February 5, 2014 at 1:31 pm EDT | by Mark Lee
Creativity at Homebody
Henriette Fourcade, Erin Mara, Homebody, business, gay news, Washington Blade

Erin Mara and Henriette Fourcade are co-owners of Homebody on Capitol Hill’s Barracks Row. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Long-time friends Henriette Fourcade and Erin Mara first spotted one another on a local tennis court. Twenty years later their field of endeavor is similar in size but the activity has evolved to operating a successful retail furnishings and home décor enterprise.

The duo are co-owners of Homebody on Capitol Hill’s Barracks Row commercial district, running south from the Eastern Market Metro station at Pennsylvania Avenue. They set up shop at 715 8th St., S.E., a little over eight years ago. Operating a storefront business as “outfitters for contemporary living,” however, wasn’t what either had envisioned doing.

Mara, in fact, “never enjoyed shopping” – for anything. Typically “overwhelmed” by conventional commerce and large-scale store arrays, her tolerance was limited. She and Fourcade kept that in mind when setting up their own storefront interior. “We want customers to feel welcome and comfortable,” explains Fourcade. “There is nothing that makes us happier than a customer blurting out ‘I want to live here’ when in the store.”

The shop’s intimate loft-style environment evokes a contemporary urban habitat with exposed ductwork and walls randomly revealing layers of plaster and brick above a concrete floor. The shop’s rough-edged landscape is warmed by well-organized and pleasantly lit kitchenware displays and casually arranged furniture, lighting, table, textile, and unique local artwork and home décor items.

Years earlier, Fourcade had introduced herself to Mara at the Hung Jury bar after recognizing her from the Rose Park tennis courts in Georgetown. Both D.C. natives, they would fast become friends while Fourcade traveled the tennis circuit as a professional racquet stringer and product brand representative.

Mara, who would launch the former Pearl restaurant and bar on 18th Street, N.W., in Adams Morgan with a business partner, had previously been a popular community personality organizing and hosting periodic women’s nightlife events. Fourcade later joined the staff at Pearl, working as sous chef and overseeing the kitchen operation.

Having attended film school and studying art during her college years, Mara has found the home furnishings business “a place where I can be creative.” Fourcade and Mara, wanting to work together at a shared undertaking, had ruminated on various start-up business options. Both had engaged in freelance interior design and faux finishing projects, discovering they had similar sensibilities. They began attending trade shows with the notion of launching a home goods business.

When subsequently searching for retail space in the summer of 2005, they chose a spot close to the home the then couple shared at the time. The commercial strip was not as lively or robust, now attracting patrons to numerous restaurants and bars who pop in to check out the shop. Each evening a line forms next door outside Rose’s Luxury gastro-pub, considered one of D.C.’s hottest new dining establishments since opening last fall. An increasingly populated streetscape continually brings new faces through the door.

In addition to attracting neighborhood customers, Homebody also draws destination shoppers seeking the sought-after modern collections of custom-made contemporary furniture, case goods, textiles and lighting fixtures featured on the store’s website. “People will cross town for a great sofa,” Mara points out.

“Our goal is to offer a variety of products in a range of price points,” Fourcade adds, “providing great looks for good prices.”

“Being an entrepreneur is all I know,” says Mara, “building a business is a creative expression for both of us and offers limitless possibilities.”

With no prior retail experience between them, “we didn’t set specific goals,” Mara recalls. “You don’t know what you don’t know,” she laughs, “so how could we fail?”

The success of their business is sweeter as a result.

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

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