Situated next to Eli’s BBQ in Findlay Market stands Deerhaus Décor, a transparent, small-batch and environmentally conscious boutique where you can find everything from refurbished homegoods and unique cookbooks to cactus greeting cards, organic deodorant and glass jewelry. And the softest huskies you’ll encounter in life, Nala and Kona.
Cincinnati natives and Deerhaus cofounders Sonja Thams and Benjamin Deering started brainstorming ideas for the storefront as undergraduates — she at the Columbus College of Art and Design while pursuing a degree in interior architecture and design, and he as an entrepreneurial economics student at the College of Wooster.
As part of the process, the soon-to-be-spouses handed out surveys to shoppers at Findlay Market during the 2015 holiday season. The surveys were used to find out what people wanted to see in the area and the results indicated that patrons wanted shops with local, handmade items and more spaces to hang out — places to extend their market experience.
Out of that information came an intentional effort to balance community desires with personal passions. Deerhaus, which officially opened in November 2016, blends Sonja’s interest in design and sustainable products with Ben’s interest in entrepreneurship.
“The market is awesome because during the summer they’ll have music (on the weekends) and they’re literally right outside our door,” Sonja says. “They set up the chairs and I just leave my door open, turn my music off. People come in and are like, ‘Can I bring in my beer?’ and I’m like, ‘Definitely, come on in, shop.’ ”
CityBeat: How’d you all end up with this spot?
Sonja Thams: Ben’s family is in real estate and he actually bought the building and we were just throwing different ideas around of what to do with the space. Originally, we didn’t think about using it for ourselves. We were thinking maybe a restaurant or something, but we know nothing about restaurants so we kind of went with what we know and what we heard people would like to see.
CB: How did your relationship with combating waste develop into a passion?
ST: For me, it probably just stemmed from growing up… We had a compost, “recycled before it was cool.” That kind of was just instilled in me and through school I took classes on environmental studies. I’ve always loved old things. My mom would be like, “This is my old purse.” I’m like, “That’s really cool. It’s from the ’60s; I need it.”
CB: There’s an emphasis on small-batch manufacturing at Deerhaus. What’s your take on mass production?
ST: It’s hard because you can’t get away from it. And our society has made it so mass production, for certain things, definitely still needs to be around. But we like to see the revitalization of the “craft man.”
CB: How do you match up with suppliers?
ST: At the beginning, we pretty much reached out to people ourselves. We love to travel, so every time we go on a vacation — we just went to Portugal after the New Year — we always look for different makers and artists everywhere we go. So that’s one way we do it, which we’re working on eventually getting an international section of travel-found goods, like a fun little peek into what we found on our trips.
And then, now that we’ve been open for a while, we actually get people contacting us, which is really cool because somehow they found us. I found a lot of people through Instagram, which is wild, but it’s just like it can be on my personal account and I’m like “Oh this person is really cool. Oh my god: They’re from Ohio!”
CB: So, you’re mainly looking for local people?
ST: Yeah. We have our big ones like is local and she does really well. We have , , , — which is actually my line of product as well —, . There’s probably more and I’m missing them. There’s definitely more.
CB: So, you bring the conscious design aspect; Ben’s heart is for entrepreneurship and revitalizing OTR. Why is small business good for community?
ST: For us, since his parents also own their own business in real estate, he grew up with learning how that works. And how if you have a small business you can help support, like we do, we support other small businesses by carrying them in our shop. For this particular area, growing the neighborhood of Findlay Market helps support each other and it helps support our Cincinnati economy. I’m always surprised by how many international people I meet, or people who are on vacation, which I think is wild because I never thought of Cincinnati as a destination for a vacation. But I was like, “This is awesome.”
It’s cool to see our city grow. I grew up here so going through all the different stages of seeing it from a child’s perspective to now as an adult, it’s really cool to see how things have changed and the support that people give you as a small business.
Deerhaus Décor is located at 135 W. Elder St., Findlay Market, Over-the-Rhine. Hours: 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. Wednesday-Friday; 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. More info: deerhausdecor.com.