Arriving in the US 17 years ago from Hungary, Petra Gurin made a name for herself by pursuing her passion: opening up Ethnic Origins Co., a boutique furniture shop dedicated to preserving and continuing the traditions of local artisans from around the world. Today, she scours the farthest corners of the earth, finding one-of-a-kind items to showcase in her shop.
We sat down with her, surrounded by her unique pieces, to find out what inspired her, and her vision for the future of home design.
Q: What inspired you to open your business?
A: I knew I wanted to work for myself. I knew I wanted to do something I was passionate about, and I knew I wanted to give back to others. My passion for anthropology (finishing my degree at Oregon State University in Anthropology) and objects with history created the whole theme behind it. I’m driven by a love of beauty and a desire to preserve the past and spent years developing my aesthetic eye through my experiences working as an interior stylist, photographer, potter, floral designer and refinisher of antique goods. I also partnered with Survival International, a nonprofit organization that’s been advocating for indigenous people’s rights since the 60s. They send me brochures, posters, books, and I try to promote the organization as much as possible to raise awareness. Since I’m selling art and handicraft from various different ethnic groups, I really felt like this was something I could contribute to give back.
Q: How has your experience in other fields prepared you for your own business?
A: All my life experiences played a role in opening my own business. Working in home décor and my studies in anthropology led me to blog about all of the products I bring in. I tell the story behind the pieces so that people can connect with them. Every item I bring in has to be handmade. That’s one of my golden rules– each object has to be something that people have touched and connected with because I want to tell the story of how those items were made and loved before.
Q: What prepared you for the business aspect?
A: I’m a first-generation immigrant from Hungary. I moved here alone 17 years ago, and had to learn how to adapt. Many of my friends own their own businesses, and it was inspiring to see how much time and work went into it, and how each business has thrived since.
Q: What makes the work in your showroom important?
A: Most of the traditions used in making handmade items we don’t have anymore. We’ve moved towards factories and machinery, we don’t have as many handmade items because it’s about making money and being more productive. But with my anthropology background, I’m passionate about folk art and handicraft. I don’t want these traditions to disappear because it’s very important to pass these on to understand our roots, where humanity has come from.
Q: Where do you pull your work from?
A: There are 20 different countries in Africa that I curate pieces from. I also find goodies in Morocco, the Middle East, Bali. I’m hoping to extend to Turkey and other parts of the world. It’s a lot of research to find people and create relationships with the local crafters.
Q: What inspired you to open your business in the Rosemary District?
A: I’ve always loved the Rosemary District, (I worked for Creative Loafing from 2007 to 2011 and we had our office in the district) and the area has been trying to develop for many, many years. I fell in love with the local businesses there but the Recession hit. So it broke my heart to see things die out. When I saw that now things turned around, there were like-minded people opening businesses around Rosemary District, I felt like it was the right time to open my shop. I belonged there.
Q: What makes it the right time to come to Rosemary District?
A: It’s all the new development! There are new homes, and new businesses with the same idea and energy to infuse creativity into the area, making it the new design district of Sarasota.
Q: What do you find appealing/unique about the Rosemary District?
A: I think it’s the kind of people that the area brings in. It’s an area that people will want to walk around. They want to park their car, grab a coffee, grab lunch, grab beer. Everything is within walking distance. It’s like a mile of shops to wander. You can sit at the beer garden, walk around, come see my shop, go see shops down the street, visit art galleries. It’s all connected, really, to become a new neighborhood. That’s what I think is happening: a new neighborhood is being re-born.
Q: What new characteristics/aesthetics do you bring to the RD that you can’t find anywhere else?
A: It’s the uniqueness I talked about earlier. Everything is handmade, artistic, and made from materials found in nature. It’s all very conscious- something I find important. I feel that if you look at the area around the Rosemary District, it’s an more of an artistic lifestyle. It’s a place that brings in people who are socially and environmentally conscious, a mindset that aligns with the philosophies and aesthetic of my own work.
Q: What do you envision for the future of Ethnic Origins and other shops like it?
A: My inspiration came from Australia and South Africa. Over there, there are many shops like mine, focusing on comparable visions to Ethnic Origin Company. I envision a lifestyle shift here, towards sustainability, towards quality versus quantity. I’d love for Ethnic Origins to be able to share that there are other ways of living. I’d like for my shop and those similar to it to raise awareness for the importance of environmental, social and global consciousness. You spend a lot of time at home- it’s your core, it’s important to surround yourself with pieces that make you feel good. Your home is a reflection of yourself, your personality and your experiences.
Q: What do you see for the future of the neighborhood?
A: I think that the Rosemary District will get this new, creative energy from its new residents and visitors. There’s going to be foot traffic because of all of the new residences going up. Downtown isn’t that far- the Farmers Market is like a five minute walk from us. Nothing is really that far. It’s just we aren’t thinking that way. If you think of NYC, its got little pockets of neighborhoods: Chinatown, Little Italy. When you think of Sarasota, the Rosemary District is becoming the creative little pocket to the bigger Sarasota area.