wood, stone, and metal works by olive ateliers. Olive trees, exposed stone/brick wall
Credit: Bailey Ann (@baileyannoriginal)

Design Changemakers 2023: Olive Ateliers Is Revamping the In-Person Decor Shopping Experience

published Feb 14, 2023
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Credit: Photography: Bailey Ann (@baileyannoriginal)

Apartment Therapy’s 2023 Design Changemakers are all about evolving their industries, from architecture to carpentry, curation to interior design. They’re doers. They’re disruptors. They’re total risk-takers. And you’ll want to get to know them stat.

Who: Ben Knox, Kendall Knox, and Laura Sotelo, co-founders of Olive Ateliers
Where to follow them: Instagram at @oliveateliers and TikTok at @oliveateliers

In 2021, husband-and-wife pair Ben Knox and Kendall Knox and their friend Laura Sotelo noticed a gap in the decor marketplace: a true one-stop spot for unique — not mass-produced — homewares that were also accessible and relatively affordable. So they created their own as an Instagram side hustle… which very quickly evolved into a full-time business and buzzy Los Angeles lifestyle brand. Olive Ateliers is dedicated to sourcing, styling, marketing, and reselling “objects with old souls,” per the brand’s tagline. Think: hard-to-source stone planters, rustic benches, and timeworn Turkish marble sinks — all vintage, antique, or small-batch pieces with an old-world style, handpicked by the founders directly from vendors across the globe.

But there’s a catch. The atelier headquarters is only shoppable during “drops” that happen every other Saturday (or weekly, depending on import schedules) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. This gives the team downtime to curate merchandise, meticulously redesign their showroom, and spread the word via Instagram, email, and text… and then repeat. Clearly, it works: Each drop day attracts hundreds of eager customers, some lining up hours in advance, for a four-hour, first-come-first-served shopping window. That dedicated local fanbase — which they say includes big names like Kim Kardashian, Kristen Bell, and Melissa McCarthy — speaks volumes about the enticing product selection and not overly marked-up pricing, but also Olive’s commitment to generating excitement for in-person shopping, especially during an era of e-commerce. “We didn’t set out just to open a retail store, a 9-to-5 concept,” explains Kendall Knox. “We really wanted to make an experiential shopping moment. Creating a memorable experience was important to us and has kind of become the quintessential Olive brand.”

Credit: Bailey Ann (@baileyannoriginal)

Just last month, the trio officially opened a brand-new, 22,000-square-foot flagship in L.A.’s Arts District, moving out of their original 5,000-square-foot-warehouse. A giant 100-year-old olive tree — the inspiration behind Olive Ateliers’ name — sits at the center of hundreds of pieces of inventory, arranged in ever-changing yet thoughtful vignettes meant to “inspire curious living.” You might encounter a tablescape fit for entertaining, for example, or displays that scream, “Wow, I could do this at home — I could see this in my living room or by my outdoor dining table,” says Sotelo.

And rather than simply putting out pretty items, Sotelo, Kendall, and Ben Knox want to celebrate the distinctive historical context and far-reaching journeys attached to each one. Ask about the origin of a particular object for sale (seriously, it’s heavily encouraged!), and the co-founders are more than happy to trace its roots for you. “By curious living, we mean creating curiosity,” explains Kendall Knox. “It’s about starting conversation.”

Olive Ateliers is only growing, recently announcing a new nationwide shipping program and private early-access appointment system, increasing head count, and hinting at possibly exploring online shopping opportunities someday. We spoke with the three founders, taking a deep dive into their curation process, how they’ve established a robust brick-and-mortar business, their design predictions, and more.

Credit: Bailey Ann (@baileyannoriginal)

Apartment Therapy: What is your inspiration?

Laura Sotelo: Everything at the moment. It’s actually really interesting, when you’re constantly pushing yourself to make a showroom different and unique, you are drawing upon inspiration from everywhere. You look at the world differently. You can go into a store and you’re looking at the way they’re merchandising, the flow, the layout of everything. It really opens your mind up.

Kendall Knox: It’s our community that’s inspiring me the most because we think that we’ve nailed a way to style something or show off an object, and then you see them take that piece home, or install it in their design project, and you’re like, ‘Whoa, that’s even better!’ What’s most special for me is seeing people leave with their object — the object that found them — and having that take its new life in its new space.

Ben Knox: Maybe a bit nerdier, but I’ve really found inspiration in the stories behind the products and the original uses of the antique and vintage items that have been collected on our behalf and are now here in our atelier. And that has created such a renewed interest in history for me. Saying, ‘This style of pottery is represented in multiple different regions, why is that?’ And then looking into geopolitics. It’s really cool and inspiring and gives so much meaning to what we do because it’s anchored in tradition and storytelling, and it’s exciting to then be able to convey that back to our customers and clients when they visit.

AT: What three words would you use to describe your work or style or company overall?

LS: Nostalgic.

KK: Curious, because we are that at its core. And the last one would be charismatic. I think that really comes through in the objects themselves. Each of them has a funny patina, or they’re an interesting shape or cool texture. 

BK: Charismatic also relates to the personality that comes through in our marketing and content, as well as our nature in person and our approach to customer service and relationship-building with our customers and clients. 

Credit: Bailey Ann (@baileyannoriginal)

AT: What would you say sets you apart from your peers? What do you see as being your special thing?

KK: We want to make clear, we’re not the first people to sell old stuff. We’re not the first people to import vintage goods. We’re not the first people to retail anything. But we do feel like we’ve been innovative in the way we’ve done all of those things. The experience we provide, which, obviously, is our drop day. The immersive experience that comes with that. The product. You could find similar products scattered around, but you don’t really ever walk into that retail experience and feel that entire vibe around you. The assortment that we’ve created is unique and feels one-of-a-kind.

AT: How have you gained such a massive following so quickly?

KK: It’s an intersection of a lot of things. We’ve absolutely partnered with like-minded brands, influencers, and businesses to help build brand awareness. But I also think that the unique assortment of product stands on its own as a driver for folks. Typically in the past, these products have only maybe been found on high-end marketplaces, or on Etsy literally shipping it in from Italy, or the mom-and-pop antique boutique stores that maybe are hard to find. We really set out to create this destination for people. Between the content, the marketing, the excitement of the drop, and the product being really special and one-of-a-kind and fairly priced, I think that’s how we’ve seen such rapid growth and excitement around the brand.

BK: It is like an event. And it being on the weekend, it’s something that you can’t help but tell somebody else about. You want to share your experience. You waited in line, and most of our customers share to us that that’s actually a really special part of the experience for them because they’re making connections with others in the community and they feel part of something together. So, beyond social media, beyond anything new age, it’s just — we think — really great word of mouth.

AT: What’s the product sourcing process been like?

BK: This business was born some bit in the stretches of the pandemic, so our ability to travel and source the way that we wanted to was a bit limited at the outset and even thereafter. As we’ve grown and gotten more of our own bandwidth under control, we’ve been able to take more trips — and we’ve got a lot of exciting trips planned this year — to do as much in-person sourcing as possible. And we have such amazing relationships with all of our vendors, whether we’ve met them or not. The ones that we haven’t met and then ultimately meet, we’re like family and we stay at their house and dine together. I was basically in the wedding of one of our Turkish suppliers. It was amazing.

KK: A handful have found us, versus us finding them. Which is also really special because they really quickly understood the brand and lifestyle that we’re living and breathing, and then were able to complement that with items that they source, collect, or in some cases produce. It’s been really fun.

Credit: Bailey Ann (@baileyannoriginal)

AT: Do you have any big plans for 2023 or beyond you can share with us?

KK: We are living it! We’re in it! We talked a little bit about the atelier, which [opened last month]. That’s very exciting, and a huge feat for us. We are continuing to build our team. We are [launching] for the first time a long-distance freight program. We’ve not actually offered shipping to date — any kind, aside from local delivery — but we are now offering a long-distance freight program for designers, clients, and [in-person shoppers shipping] nationwide. I would say maybe we’re considering an online experience. It could be on the horizon. Watch this space.

AT: Is there a specific piece, design, or project of yours, or aspect of your business, that you think is particularly indicative of who you are or what you’re trying to do?

BK: A couple weeks ago, we shared the reveal of something we’ve been working on that’s related to Laura, who just recently had her first child. She was on maternity leave for a couple months, and during that time, obviously we were also moving into our new location, which has some offices. We agreed that one of the offices should be converted into a nursery for Laura, and ultimately for anyone else in the company that has young family so they can feel at home at work. Kendall created the most beautiful nursery inside an industrial warehouse in the arts district of Los Angeles; it transports you. We were just lucky enough to capture Laura’s reaction when she finally saw it, which brought us all to tears.

LS: Every time we’re merchandising our showroom is another experience where we’re pushing design, where we’re changing things up, where we’re telling new stories. And that’s ever-changing, every two weeks. But the nursery is the perfect embodiment of, really, Olive [Ateliers] — and the work culture — in a room, as well as just our objects being used.

AT: What three words would you use to describe where you see the design world going in 2023? 

KK: Conscious design — well, we are. We’ve always prioritized natural fibers and organic materials, and I hope the industry is heading in a direction of being as conscious as possible in their approach to design. 

LS: Unique. People are really starting to value one-of-a-kind objects, instead of something that is mass-produced that you can find anywhere. And being very intentional about a piece that they’re going to put in their home, because that piece takes up rent in their house and they want it to feel special.

KK: I think that’s another word: intentional. [Coming] off of Covid [lockdowns], people are very intentional with their space. They want a space that feels safe, calm; [where,] if they need to spend [another] two years locked inside, they would be fine with.

Credit: Bailey Ann (@baileyannoriginal)

AT: What do you think you’re doing to impact the field you’re in? What changes do you hope to create?

BK: I think largely the contribution we’re providing — that shift in focus and mindset to uniqueness, consciousness, and intentionality with regards to items, objects, things you bring into your home, and the effects that those create. Where they came from to get there and all of that.

KK: We are also looking into philanthropic opportunities in a handful of regions or countries with whom we partner. Because we think it’s really important to not only tell their stories and celebrate their objects and history by sharing those with our community, but also to give back to those communities from which those products come from. There’s nothing formally planned quite yet, but we have started discussions with a few of our key vendors to figure out what could be done there.

AT: How do you define success in your field? What makes you feel successful?

KK: I think it comes back to our mission, to ‘inspire curious living’ through a variety of things: awe-inspiring experiences, one-of-a-kind objects, and awe-inspiring spaces. If we’re doing those three things, then we feel successful. It’s not a measure of profit or anything like that that drives what we consider to be success. It’s more about inspiring that curiosity and exciting others. And building this community that celebrates these objects. 

LS: Especially the community. It really comes down to building that community and making relationships with people — vendors, and also our customers. It feels really special.

Interview has been edited and condensed.