Unlike many of the 2013 Young Guns semifinalists, Los Angeles-based decorator Sally Breer doesn't have years of formal training or any official degrees to hang on her wall. In fact, until pretty recently, she was skeptical that interior design was truly her calling. "I didn't know that there could be meaning or depth or thought behind it," she says. "It wasn't something I ever planned to do."
Yet Breer has managed to turn her passion for "junking"—a catchall term referring to her love of flea markets, vintage furnishings, and the buzzy high of a good find—into a full-fledged career that's split between Comminglehome, her fledgling interiors firm (it doesn't hurt that her first client was actor Justin Long, a close friend, and that her perch in L.A. has allowed her to connect with other showbiz clients) and Shop Class, a vintage furnishings store and workshop space that opened this February. "I think the biggest thing, if I'm lucky—if I really get to do what I like to do—is incorporating vintage character," she says. "I like a little quirk to a space, I like a little character that connects with the individual. That's the throughline: to incorporate some whimsy and some character."
The journey from Point A to 25-year-old business owner wasn't so straightforward, though, and Breer admits that she's "had this very weird, patchy experience." A closer look at how she's gotten to where she is, below:
Childhood: "I was raised in New York and a little bit in Paris"
Breer was born in NYC but moved around quite a bit as she was growing up, living in on and off in Paris until she was in middle school. Her father, the late experimental artist Robert Breer, was a major influence during those years. "I grew up as an only kid going to weird modern art shows and museum openings that my dad had, and I was always the kid under the table with huge artists at dinner, like Lichtenstein and [Claes] Oldenburg, so I got to eavesdrop and hear about these people who just did what they loved and their idea of what the world was was not defined by anyone else." She also became "aware of spaces," she says, "because we always moved around as a kid and my mom always had these ideas to buy plots of land and buildings." In high school, Breer's mom flew her to New Mexico, where she had just bought a house, "and she wanted me to pick out the toilet paper holders. Having an environment that felt good to you and one you wanted to be in was so important, because it's really the only control I had in my life." College years: "I was figuring out what I wanted to be"
After attending Loyola Marymount, in Los Angeles, for a year, Breer dropped out and traveled to South Africa with the School for International Training, a graduate university run by an international-development nonprofit, where she studied education and social change. "I didn't know what I wanted to do," Breer says, "and I convinced my parents that it was OK that I dropped out of college. I moved to Paris, started working in a gallery part time, and nannied part time, and I was figuring out what I wanted to be. I loved working in an art gallery, but I didn't want to be just representing artists: I wanted to do something more creative." Texas by way of L.A.—"I've had this very weird, patchy experience"
After spending a year in Paris, Breer moved back to L.A.—"a friend had a house with a room," she says. She applied to art school and got a full scholarship to a program in Portland, Ore., yet didn't end up attending. "I met a boy"—he's still her boyfriend—who eventually got a job in Texas: "I said, 'I'll just go.'" In Texas, Breer came across Round Top, the massive, world-famous antiques fair on acres and acres of land. "I spent a week out in the fields just shopping and I guess I got the bug, and I convinced a friend [Justin Long], who had just bought a house in Texas, to let me do his house—I still to this day don't know why he trusted me," she recalls. It was "completely organic—it's about your gut," she says, adding, "I think what Texas did for me...it's just so unpretentious the way they look at design and furniture. There's beautiful furniture everywhere you look, and it's not in this really fussy way. It really let me get into it and play with it." Back to L.A.
In 2010, Breer moved back to L.A., where she started working for Amsterdam Modern, importer Ellen LeComte's 5,000-square-foot showroom filled with container loads of midcentury Dutch and industrial furnishings, lighting, and accessories. "I loved Ellen dearly but I felt like I wasn't getting to design and be creative," Breer says. "I told her I loved her and I wanted to stay close but I needed to do more design." After completing Long's New York apartment and another place in L.A., "I just kind of snowballed," she says. "My clients have been really good and loyal to me, and it's all been on referral. I didn't know what I wanted to do in design, I didn't know what it meant to be a designer, I did what I felt was organic but by no means did I abide by any rules." Early expansion and the birth of Shop Class
"Last fall," Breer says, "I realized I was growing really fast—and working on, like, eight projects out of my garage. I needed to grow up a bit." So she called up LeComte, who happened to be considering opening a retail space at the time. Not only would this afford Breer a proper office, but it would also be a natural way of trimming down her own, rapidly amassing furniture collection. Along with LeComte and her old Texas friend Jeff Garbs—the guy who introduced her to Round Top to begin with—in Feb. 2013 Breer opened Shop Class, a 2,000-square-foot store packed with midcentury, industrial, and vintage pieces. Highland Park, the "rough and still up-and-coming" neighborhood, represents "sort of who I am as a designer," Breer says. "People are receptive to the idea that design doesn't have to feel so antiquated or forced, that it can still be exciting and fresh and it doesn't have to be so precious." "This little community we built"
In April, Shop Class hosted a pop-up market in its back parking lot, exhibiting and selling the works of more than 20 local vendors. The craft fair will be quarterly, and with 30 vendors signed up for next month's fair "it's really unbelievable, this little community we built," Breer says. "L.A. is tough place because it's a one-industry town—all of my clients are in the entertainment industry—and opening Shop Class allowed us to get to know all these amazing creators. That's definitely part of Shop Class—it feels exciting and reactive and hands-on." Also on offer: monthly workshops headed by Garbs, who "has an insane ability to turn trash into treasure," according to his official bio. Looking forward
Photos two through eight via Comminglehome
One of the projects Breer hopes to work on in the next decade is a boutique hotel. "I primarily do residential, but I've done a couple of retail spaces and I like the idea of working with people who have visions for their spaces that are maybe used for different things."