(Joanna in her living room wearing the Pink Batik Pia Dress)
Joanna Williams has built a career collecting beautiful things. Williams founded her company, Kneeland co., in 2010 as a way to share her discoveries with fellow nomads and collectors alike. Located in the West Adams neighborhood of Los Angeles (and now online!) Williams' textile treasure trove serves as a resource library for global lifestyle brands, luxury and contemporary fashion design studios, interior designers and admirers of beauty. Williams typically spends the majority of the year traveling the globe, sourcing rare souvenirs and telling the stories of artisans around the world.
Candlesticks from Mexico City, tablecloths from India and endless antique artifacts line not only the walls of her store, but her eclectic abode. Williams welcomed us into her Echo Park home for a golden hour photo shoot on film and a conversation about how her business has evolved since Covid began — all paired with a crisp glass of Pét-nat.
Being a part of this Rhode shoot was a refreshing interlude to my seemingly monotonous evenings as of late. Putting on a short dress during summer and sitting outside drinking wine while watching the sunset through my backyard trees with a cool crew of people (albeit masked), reminded me that it’s important to feel that sense of normalcy and connection with human beings. I personally crave it, being a social butterfly that is normally on the go from one locale to the next.
(Outside in the Carlotta Top Thread Embroidery)
On March 6th of this year, I opened my first brick and mortar store on West Adams Blvd. Oh, the timing! I’m often told by friends and acquaintances, “Your opening party was the last social gathering I attended.” I’ll admit that I’m sort of flattered by that statement, as it serves as a seared memory of the first days of Covid that will live within our psyches forever. After spending 10 years running my global textile business, I decided to partake in an additional venture of retail and put my blood, sweat, tears, and a whole lot of finances into building out my dream space. While the timing was WAY off, it was also somehow perfect as I was able to have a grand opening and introduce the shop to the world before it all changed very quickly. In those first few weeks of our stay-at-home order, I was paralyzed and panicked. How would I be able to keep this going? What have I gotten myself into? Can people afford to shop? Do people even want to shop?
(Details of the Ella Dress in Paisley)
But, I had a huge level of responsibility I had just taken on and I had to make it work. There wasn’t an Option B. I pivoted without knowing I was pivoting and I did what felt good and right and true to myself and I worked hard to present my store virtually to my following. I am immensely grateful that people have been so supportive. I have honestly never worked harder in my life, and many of my fellow business owners have said the same. I’ve seen what I am capable of, and I say this not because I want praise – but because I want other business owners and dreamers to know that it’s possible to take control and make it work. My business is a completely different model now than it was pre-Covid. My textile meetings are mostly via Zoom and my store is by appointment only. Just six months ago I was traveling 70% of the year, and now a trip to the beach seems like a far-flung destination. And in another surprising twist, I launch e-commerce today! Another completely unexpected turn of events, due to the pandemic.
One thing I have thought long and hard about during the weeks of quarantine is whether or not people still want beautiful objects in their home, being that my store is focused on interiors. Is it superficial? Is it meaningless? I fully realize that there are massive problems we are facing in our world that require our unwavering attention, but I have also come to realize that no matter what happens in the face of tragedy – nothing changes our relationship to beauty. We might not be inclined to spend so much or to spend so absentmindedly – but I firmly believe that we heed a call to beauty.
Wearing a Rhode dress makes me feel beautiful, plain and simple. I am a lover of print and pattern, so much so that I have built my business on those two things. Rhode has a singular way of designing their prints. They’re always happy, always optimistic, always cool - and I never fail to receive compliments when I’m wearing one. It’s safe to say that I’m a Rhode groupie.
My spots in LA
- The Gilded Owl: My friend Andy is a talented decorator with an eye for sublimely gorgeous furniture. He recently opened a gallery on Melrose and sells a line of beautiful Italian Levaggi chairs from Chiavara. I have a colorful style in the library of my textile studio and it’s the perfect mix of practical and chic.
- Long Beach Flea Market: This is hands down my favorite flea market in Los Angeles. Known for its heavy focus on home goods, it’s a real treasure trove for those who love interiors. I found a 1940s hand painted Hungarian blanket chest back in February and it has a special place in my store for displaying objects.
- Woodcat Coffee: I live in Echo Park and frequent my neighborhood coffee shop, Woodcat, for their very special cardamom latte. The owner, who is Indian, makes a really delicious cardamom syrup and it always takes me back to India. I order mine with oat milk and it’s like dessert for breakfast.