Harried Manhattanites migrating to the Hudson Valley for green space and a slower pace is a story that’s been told over and over—particularly since the pandemic.
Anna Bern was way ahead of that curve. Though her life as the art director for W magazine and design director at Vogue was busy and exciting, she quickly came to cherish down time when she got herself a weekend place in the Catskills in 2004. “I just loved the lifestyle right away,” she recalls.
One day a few years later she was having lunch in Narrowsburg and spotted a “For Rent” sign at a nearby shop. Right then and there, she knew: “It was my ticket out,” says Bern with a laugh. “I had no retail experience but figured I would just learn as I went along.”
In her mind’s eye, she envisioned an eclectic boutique with an ever-changing curated mix of new and vintage rugs, bespoke upholstered furniture, clothing, artwork, and jewelry from Europe, South America, Southeast Asia, and Africa, plus locally made window treatments and pillows. She dubbed the shop Nest because that was the vibe she was going for: homey, cozy, welcoming. It’s also a nod to nature and the amazing local ecosystem, which includes bald eagles who build nests in the area.
To keep up her inventory, Bern spends about a third of the year traveling the world. It’s an ideal arrangement for someone eager to learn all she can about other cultures. It certainly helps that she speaks Portuguese, French, and Spanish so she can communicate with artisans capably and respectfully. “I’m learning Indonesian now, too, to help me better relate when I travel in Asia,” says Bern. Closer to home, she hits Brimfield, Massachusetts, three times a year and does an annual Texas sojourn for the famous Round Top Antiques Show.
Buoyed by her success, Bern expanded her retail operation to include a second shop, also called Nest, in Livingston Manor. That store is situated in a once-dilapidated building that Bern bought and renovated. (She and a small band of entrepreneurs have been working together to spark a continuing rebirth in the town.) Still, her retail business is only about half of her day-to-day. She also offers a full suite of personalized interior design consultations.
Her apartment above the Livingston Manor store is equal parts residence and design lab, where she brainstorms, experiments, arranges, and re-arranges. “When potential clients reach out, I invite them over for drinks so we can get to know one another and they can see and feel my place,” says Bern. “Then happily we just go from there.”
Bern is an official sales rep for Sandberg Wallpaper, a Swedish design company known for exquisite wallcoverings. Nature and the Scandinavian landscape often provide pattern and color inspiration. “Sandberg wallpapers are really artwork in their own right,” says Bern.
Touring her home reveals a mix of papers that blend subtly yet distinctively. She intentionally chose wallpaper for almost every room because she loves how it instantly infuses warmth and visual interest while providing a common thread that connects the entire space. Her own paper proclivity seems to inspire clients when they meet with her. “Even people who start out saying they have no interest in wallpaper leave with three, four, or five patterns they want to use,” says Bern with a laugh.
What’s her secret for mixing and matching successfully? “It’s hard to put into words. You need a theme, some consistent color or pattern element, and then you just start trying things together. When it works, you’ll know.”
Come to think of it, that combo of intrepid thought and experimentation is the key to Bern’s success, too.