Covet Thy Neighbor’s Coolness
Gallery? Boutique? Girlfriends’ closet? This little shop is all that.
Autumn Clayton is the cool friend you always wished for in high school—the one who knew how to find good music before everyone else, traveled the world collecting artifacts from her experiences and never relied on trends to decide what to wear. It may be too late for her street cred to rub off on your high school reputation, but you can still co-opt a bit of her confident, edgy style at Covet, a tiny second-story boutique at the corner of Wilson Boulevard and Frederick Street in Bluemont.
Covet, which opened in March last year, is the collaborative effort of Clayton and Arlington-based artist Sabrina Cabada. (The two became friends back in 2003 when their children were at the Lee Center Cooperative Playgroup.) When Cabada discovered retail space tucked under the roof gable of a gray clapboard house in January 2010—above the vintage-y housewares store No Place Like Home—she envisioned an art space. Clayton added her business savvy and expertise in visual design and merchandising. Within six weeks, Covet was born. “The first couple of months were a blast,” remembers Clayton, “like we were decorating our own little apartment.”
The three-room shop is indeed set up like an apartment, a stunning peacock-blue wall its visual centerpiece. Much of its furniture is for sale, as are the place settings and throw pillows. But no matter how often you visit, you’ll rarely walk into the same store twice. Clayton’s restless creativity manifests in her frequent redecorating and reinventing, as if to say to customers: This is how it’s done. A tiered cookie stand covered in fake moss serves as a “ring garden” for candy-colored, wearable flowers. A tiny gold bird perched above a doorway is poised to hang mistletoe or keep watch over the shop.
During a recent visit, Clayton shows me a pair of mismatched mannequin hands. “Wouldn’t these look cool mounted on a wall, holding a tote?” she muses. “I need to figure out how to do that.”
The wares are just as offbeat. Clayton fills her shop with conversation pieces that punch the boring out of everyday ensembles. “I want Covet to be the kind of place where you can find a necklace that changes an outfit from Banana Republic, or a piece of original artwork that you can set against a Crate & Barrel couch,” she says.
Although Cabada has taken a step back from the business, her color-saturated paintings still hang for sale on the shop’s walls alongside original contemporary artwork by Richmond artists Chris Milk and Edward Alan Gross. There are whimsical drawings from Phillips Collection artist Elizabeth Graeber and pictorial odes to pop culture from the artist elloh, a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design.
Clayton herself is just as talented, and is perfectly happy sharing her creative secrets. A former freelance decorator, she gamely teaches customers how to re-create the tableaux she invents for the store and hosts organized ”crafternoons.” She supports local designers with trunk shows, opens the store after-hours for school fundraisers and spotlights fellow small business owners with cocktail-fueled shopping parties (recent events were held in partnership with Red, White & Bleu and District Taco).
She also keeps a wish book on hand and pays attention to her customers’ tastes—a skill that makes her particularly adept at steering gift-seeking husbands and boyfriends in the right direction. The annual Mother’s Day event, during which dads can shop for advice while their kids make their own cards at a craft table, is a must.
“Covet is not done evolving,” says Clayton, who continues to use the space as a springboard for new endeavors. “I have all kinds of ideas for what’s next.”
Style columnist Adrienne Wichard-Edds is a freelance writer and Arlington resident since 1995. Want to talk shop? Email her at email@example.com.