M étaphore derives its style from France, Italy, Sweden and Belgium and has dispensed its “European home” wares from three different locations in downtown New Haven over the past five years.
Before that, the store was in Branford for over three years. Half a decade ago it came to High Street near the Yale Center for British Art, where it was eventually displaced by a frozen yogurt shop. Then it was on Chapel Street near the Atticus Bookstore Café for a couple of years. For the last eight months, and for the foreseeable future, Métaphore’s European Home has found a home at 1020 Chapel Street.
Despite the relocations, Métaphore founder Liza Clayson has maintained a singular aesthetic sensibility for the entrancing shop. “It’s been exactly the same thing from the get-go. I knew it had to be fundamentally European. There’s a dedication to quality, pride and craftsmanship.” Clayson describes how it’s in France’s and Italy’s nature in particular to support artisans and small manufacturers, and to encourage new designs.
The shop’s current location is several steps down and set back from the sidewalk, but Métaphore glows brightly. That’s due in large part to Clayson’s own personal touches. She splashes red, yellow and green paint on white canvases and clear plastic shower curtains, framing the shop’s elegantly utilitarian selection of pretty, pristine kitchen and household items. Clayson’s business cards are handwritten, handcolored and cut into amusing shapes. So are the pricetags and invoices.
But Clayson doesn’t consider herself an artist. “You develop all sorts of fun skills when you open a business,” she says. Likewise, she doesn’t think of the things she sells as art, however beautiful they may be.
“This stuff is made to be used,” Clayson insists, so she’s created an upbeat, accessible environment in which to showcase furniture, linens, bedding, cushions, blankets, lamps and other home comforts. “It’s a little oasis for people,” she says of the shop. “You can’t experience this tactile, aesthetic experience on the web. It’s an antidote to the anonymity and soulessness of the Internet. We have to create the atmosphere.”
Métaphore’s previous Chapel Street location between High and York was notable for its food section—teas and biscuits which complemented the teapots and dishes on sale. Food will soon make a comeback—“all French,” Clayson says. She’d also like to “find a nice line of clothing”; the shop has a changing room but only a few garments currently on display.
And a word to the wise: be very careful when describing the wonders of Métaphore. Some of the items have a basic, universal beauty and are the sorts of things that people have had in their homes for centuries. Yet descriptions such as “classic” or “traditional” make Clayson blanch. She’s eager to point out how progressive and fresh a lot of the designs are.
“French,” it seems, is also a loaded phrase these days. A lot of shoppers shorthand it as a certain type of countryside sensibility. “When you say ‘French,’ people think of ‘French Country,’ and that’s not what I’m doing here,” Clayson explains. Her regular customers certainly get the distinction. “I have a very loyal customer base who enjoy having access to the whole world.”
That’s what Métaphore’s European Home brings home to New Haven.
1020 Chapel Street, New Haven (map)
Mon-Fri 10:30am-6:30pm, Sat 10:30 am-6pm, Sun 12-6pm
Written and photographed by Christopher Arnott.