It took just one vintage sideboard, bought for $3 off the side of a truck in Beijing, to open Andrew Higgins’s eyes to a world of furnishings beyond Pier 1 and Restoration Hardware.
Higgins went to China to study Christian ministry, but he found beauty in the rusty metal and weathered wood of objects with history. So he returned to the Twin Cities inspired to launch an imports business. He rented space at the Mix in St. Louis Park (which has since closed) and wholesaled to other local stores and showrooms, including Mudd Lake Furniture Co. and HISTORIC Studios.
Buoyed by the interest in his “European farmhouse” furniture finds, Higgins and a partner opened Ciel Loft & Home next door to Guild Collective in St. Louis Park. Ciel, pronounced “see-el,” is French for sky, or heavens.
“I wanted to bring the beauty of the heavens home at affordable prices,” Higgins says. It’s a lofty mission for a first-time storeowner, but from opening day last December, the space lived up to Higgins’s ambition. Ciel has the polished feel of a larger retailer, with the creative merchandising you’d expect of a design showroom, plus interesting, textured objects that often look more expensive than they are. Many customers assume the tables, buffets, and wooden boxes and baskets are reproductions, but most are authentic imports and antiques from small Asian villages and markets.
Having a partner based in Tibet gives Ciel a competitive advantage, Higgins says. Owners of most small stores travel overseas once or twice a year and buy up what they can. Higgins’s partner, Minnesota native Chad Newman, has the luxury of seeking out the best goods at the best prices.
In addition to importing vintage pieces, Higgins and Newman are producing furnishings exclusive to Ciel. Their dining tables have been a big hit—mixing rustic wood with modern metals, the pieces work for both traditional and contemporary rooms. Ciel is also ramping up its selection of upholstered furniture and continually adding small accessories, from pillows to decorative tiles to lamps.
“We’re able to try stuff out,” says Higgins. “We had these wood wine racks and thought, could we incorporate those into a table?”
They could. They did. And shoppers love it. 4416 Excelsior Blvd., St. Louis Park, 952-922-2747, cielloftandhome.com —A. K.