Somewhat lost in the celebration of new businesses like Work | Release and Glass Wheel Studio in the Norfolk arts district has been the NEON‘s pre-history: all the local businesses that took a chance on the under-loved neighborhood on Granby just north of Brambleton before there was all the commotion surrounding it.
Businesses who didn’t just happen to fit the arts district vibe, but who embodied it already. Spots like The Beauty Parlor by Q and Company, Fuzion Ink, and Exotic Home, which offers, in my opinion, Hampton Roads’ most diverse, tasteful and eclectic showroom of home furnishings.
Mike Day, owner of Exotic Home, moved into the neighborhood back in the fall of 2008.
“Right before the crap hit the fan,” Day said of the financial crisis. “Right when all the banks crashed.”
all images from Exotic Home business trips around the world,
courtesy of Tiffany Day
For Day and the other pioneer property owners in the arts district, the NEON-movement has been vindication of a well-placed bet.
“I’ve enjoyed watching it all happen around us,” said Day, a Virginia Beach native. “And we’re anxious to see it all continue.”
The exterior walls of Exotic Home–and Day’s good will–have been critical to fostering the public art epicenter the NEON has become. You can catch the work of local artists Asa Jackson and Elizabeth Cooke on Exotic Home’s walls. There is also what turned into a great collaboration between John Hickey and neon artist James Akers, and the hideaway neon project executed by the Governor’s School students and the Chrysler Glass Studio’s Hannah Kirkpatrick.
While the outside of Exotic Home has only recently become a gallery, Day has been showcasing groovy and chic international art for the past 25 years. [Note: the Our Story part of their website is charming.]
“I started the company when I was 21-years-old backpacking through Central America,” said Day, who attended Norfolk Academy. “I was in Guatemala and saw all these textiles being made by the indigenous people.”
He started wholesaling in 1991, and opened his first shop, in Corolla, North Carolina, two years later. Soon there were five shops, which grew as Day used his off-seasons as a commercial fishmerman to travel the world looking for new products.
“I had a couple months off so I went to Belize, Guatemala, and Nicaragua with a high school buddy,” Day said. “I was there because I really like third world habitats, cultures, and people. I love vacant beaches and cool places.”
About 15 years ago Day met his wife, Tiffany. He credits her for much of the growth of the company, which features American products along with all the international goodies.
“We elevated the concept from gifts to a full blown design center with upholstery, bedding, wall art, and furniture,” he said. “We can do the whole house soup to nuts.”
Exotic Home elevates from commerce to romance when you hear Day tell the stories of the craftspeople who make what he sells in the store.
“A lot of these people have become family,” he said. “I’ve watched children in Indonesia being born that we’re now helping to put through college. Their cultures are really amazing. We’ve created some great friends.”
Just as Mike, Tiffany, and Exotic Home have been great friends to the arts district blossoming around them.