Ask just about anyone who lives in Santa Barbara — or pines to live here — what they like best about our community and the reply you'll often hear is, "I love the Santa Barbara lifestyle."
Until someone figures out how to bottle it, the next best place to immerse yourself in the feeling and tone of this gorgeous enclave is a must-stop visit to what I call retail heaven: Upstairs at Pierre Lafond, in Montecito's Upper Village.
For the past 20 years, Shelley Koury has been the buyer at the store. A second-generation Santa Barbaran, she worked as a child in her parents' downtown tennis shop, Koury's, which the family owned for 48 years. At Upstairs at Pierre Lafond, the camera-shy and humble Koury has masterfully choreographed an environment that is so smooth you'd like to move in permanently.
While the downstairs businesses are bustling with shoppers checking out the latest in women’s fashion at Wendy Foster or parents grabbing a coffee on the way to take the kids to school, and friends and dogs are seated at the outside tables, Upstairs at Pierre Lafond is an oasis of serenity.
Even on the weekend, which brings many tourists to Pierre's — as most of us locals call Pierre Lafond Market & Deli — the low-key and friendly staff welcomes and encourages browsers to move from space to space.
There is a quiet respectability that seems to permeate the store. There is a lot to take in, with many mini-stores within a store. Each area is beautifully edited by Koury’s merchandise selections and assembled to show itself off best by her talented and creative staff.
Head of visual displays and set design is Kristin Cramer, assisted by South African artist Karen Bezuidenhout, whose paintings are represented along with works by handbag designer Emily Rosendahl and jeweler Heather Wright.
Koury likes to give the credit for the original "concept store” — a favorite in retail speak today — to Lafond, who she thinks is "the master of diversification and delegation" and his wife, Wendy Foster, "the style expert." While today, Lafond still keeps a watchful but nonintrusive eye on the stores, Pierre Lafond has expanded beyond 93108. Restaurants and clothing stores have a presence on Coast Village Road, in downtown Santa Barbara, the Funk Zone and Los Olivos — all under the Pierre Lafond umbrella.
Lafond started his first retail business in 1964 with a wine and cheese store in the same Montecito location at 516 San Ysidro Road. Cafe Del Sol was its neighbor and many of his patrons arrived on horseback. A lot has changed since then. Lafond and his talented wife grew that little store into a thriving retail destination that now boasts an inside and outside environment, which includes a full-service restaurant, two women’s clothing stores, a gourmet grocery and wine store, and "The Upstairs" home store.
As you ascend the stairs situated between the deli and casual women’s shop, you enter an environment in which there are many open spaces with rooms separated by carefully arranged displays and unusual furnishings rather than walls. Featured are a timeless range of merchandise that runs the gamut from picture frames, luxurious linens, bath towels, jewelry, cashmere throws, area rugs, coffee table books, candles, a whimsical children’s department, handbags, small leather goods, tableware, stationery, cutlery, an impressive men’s section, loungewear, and body and bath products for women — just for starters.
The covered outdoor patio — one of my favorite spots — has bubbling fountains, plants and colorful outdoor furniture, hammocks and accessories set against a drop-dead view of the mountains and mature oaks. Whether you stop for a minute or an hour, and pause to look around at your surroundings, you can begin to understand some of what the Santa Barbara lifestyle is all about and why is it so coveted.
Climate, natural beauty and style merge into a tribute to nature. It stokes the imagination of what can be done to brighten up your home or patio. In giving the store its tone and vibe are selected items that Koury has purchased on her many buying trips. She's a big fan of local artists and sustains the tradition of one-of-a-kind handmade treasures. She buys with the idea that everything has to have two purposes: A glass can be vase or a glass, a tray could be for hors d'oeuvres or perfume, a scarf can wrap around your body or be a belt of a tablecloth.
Her personal goal: She wants the customer to feel "when they buy, that they leave the store with something incredibly special." The Upstairs at Pierre La Fond feels relaxed, natural and classic, which speaks to its enduring magnetism for locals and tourists — and, yes, reflects the Santa Barbara lifestyle at its best.
Upstairs at Pierre Lafond is located at 516 San Ysidro Road in Montecito. Click here for more information, or call 805.565.1502.