BEAM: A Fucking Well-Designed Life

Good Fucking Design Advice

Filed Under: Article Interview

Vulnerability.

When you read that word, notice how it makes you feel. Anxious, perhaps? Hesitant? Does your mind go blank?

For better or worse, vulnerability is an element of life we simply cannot escape. We experience it when we fear making the wrong decision, worry about what others might think, or fear failing in the pursuit of our passion. It can creep up when sharing ideas, receiving feedback, engaging in conflict, or managing a team. Many of us equate vulnerability with weakness (the thesaurus even lists synonyms like helpless, insecure, conquerable). On the contrary, embracing vulnerability actually requires considerable courage, exposing ourselves to uncertainty, new opportunities, and personal growth.

Two creative entrepreneurs well-versed with vulnerability are Ali Arain and Greg Coccaro. They own and manage a retail business called BEAM, a Brooklyn-based lifestyle and home decor store nestled on the the corner of Kent Avenue and North 1st Street in Williamsburg.

When you walk through their space, you can’t help but notice that every item is placed with care and purpose. Their collection is a witty mixture of “southern California meets Brooklyn mashup; equal parts left-brain and right-brain,” and they come by it honestly. Yet what truly makes their shop so compelling is not only the beautiful things in it, but the authenticity and spirit of Ali and Greg.

It is clear that they genuinely love what they do. When they talk about their store they literally start beaming (pun intended). “I never feel unmotivated. [Laughter] Honestly!” Greg said.

If we could stay awake 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and do what we do, there still wouldn’t be enough time. There’s just always something new and interesting to source or to learn about. It’s never-ending. … It doesn’t feel like work, it’s just something innately that we want to do and love doing it.

The two are long-time New Yorkers who made big life-changes to follow their passions. Ali was a lawyer and loved practicing law. While working for a multinational bank, he found creativity in legal writing and pro bono work with young artists and designers. Greg previously owned a few businesses—a cycling shop in Florida and mid-century modern antique store in Los Angeles—but had most recently been working in New York as an accountant, then as a merchant for a large retailer. Even though they managed to find creative outlets in their jobs, they both still felt that something wasn’t quite right.

I really enjoyed that work on an intellectual level, but I knew there was something sorta missing,” Ali said. “I was working a ton of hours, and, I don’t want to say that I was miserable, but I knew there was something else out there for me.

During the course of their friendship, the two frequently joked about opening a store together. One day they happened upon retail space that was for rent and, on a whim, made a phone call that made it a tangible possibility. It was difficult to abandon the security of their current jobs (Ali was about to be made a partner of the law firm), but their drive to follow their creative passions pushed them to take the leap. They felt the fear and did it anyway.

With BEAM having been open for only a year, the two quickly became familiar with the fear of failure. Their business plan was specific to starting small and expanding slowly, letting the market dictate their growth. However, after only a few months of being open, they found they needed a larger space. Regarding their move, Greg recalls, “We were fearful of, you know, taking another big step and only having been open so many months, what happens if we take this space and we can't turn a profit? We were frightened.”

They’ve learned that, rather than buying individually and on the spot, it has been more successful to make product choices by committee (“It's not always easy going up against a seasoned litigator,” Greg adds). Yet even with extensive research and preparation, they still experienced failure: “There's lots of things we've fucked up,” Ali said.

“There are things that we've bought that a month later we look at and are like, 'Why did we buy this? And how are we going to get rid of it?' With any retail store, when you're curating, there are things that in the moment seem like a good idea, … but there is a certain point where you need to make a conscious decision to take a risk [even when] you're not entirely sure how it's gonna pan out.”

As passionate store owners and Type A personalities, they put their heart and soul into their work. They are their biggest motivators, their own worst critics, and are constantly striving to make things better. But more importantly, one of their greatest accomplishments as entrepreneurs and creatives is their willingness to be imperfect. They have whole-heartedly accepted that imperfection is reality and they don’t let it keep them up at night.

“At the end of the day, when I think about the store, I just sort of tell myself, 'it is what it is.' And I try not to be bogged down with all the baggage of what I think it's supposed to be or what I think other people think its supposed to be,” Ali said. “It really is, it is what it is.” Instead, they’re proud of it.

We're really fucking proud of it,” said Greg. “It's a huge reward to feel good about coming here everyday. [We] get excited to be here, every, single, day.

It is here where the inherent value (and challenge) resides in vulnerability; in accepting who you are, what you’re offering, what it stands for, and being proud of it—exactly the way it is.By looking at the choices made by Ali and Greg, we discover that one of the most important objects of curation can be ourselves. They made their dreams a reality because they had the guts to take risks when there were no guarantees, and the courage to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they truly were.

In the end, Greg asserts this: “Don't be afraid to do it!” Just don't be afraid to fucking go ahead and move in the direction that you want, the direction of your dream. Just work towards it. Embrace the fear, you learn from it.”

Stop in and say ‘hi’ to Ali and Greg (and their two dogs, Miki and Rudi)

BEAM 

240 Kent Avenue (at N. 1st Street)
Brooklyn NY 11249
Wed to Sun from 12pm - 7pm
and by appointment.
+1 646.450.1469
beambk.com

Article by: Rachel Hellgren

Thanks to Kindred Spirits, Bonnie & Lauren for the amazing on-site photography of Ali and Greg! Be sure to check out their amazing photography work online!