It feels funny to say we should welcome smallhome (100 Freeman Street) to the neighborhood, even though the brick and mortar storefront has only been around for a few months. But long beyond that period, its steadfast owner, curator, and artist Julia Small has been creating works and home goods at various shops and recognizable markets and pop-ups all over north Brooklyn. And while our Thursday Spotlight series often focuses on the denizens of the Pencil Factory and other kinds of fine artists, it feels important — especially during this tumultuous COVID period — to highlight the artists of many stripes who keep our vital small business scene thriving. Learn more about Julia’s diverse work and career below, and be sure to follow along on Instagram!
Greenpointers: Congrats on smallhome’s opening! How long have you been at 100 Freeman Street, and where were you beforehand?
Julia Small: I moved just down Franklin from Oak street last November. I had been in a pop up space I built out within the kid’s shop Flying Squirrel, and East Williamsburg (across from Artists & Craftsmen, Harefield Road) before that.
Talk a little about your background, and how your creative work led you to also being a small business owner?
I’m from here, and I’m an artist so I’m still here. My parents let me staple gun things to my walls and drag in furniture from the street (Upper West Side trash in the 90s was the best!), thus began my training for redesigning spaces and seeing objects differently. Lack of space, light, and nature in this city of ours make up my primary creative concerns. My dad pointed out, after I’d been making them for years, that my diorama lamps are tiny replicas of the exhibits of the Natural History Museum. I honestly hadn’t realized; I don’t think any of us realize how much our surroundings influence us. I went to Pratt and from there started taking what I do seriously. After finishing school it was part-time jobs and pop-up markets during the golden age of Artists & Fleas and the Brooklyn Flea. It was my lamps and paintings for sale on a table, then it was a makeshift apartment I created within the 10’x10′ plot, and finally enough of a following and courage to open the first brick and mortar location on Metropolitan Ave. I loved representing not only my work, but the work of creatives I’d met over the years doing the markets. I was also four months pregnant at the time of opening, therefore hosting the work of others was not only gratifying but soon necessary for filling the shelves. I’ve moved the shop a couple of times since 2014 for a handful of reasons but have never felt so at home, so to speak, as I do in the current space.
You also recently had your first gallery show at the shop, right? Do you intend for your store to be space for community building as well?
I’d always intended smallhome to host art shows and with the move into the former Greenpoint Hill gallery space, it was a given. Our first show couldn’t have been more about community building. The artist is the neighborhood’s very own USPS mail carrier, Carl. His paintings represent four decades of brightly colored collaged cartoons. It’s delighted neighbors (“Oh, wow, Carl!”) and tourists and has allowed me introduction to all the mail carriers now by name.
I’m sure it’s hard to pick and choose your favorite items your shop features, but could you highlight some of the things you’re excited about curating?
I’m so connected to every item in my shop. My ever changing collection of rewired antique lights gives it a warm glow that customers can take home with them. Cozy necessities are provided by Good Candle Co, herbalist zines, and local literature. Colorful wall accents like my cityscapes painted on found mirrors bounce light and open up the small space. And when it comes to gift giving I love our crystal collection, cards, custom pet portraits painted on antique saucers and these little kinetic dioramas that you turn a crank and a boat sails on a painted sea.
Your business if taking off at a confusing time: the coronavirus has impacted so much of the ongoings in our community. It’s important now more than ever to help our small businesses. How has the city’s current state affected your work and what are your plans?
New York City is an incredible place to live through a crisis. Suddenly our many walls are torn down and our seemingly small village of Greenpoint feels even more kindred. On Sunday, March 15, our last day open, I had customers who saw via Instagram that we were closing come in to spend even tiny amounts to help see us through. I’m hoping as a community we keep even closer ties with one another through social media. I will be focusing on new art work to keep myself sane and to buoy online sales.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Although smallhome has been a brick and mortar for the last six years it’s still run very much like the pop0up of its past. Working with small collections of home, gift and art items allows the interior to switch up almost constantly. It allows the artists represented here, myself included, the freedom to experiment and gives our locals reason for repeat visits.
About Billy McEntee
Billy McEntee has been fortunate to work for arts non-profits in Boston, Denver, Berkeley, and now New York. His writing has appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Vanity Fair, American Theatre, HowlRound, Observer, and others. He's usually getting wine at Dandelion or eating cookies at Archestratus.