I haven’t done a Q&A in a while and I’m thrilled to be bringing it back with Pioneer Goods Co.’s owner Justin Power. Pioneer opened its doors in the South End this year to a very excited and welcoming community. And for good reason! The store immediately grabs your attention with its covetable corner spot on Tremont Street along with a well designed logo featured on the large windows. Once you step inside, the mood is set. The lights are dim, the hardwood floors are covered with oriental rugs, and the walls proudly display pennants, taxidermy, and antique artwork and mirrors. What Justin, and the store, really excels in is careful restraint. Nothing is overcrowded and you don’t get the feeling that you’ve just walked into a pack rat’s barn. Instead, each piece is carefully selected and comfortably arranged together. The effect? You’ve just walked into your New England grandpa’s study. Justin was kind enough to share how he manages to make so many great finds, come together into one great store.
Q. What inspired you to open Pioneer Goods Co. and why open in the South End?
A. I had been preparing to open Pioneer Goods my entire life . . . I just didn’t know it. I’m the son of an interior designer and the grandson of an engineer who paid his way through college by working as a carpenter. When my grandfather built his house on the Vineyard, he designed and actually *built* his house, working as a carpenter alongside the crew he hired. I learned a lot more from them than I realized at the time. I was a kid who was always rearranging my room and making new vignettes. It was always important to me to enjoy my living space. The South End was a no-brainer. Though I’ve since moved, I lived here for five years and fell in love with the sense of community here. The best restaurants in the city are here, and the retail scene is becoming increasingly interesting and it’s almost entirely made up of independent businesses. It was important for me to be a part of that. It’s also not a tourist trap the way other retail areas of the city are. It’s hard to sell home goods to a wayfarer.
Q. The shop has really captured the feeling of New England comfort and nostalgia – without feeling musty or kitschy. That’s hard to achieve! What were some of the challenges in getting it just right?
A. Well thank you for saying that! My aesthetic is based on the places I’ve been throughout New England and the people behind those places that make them harmonious. It’s about authenticity and trying to recreate the retreats of the well-heeled and the well-travelled. The challenges come from not going exceedingly in one direction. A little bit of kitsch, when paired with something more elegant or stately, will add character and show that you don’t take yourself too seriously. There’s also the other end of the spectrum, where the shop could look like a museum, but I’m not on Beacon Hill, and I’m not interested in quintupling my prices.
Q. Where are some of your favorite resources (if you dare share) for finding goods for the shop?
A. Without being too specific, I’ll say that it’s almost an embarrassment of riches, living in New England with the amount of history (and hoarding) we have in the Northeast. Whether it’s raiding your grandparents garage, checking out the myriad antique shops and fairs up and down the coast, or even checking out your local Goodwill, there is always something interesting and unique that you could find to add to your collection or make part of your home decor. My job is to curate from all of these resources and give you one place to find it all without leaving the city.
Q. You also provide design services, can you share a little bit more about that process and examples of custom work you’ve done?
A. While we do offer your customary design services, something a bit different that we offer is custom painting furniture services where you bring me your old, tired piece, and I give it a new life. Often times its an heirloom, a piece that has too much sentimental value to toss out, but the client just can’t stand the look of it. That’s where we come in and make it look exactly how they want it, or they give us complete artistic license to make it look how we see fit. I just did a really fun one where we painted South End landmarks on the dresser drawers (pictured below). I Obviously I like rustic, distressed furniture, stuff that looks a hundred years old, but we do all sorts of finishes, from a sleek modern look to gilded European finishes. Despite my best efforts, not everything has to be rustic. Nothing beats the look on a client’s face when they see their grandmother’s formerly dingy old server come back to life and become a dazzling addition to their current dining room.
Q. Although you just opened this Spring, you’ve already hosted an evening with tintype photographer Giles Clement. Do have any other events planned for this year that we shouldn’t miss?
A. The Giles Clement event was great, but we still haven’t had a proper Grand Opening, so I should probably get busy putting one together. That will be more of an open house-cocktail party event for people just to hang out, see the shop and share laughs and conversation. We also have a pop-up event scheduled with Red Earth Trading Co. on Friday, October 17th. Red Earth is a truly amazing company that offers handmade goods from artisans around the world. Travis, the founder of the company, works with these artisans in helping them organize, manage, and finance their business, many in impoverished villages overseas. It is such a positive company, and I’m honored to be hosting them in the shop. I can’t wait.
Thanks again for sharing with us Justin! All photo credits go to Henry + Mac.