A Profile of Janet George and Susan Piper, Owners of Silk Road in Bronxville
Photography by Chris Ware
The Silk Road owners Janet George and Susan Piper bring very different perspectives to their globally inspired Bronxville store. Piper had worked at IBM for 30 years before taking early retirement, while George was involved with faith-based nonprofits. The two friends formed the idea of starting a business together, selling goods imported from India, when Piper joined a 2007 tour to India led by George and her husband, Concordia College President Viji George. That same year, in a small space on a side street in Bronxville, they opened a shop offering unique home décor, gifts, jewelry, textiles, and clothing. As the business expanded, the duo decided to move to larger quarters and began including merchandise from Thailand, Vietnam, China, and other faraway places along the Asian continent’s Silk Road. George and Piper talk about trends in international design and how you can use global furnishings and accessories in your home.
Where do you find items for your store?
GEORGE: I travel to India each year and bring back items from all over the country. In addition, there are a lot of sources in the greater metropolitan area for interesting objects and furnishings from all over the world.
What is it about products from The Silk Road region that is so compelling to you?
G: I love pieces that evoke a story: dowry chests, carved panels that depict village scenes, brass water pots carried daily to the village well, Chinese rice baskets, scarves woven by a villager on a loom.
If we take a trip to India, where should we shop?
PIPER: My favorite area is Rajasthan, which includes Jaipur, Udaipur, and Agra. You can find the most exquisite fabrics, jewels, and marble pieces there, plus the artisans are the most patient, detail oriented, and artistic of any in the world.
G: The Gem Palace in Jaipur is a must for jewelry exploring. Embroidered tops from Lucknow and shawls from Kashmir are treasures. Mumbai is a cosmopolitan city with a rich array of high-end goods. And sometimes bargaining with street vendors is the most fun and may bring home your favorite memories!
What makes your shop so unique?
P: We try to find things that are unusual, so you can bring home an exotic piece and no one needs to know that you didn’t travel ten thousand miles to buy it. For example, we have windows with iron gratings from an old house in Gujarat, India, that people have mounted on the wall with lighting or added legs to and turned into coffee tables. We also sold a three-foot-long replica of a fishing boat from Kerala that someone bought as a centerpiece for a dining room table.
What is your favorite home design style?
G: My style is a bit eclectic and includes traditional, Asian, and even custom-made Shaker pieces. When Sue and I find great pieces, it’s hard not to bring something home. While on a recent buying expedition, I could not pass up a pair of eighteenth-century Chinese ironwood oxbow chairs.
P: My own design style has been evolving over time. When I was first setting up a household, my tastes leaned towards the traditional. As time went on, my household became more eclectic.
What is the best way to introduce “globally inspired” items into your home?
G: We let local customers take something home and ʻtry it out,ʼ and we also work with a number of interior designers who select items for their clients. A well-known designer that does it really well is Vicente Wolf. He often combines contemporary furnishings with Buddha statues, Thai architectural fragments, and Chinese chairs and benches.
P: Many times people start ʻtransitioningʼ in a foyer or a family room, in spaces that aren’t super formal. You can also begin with small items like colorful Peruvian mirrors with ikat patterning in red, green, and gold. Another option is mother of pearl in everything from a mirror to a lamp to a tray—it will fit in with a lot of different décors.
What is the latest trend in globally inspired décor?
G: Buddhas! A lot of people do meditation, and they’re looking for something that’s serene and calm.