By Connie Dufner
Photo (above) by Alice Cottrell
A super collector brings his exclusive, modern mix to any space that needs his point of view. He sells his treasures, too.
Russell Brightwell is better than a BFF with good taste. He’s a creative concierge, a personal shopper with a fabulous closet of collectibles gathered during time as an image-maker in the advertising world.
The Houston native arrived in Dallas in 2017, his journey bracketed and buffeted by life-changing events. Following 18 years in New York (and two in London), collecting covetable objets all the while, he returned home to the Bayou City just after 9/11 rocked Manhattan. He ran a small marketing firm, but a news item inspired a new dream.
“I read this article in The New York Times with a headline something like ‘Brooklyn apartment is New York’s hottest design shop.’ I had an inventory of what I’d collected over 30 years, and what I collected, people appreciated.” Plans for a staging company that would make his treasure trove available to high-end real estate clients emerged. But following Hurricane Harvey’s brutal upending of the city in 2017, interior designer Alice Cottrell, a friend since grade school, urged him to bring his concept to Dallas.
From a loft near Fair Park, Brightwell started a by-appointment retail business in addition to styling for designers and clients. Whatever you wish, he will arrange, from styling bookcases, rooms or homes — from his collections or items he has sourced — to building personal libraries and gift buying. He offers for sale a careful edit of art, photography, fashion and design books; vintage ceramics; art editions; and design objects from the 1960s to the present, all out of production. “I love to sell what I love,” he says.
We visited with Brightwell in his loft-shop.817 Home Why should every designer have you on their speed dial?
Russell Brightwell When designers are working on a project for a year or two, they’re tired. It’s difficult to install a 10-room house and then do what I do. I’m called on to accessorize and help finish jobs.
817 Rosenthal vases, Robert A.M. Stern candlesticks, Wedgwood urns, Frank Gehry for Tiffany — how did you settle on your merch mix?
RB What I sell is unique. It’s architectural, tailored and classic, design-oriented and comes from a designer or maker, so there’s something significant about it. It’s representative of a larger body of work, something to talk about. The hope is that people will have an emotional connection, like I do.
817 You’re a walking contemporary design encyclopedia. How did it all start?
RB I attended Parsons School of Design in New York, which was across the street from Swid Powell [retailer of ceramics, silver and glass by leading architects]. I walked by it every day. In the ’90s, I lived in a 450-square-foot apartment, and Swid Powell was my thing. Then in London, I kept collecting. I started collecting Royal Copenhagen vases from artist collaborations in the ’60s and ’70s.
817 We love your dining table, with its collection of ’60s traditionally shaped black Wedgwood Ravenstone urns and a Hornsea Pottery brown bisque amphora-shaped ’70s urn. We see Swid Powell silver candlesticks and pieces by architects Richard Meier, Robert A.M. Stern and Ettore Sottsass. What makes it all come together?
RB I like to pair contemporary with traditional looks. This Hornsea wasn’t precious when they made it, but what I love about it is the midcentury neoclassical look. I search for accessible versions of designers, many of whom have wildly expensive products. Take this Hella Jongerius vase [pointing to a pink urn]. It was made for IKEA, circa 2005, in a set of four representing regions of the world. It was mass produced and under $100. I sell it for $950. An object doesn’t have to be Baccarat to have design significance.
817 What’s next for you?
RB A boutique within a retailer or showroom? I think about the boutiques on the top floor at Bergdorf’s. Or my own loft/showroom in Dallas Design Center.