Susan Robinson curates an artistic collection of home décor and accessories
By Ruthanne Johnson
Looking in the window of the Canova Home store at 1200 Pearl St., it’s easy to pick up on the cool vibe. Onyx and fluorite lamps cast a soft glow, colorful Turkish globe lights hang from the ceiling like miniature hot air balloons, and hipster music plays in the background. There’s even a comfy couch and ottoman inviting folks to sit and chat for a while.
But Canova Home isn’t a coffee shop or bookstore. Virtually every nook and cranny is filled with one-of-a-kind home décor: Indian temple bells, vegan leather purses, living vertical planters, Haitian metal designs and handmade jewelry. Shelves and tables display handcrafted granite wine dispensers and molten glass bowls nestled artfully in teak stands. Sweet little ring trays atop one table feature warm-fuzzy sayings like “Kindred Spirits,” “Peace” and “Abundance.”
The welcoming atmosphere and unique merchandise make Canova Home a popular Pearl Street destination. “People love to linger in the store,” says owner Susan Robinson. “It’s a place where they can always find something different.”
Canova Home has been Robinson’s labor of love since 2009, when she shifted from making and selling jewelry wholesale to bringing in home décor to accessorize a friend’s handmade furniture at the Pearl Street location. “He had such beautiful furniture but no accessories, and nobody was coming through the doors,” Robinson says. Tragically, her friend had additionally been diagnosed with cancer. As a breast cancer survivor herself, Robinson knew he would need support.
The two businesses—Boulder Furniture Arts and Canova Home—shared the Pearl Street space for several years and flourished. With treatment, her friend’s cancer went into remission. In 2017, the furniture store moved into a larger space on 26th Street, giving Robinson room to expand her inventory. The list of treasures in Canova Home is long, from golden Buddha snow globes to Frank Lloyd Wright woodcuts and African beaded mirrors. There are kaleidoscopes made by two women in Arkansas and wooden serving bowls crafted by two Canadian brothers. There’s Haitian wall art made from recycled oil drum lids shaped solely by snips, hammers and human hands. “No power tools,” Robinson says. “I’ve seen them made, and the artists are lightning fast.”
For Robinson, choosing merchandise is about making customers feel good and lifted up, and staying true to herself. “I love things made by people’s hands and by the earth,” she says, “things that have energy and a story.” One of the store’s most popular items are its leaf lamps, which Robinson describes as “functional sculpture.” The lampshades are handcrafted in the Philippines from banyan and cacao leaves that have been organically dyed in rich tones of purple, green, red and yellow. “The story behind the artists adds to that good feeling,” Robinson says. “It’s a fair-trade group, which means good working conditions and a living wage for artists in places outside the U.S.”
In its back room, Canova also features beaded purses, Indian kantha throws and Turkish towels, which come in a variety of interesting colors and designs. Robinson loves the Turkish towels so much that she uses them at home (which is also true of a lot of the merchandise she sells). “They’re super absorbent and dry quickly, which means they stay fresh longer.”
Robinson’s love for the business sprouted as a teenager while working in her grandparents’ art gallery in Miami, Fla. The gallery exhibited local artists’ work, as well as her grandfather’s black and white photographs of Seminole Indians, who were rapidly disappearing due to their systematic removal from native lands onto reservations. Her grandmother hand-colored the black and white photos with watercolors, several of which are now in the Smithsonian Institution. Robinson fondly remembers the close-knit artist community with whom her grandparents were friends and her ventures to the corner store to buy her grandmother RC Cola. “She taught me how to use a miter box, develop film and make frames,” Robinson says.
These days, Robinson considers it her personal mission to help folks find beautiful handcrafted accessories for their home. Sometimes, she scours trade shows, local fairs and the Internet for amazing new pieces. Other times, the artists come to her store to pitch their work. That’s how it happened for Jason Ketcham, whose handmade wire-wrapped jewelry caught Robinson’s eye when he walked into the store one day wearing one of his unique pieces. Ketcham’s necklaces, bracelets and sunglasses are popular sellers. “I’ve had people from France, Russia and all over the United States buy my sunglasses,” says Ketcham, who is now co-manager at Canova Home.
Part of Canova Home’s success, Robinson says, are its employees. “There is no way, period, that I could have done it without [them].” And then there’s Robinson’s talent for finding items that appeal to a broad spectrum of customers. “I’m very proud of my store and what it took to make it grow and thrive,” she says. “Canova Home is not traditional in any way. We display things to allow people walking in the store to take a tour and take it all in. We encourage people to linger, discover, enjoy and come back.”