For designer Helen Hoey, her new luxury boutique Pulchra in Lawrenceville isn't just another place to shop. Instead, it's somewhere people can go to learn how to beautify their lives, one candle, custom bed comforter or handmade corset at a time.
“Retail needs to be an experience, and that's what I'm trying to create,” she says. “The way I approach this is [these are ways for] adorning the body, the table and the bed.”
There are plenty of chic choices inside the storefront at 3401 Butler St. (previously occupied by LUXE Creative’s headquarters). Pulchra, which is Latin for “beautiful mind,” specializes in women’s fine lingerie and loungewear — some of which is framed like art in ornate Russian icon frames that dress up the shop’s sleek black walls. For the table, Ms. Hoey has curated silver tableware, high-end knives, cozy candles and delectable chocolate sausages from Brooklyn. Clients can give their bedrooms some TLC, too, with pillows and comforters that can be styled to their tastes.
The store’s tagline is “for the intrigued,” partly a nod to a private space in the back where other kinds of bedroom accessories are sold. (Think “Fifty Shades of Grey” but more playful and, in some cases, even artistic.)
Although Pulchra has been open for just a few weeks, it ties together talents that Ms. Hoey has been harnessing for years. She traces her interest in home decor and design back to her teen years in the Washington, D.C., area.
“I was always sort of partial to black,” she says, recalling the time she wanted to make over her childhood bedroom with black carpeting. “To me, with black you actually see lines and you can see architectural elements in the home, in fashion, in anything.”
She studied architectural interior design at La Roche College and went on to launch a career in interior design. That led to stints designing bedding and, later on, lingerie for national labels and her own line.
“I try to beautify function,” she says about her aesthetic. For instance, lacy bras are lined with a second layer of fabric so they’re more comfortable. Several pieces also are made to be worn multiple ways. (Example: A flirty babydoll nightie that can be turned into a dress when layered over a fitted slip. A corset isn’t limited to the bedroom, either, if paired with a silk blouse.)
These sorts of selections and personalized styling tips are what Ms. Hoey hopes will help set Pulchra apart from other retailers. Plus, unlike some stores that sell intimate apparel, she strives to make hers a welcoming environment for women and men. She collaborated with Pittsburgh designer Bill Chisnell to create a space that’s elegant yet relaxed, with exposed brick walls, plush velvet chairs, dazzling light fixtures and some industrial touches.
Her ultimate goal is to turn Pulchra into a franchise, with Pittsburgh being the test store for the concept. A Beverly Hills location already is in the works, and there’s interest in possibly opening more stores in Houston and the Hamptons in New York, she says.
In the meantime, Ms. Hoey is focused on transforming Pulchra Pittsburgh into a shopping destination, complete with wine, regular in-store fashion shows and the option to book the space for events such as bachelorette parties or simply a private shopping trip.
“I think this will end up being a great place for Pittsburgh,” she says.
Store hours are 3 to 10 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; 3 to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and by appointment. Hours will be extended in the coming months.
Sara Bauknecht: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter and Instagram @SaraB_PG.