A leather strap chair from Bali, a pom-pom adorned throw from Morocco, wall baskets from Zimbabwe, and hand thrown ceramics from in California—sounds like a dreamy shopping trip / ideal home setup, right? Founded by two wanderlust-stricken interior designers, Saffron + Poe discovers, designs, and curates ethical handcrafted homewares —including furniture, rugs, and textiles—from artisans in every corner of the globe. Thanks to their expert eyes, network of incredible artisans, and online / offline shoppe(s) you can own your very own slice of this vision.
Melissa: Now that we are in a different space and time, how did you shift your business? How have you adapted?
Johanna: It is an interesting time to have a furniture and home good company along with being an interior design firm because everyone right now is at home. For the past 5 years, we have been online only but in February we signed a lease for our first physical location, not knowing this would happen. We found this beautiful shop off the beaten path that is great for us to come together and have client meetings or with our team. Also, have a physical shop where people can come in and sit and touch our pieces. Then this whole thing happened, but we went ahead and made the best of it, and we love having this physical location. We have hand sanitizer all over the shop and masks mandatory – we have been really safe.
Fiona: Online sales have been keeping us going. As everyone is going online, we are opening up our first shop. We have continued to expand our online presence, but we have really been enjoying having a shop space. It is nice to have a place to go to and leave home that is also super safe.
Johanna: We have been doing a lot of our interior design presentations via Zoom. We used to do them on our computer in person and everyone was always crowded around. It is nice to get into the zoom mode and allow everyone to see inside of our meetings. It is easy to schedule.
Melissa: A nice way to see everything! Much of your business and brand identity is around travel. How are you getting inspiration and working with new partners even if you can’t travel globally as you normally would?
Johanna: We have been finding all kinds of new ways…we have been able to reach different areas in the world that we would not normally had the opportunity to. We usually go on one trip a year and now we have been talking to all corners of the world through the internet. We have been reaching out to people all over Instagram and actually found one of our new artisan partners—we were able to design these amazing blankets. Having these contacts are really fun so when we do go to these places, we are able to meet them.
Fiona: We are able to foster these new relationships abroad and do it remotely. In a couple of years, we can go and meet with them in person and have a destination and a stronger “jumping-off point” right when we get there.
Johanna: I went to Peru in October of 2019 with my husband for my honeymoon. I did a ton of sourcing when I was there. I ended up meeting this amazing weaver who makes these alpaca blankets, scarves, and little alpaca dolls. We connected with her last week, and she just does not know how to ship or export. I told her if she could figure out how to ship that I would buy a lot of inventory from her, that she would have normally sold to international tourists who are in the area.
Often it is a family business and the constant lesson that is at the heart of our business and theirs, is that what you do for a living should be something you love.
Melissa: That is fantastic – it is figuring those things we take for granted – due to lack of access or that it is entirely new. How did you start your partnership?
Johanna: We worked at a high-end residential interior design firm and worked on these beautiful houses all over Hawaii, New York, and of course locally. I was there for five years and Fiona was there for 3. We decided we wanted to travel more, we wanted to give back in some way. We quit our job and got a one-way ticket to Bali and did not know how long it would take – it was an open-ended venture. We had no contacts there and went to Ubud because that is the cultural capital of Bali and immersed ourselves in the culture. We stumbled across this restaurant in Ubud called Kismet and got in touch with the owners who had sourced everything in the restaurant locally. We have so much coming from our artisan partners in Bali, we had a 40-foot container come in yesterday.
Melissa: That is incredible. Which pieces on your site are from Bali?
Johanna: All the leather-strapped furniture, and a lot of the accessories like the beaded baskets and the copper bowls. About a year later we went to Morocco and did a similar thing, our leather poufs and hand-woven rugs are from the connections we made while we were there.
Melissa: I love everything on your site. Is there anyone else that you are working with or any other countries that you plan on bringing in products from?
Johanna: We have always wanted to go to India, there are so many great things being made there, amazing people and the culture is so fascinating to us. We do want to go back to Peru and make more connections there beyond the one I have. We have talked about Mexico as well – it is so close and there are so many beautiful things there.
Fiona: There are so many great textiles in Mexico. It is on the list for sure.
Melissa: How do you maintain such a creative relationship with your artisan partners? What have you learned from them and how have they helped you develop your business in ways that you never anticipated?
Johanna: It has been so wonderful learning about them as people and how they came to this craft. We love connecting with them and hearing about the tradition of making these beautiful things. Often it is a family business and the constant lesson that is at the heart of our business and theirs, is that what you do for a living should be something you love.
Melissa: That is so great. Your aesthetic is very specific – earthy and airy.
Melissa: How do you consistently inject that into your projects?
Johanna: It is what makes us feel calm and happy and that is what we want for our clients and customers. We don’t want every color in the rainbow – we like to work with neutrals and beautiful materials, textures, and layers. We have pops of color come in the pillows and art, but the main base of everything is calming and soft colors.
Fiona: It works organically for us, as we are both really inspired by natural palates and natural landscapes and we infuse this into our designs. We are trying to be bolder and that is more of a conscious effort for us. We are inspired by nature and things that make us feel good internally.
Johanna: We wanted to collect these pieces that are made in these traditional techniques that that could work in any home. We wanted to find pieces that work for anyone.
Fiona: Simple, timeless, and elevated.
Melissa: Your stuff is gorgeous. Everything is so beautiful. What are both your daily particulars? Things that are particular to who you are?
Johanna: We have the exact same taste, which makes us great partners. We love the brand Cuyana and the quality. We have the quality of their bags and wallets and love the idea of having “fewer better things.” As for jewelry, we love Mejuri, they have timeless pieces and stunning rings. A lot of people do not know this, but we are branching out our lifestyle collection—we have a whole collection of bags, purses, and soon alpaca scarves.
Melissa: I love all the brands that you mentioned. I can see how they can fit into your aesthetic. Now that winter is here what is on the horizon for Saffron and Poe?
Johanna: Since we just launched our physical shop, we sourced so many amazing, cool ceramics. We have always wanted ceramics and candles, which I think are always better to display in a shop rather than online. We have been working with two different ceramicists and with one we have made these gorgeous hand-form lamps. We are so excited to get these in the shop. We have also worked with another to make these pendants which can go over your island or table. We are also collaborating with local artisans.
Fiona: We are supporting local artists and makers and we have spent the last year cultivating those relationships and working with them on pieces that are exclusive to our collection along with pieces they have already made. These are in our shop-space but not online, but as things are shifting more online these days, we are focusing now on launching these properly.
Johanna: The big push for our company now is getting all these pieces that we have for the shop and transitioning it online. Lots of product launches. We also want to put together a book in 2022 which will be a new approach to the design coffee table book. It will have both sides of our business, the interiors and our pieces, and also will showcase the aspect of our business with traveling and the people behind our pieces.
Melissa: That sounds incredible—I love storytelling which is why I started what I do – hearing people’s stories and connecting over their lives. I love what you both are doing.