creating art for the sake of art itself rather than for fame or recognition. It's a noble pursuit to want to express oneself and create something beautiful without any ulterior motive. It's important for artists to stay true to their own vision and not be swayed by external pressures or expectations. It's also true that some artists only gain recognition after their death, which is unfortunate and a testament to the enduring power of their art. As for me, as a painter, I hope also to be able to create works that speak to a larger audience, and I find fulfillment in the creative process itself. Who knows, maybe one day someone will discover and appreciate my art just as I have with other less-known painters.

Let's dive deeper into your products and services. You already gave an overview, but how do your products or services help your customers? And what makes them different from your competitors?

I don't buy based on names or brands - I buy only what I love. This applies to everything from paintings and sculptures to chairs and other pieces of furniture. My team and I wake up each day with the goal of sharing our passion for beauty and helping our clients discover unique pieces that speak to their own sense of style and aesthetic. We take pride in offering a curated selection of beautiful pieces that tell a story and have a unique history. Ultimately, our "Why" is about celebrating the human spirit's beauty and creativity and helping others do the same.

Let's unpack that even further. Let's pick one aspect of your business. What makes it so unique? And how does it change you or your customer's experience?

One aspect that makes our business unique is our focus on the emotional connection that our customers have with the artwork. We understand that our clients buy because they have a deep love and appreciation for art, and we strive to provide pieces that speak to them on a personal level. Our collection is carefully curated to reflect the diverse tastes of our clientele, from abstract to landscape artwork and from midcentury to more modern designer furniture.

Art is a deeply personal and transformative experience, and we aim to facilitate that experience for our customers. Our personalized approach ensures that our clients feel seen and heard and that they have access to a range of artwork that meets their unique tastes and preferences. This level of customization is rare in the art world, and we are proud to offer it to our discerning clientele.

Let's dive into your customer's journey a little bit. Can you share with us, how do your customers discover you and your brand? What are their next steps? And what is the experience you would like to see your customers go on, when working with you and your brand?

As a business owner, I have long-time clients who have been with me since I opened my business in the US. I value these relationships as they allow me to suggest new design ideas to clients as they move or incorporate new trends for their high-end clientele. Besides, I have acquired new local clients since moving our front store to Pasadena, located in the Pasadena Antique and Design center. Additionally, I have gained new online clients through our website and partnerships with Chairish, 1st Dibs, and Ruby Lane, which have helped expand our business horizons beyond the US market. My goal is to provide my customers with a unique and memorable experience by offering high-end design ideas and products and exceptional customer service.

Let's rave about your customers for a minute. Can you share a story about one of your clients or customers, that either touched your heart, or made an impact with you and your team?

I'd happily share a story about a customer who touched my heart and impacted my team and me. In the early years of my business in the US, a young man who was penniless but had fallen in love with one of my artworks by Vasarely entered my store. I could see the passion and longing in his eyes, and I felt a deep connection to his love of art. We talked for a long time, and he confided in me how sad he was that he couldn't afford to purchase the piece he couldn't stop staring at. His story moved me. I sold him the piece for the price I paid, and the joy on his face was indescribable. He thanked me a thousand times and left overexcited, seeing a dream come true.

Fast forward ten years later, a man walked into my new store in Venice and approached me. He asked if I recognized him, and unfortunately, I didn't. He then reminded me of the story of the Vasarely painting and how I made his dream come true. He told me there'd not been a day in the last ten years that he hadn't looked at his painting and remembered my gesture. He then revealed that he had become an established film producer and wanted to buy several artworks from me. I love this story because it's not just a simple business transaction but a story of love and passion for art and beauty. It shows that leading with my heart, because of my passion for art, creativity, and how beauty fulfills the soul, can make a difference in someone's life. This customer's story has stayed with me and has continued to inspire me to follow my heart and make a positive impact on those who appreciate and love art.

Everyone likes an inside scoop. What detail or secret about either you, or your company, is something most people might not know?

One thing that I've always found interesting and unique is my relationship with my sister-in-law, who happens to be the Queen of Sweden. It's not something I usually talk about, but it's an unexpected aspect of my life. Although we live in different worlds, my sister-in-law has always shown kindness toward me and my business. Whenever we talk, she asks me how things are going and if I'm finding joy and contentment in my work. Having this connection to royalty is definitely a surprising aspect of my life.

Final thoughts. What feeling or benefits would you like your customers or clients to take away when working with you and your team?

For me, it's not just about selling a piece of artwork, it's about providing an experience. When a customer or client works with us, I want them to feel like they have found a place where they are truly understood in their taste and style. It's not just about making a sale but about connecting with our customers and providing them with something that will truly add value to their lives. And if we can achieve that, then we have done our job well.

Last question. How can people find out more about you and your company?

If you're interested in learning more about my company and me, there are a few different ways to contact us. We have a front store in Pasadena at the Pasadena Antiques and Design Center, which is a great place for antique lovers, especially Midcentury and Modern art enthusiasts. If you're on the Westside of LA, we also have storage in Venice for your convenience.

Those who aren't in the LA area can always visit us online at galeriesommerlath.com. We've been expanding our online presence recently and are always happy to connect with customers worldwide. We also have close relationships with shippers who can package and ship art and furniture to locations throughout North America and Europe.

While our online activity has grown, I always love meeting clients in person when possible. Our Pasadena store is open every day from 10 am to 6 pm, and we're always happy to welcome visitors who want to browse our collection and learn more about what we do. So whether you're local or from far away, we'd love to hear from you and help you find the perfect piece of artwork to add to your collection.

Your readers can visit our website, where we regularly post news and updates about our latest arrivals. We also keep our followers in the loop through our social media channels, including our Instagram and Facebook pages. Following us on these platforms is a great way to stay up-to-date on what we're doing. Additionally, we launched a special program this year for our VIP clients. We keep them posted on auctions, sales, or particular events we may host through text messages. It's our way of thanking them for their loyalty and ensuring they can access exclusive deals and opportunities. We also off special appointments for those who have specific requests for any small or big interior design project. So, whether your readers are new to our brand or have been following us for a while, there are plenty of ways for them to stay connected and informed about what we're up to.

Thank you so much for sitting with us and sharing your story.

Thank you for taking the time to chat with me. I'm glad you found our conversation informative.

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