Rokai offers 'uncommon luxuries' in Rockport
Rockport — When Debbie Chatfield opened Rokai almost one year ago, in December 2011, she wasn't sure what to expect. The Rockport-based interior designer said she opened the boutique after moving her design studio from a nearby storefront on Rockport's Main Street to a loft-like space above Union Hall on Central Street.
"I missed having a street presence," she explained. Chatfield's approach mirrors that of starting her design business several years ago.
"I just hung out my shingle without any expectation," she explained. "And it was gangbusters."
Though Rokai is situated in a small storefront, Chatfield, store manager Ethan Raymond and accessories buyer Betsy Henshaw use their combined aesthetic sense to take full advantage of the space. Tucked into the last block of downtown Rockport before the Goose River Bridge, Rokai specializes in obscure and unusual pieces. The shop carries a mix of home goods, gifts, accessories, antiques and furniture. Each item — or line — is handpicked by Chatfield and her team, and some are hand-designed by her. She pointed out a dog bed that's covered with fabric from an antique wagon cover, and an antique French chair that she had refinished by a friend and then upholstered in linen.
The name Rokai is a creative play on the French word Rococo, Chatfield explained. According to the Rokai website, rococo is regarded as a combination of the words Rocaille, meaning stone, and coquilles, meaning shell, representing two elements of design that resonate with Chatfield.
Everything at Rokai, it seems, has a story. A green, caned chaise lounge prominently displayed in the center of the shop was acquired from an antique home on Islesboro, Chatfield explains. Entryway mats adorned with various nautical charts are custom made by a man in Camden.
"My inspiration was not being able to have the resources close to me to shop for clients," Chatfield said of opening the store. "Now the things that I love, that my clients love, are all in one place and changing constantly."
Chatfield said many of the regulars in her shop are also her interior design clients, though the shop is open during regular hours (Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and may remain open through the winter depending on foot traffic. Raymond came on as manager in October 2012 after he heard about Chatfield's shop and called to inquire about an opportunity.
A portion of the merchandise at Rokai is vintage and one-of-a-kind; Chatfield said she enjoys purchasing unique items.
"I'm constantly scouring [antique] fairs and malls," she said, "if I really, personally love the piece I'll take it."
She also said she finds unique, handmade items on the website Etsy, an online marketplace that caters to artisans and peddlers of all things vintage.
"I do find interesting things on Etsy. Etsy is becoming like the New York Gift Fair on a small scale," she said. "It's important for [the craftspeople] to know they're actually being seen and wanted for retail."
Henshaw and Chatfield have known one another since childhood and enjoy bi-annual excursions to the New York Gift Fair together. Chatfield said she asked Henshaw to take the reins initially for buying Rokai's jewelery, but that quickly evolved into ushering a selection of accessories into the merchandise mix.
"Jewelry has always been a passion of mine," Henshaw explained.
She and Chatfield said they are forever exploring new ideas for the store. Presently they offer multiple styles of jewelry from a variety of lines that they said are geared toward satisfying multiple price points.
Assorted objects, including furniture, vintage signs and dress forms occupy two large windows facing the street, offering passersby a glimpse of the store's interior.
Chatfield said she enjoys creating the window displays at Rokai and thinks the windows are her "biggest advertisement."
Chatfield said she enjoys being part of the local design community; she explained that there is a sense of camaraderie and community among the local boutiques in Camden and Rockport. She noted that there are several Camden stores that send clients to Rokai, and she recommends those shops to her customers as well.
Rokai will participate during the second annual Holiday on the Harbor in Rockport on Dec. 1. They will remain open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and will host a trunk show for Le Chameau boots.
Courier Publications reporter Jenna Lookner can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at email@example.com.