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Art of Home: Her textiles weave tales of cultures far away

Art of Home: Her textiles weave tales of cultures far away
Owner Melissa Rohani shows off a popular style of throw rug at the Laguna Mercantile store in Laguna Beach. (Don Leach / Coastline Pilot)

India, Sweden, France, Spain. These far-off lands have inspired the rich textile collections of Laguna Beach-based home-decor curator Melissa Rohani.

Now Rohani has unveiled a studio and showroom of her own along a stretch of Laguna Canyon Road next to the Sawdust Art Festival.

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In Laguna Mercantile, an appointment-only retail space that opened its doors in November, Rohani's textiles combine with a selection of antiques, furniture and art collected from her overseas travels.

Everything carried in the store is socially conscious, Rohani said.

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"I've always been drawn to luxurious and beautiful pieces, and I really believe that true luxury is being surrounded by anything handmade and natural," Rohani said in her shop. "I like taking things that are old and layered with the new. There's a meaningful intersection when that happens."

A handwoven, framed, vintage textile made by the Yoruba people of Nigeria dates to the sort of garments worn in the early to mid-1900s.

Indigo- and cream-striped pillows covered in graphic prints made by a local artisan also make an appearance. Handcrafted rugs made in India accent the flooring. And an antique, Spanish-style sideboard costing $3,250 lends an aura of Old World charm.

Rohani visited India in February. A guide told her of a family who had been weaving textiles for generations in Jaipur.

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She learned that the family, who lived 45-minutes from the city, didn't get paid for their craftsmanship until harvest and often didn't have enough money to send the children to school. So they decided to bring the manufacturing back to the remote community so the women could have jobs and fair pay.

The rugs in Laguna Mercantile hail from that community.

"People want something that is of heirloom value," Rohani said. "We don't do trendy here."

To set the stage for artists' individual ideas, Rohani developed an artist-in-residence program with Laguna Beach artist Kate Buckley.

Buckley, a native of Kentucky who studied fine art and is an award-winning poet, began working on her new collection, "The Stuff of Seas and Stars," in the home decor showroom.

Her acrylics are on display and available for purchase. A portion of the sales benefit the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit group dedicated to protecting the world's oceans.

"The palette of Southern California has really informed my paintings," Buckley said, noting a canvas that was inspired by a tide pool. "I feel like when you get close to something, it becomes more of an impression. I want people to come to these paintings and bring a story."

Buckley said she enjoys painting in the creative space, since it is filled with natural light and she is surrounded by the canyons.

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The easygoing spirit of the oceanside lifestyle, Rohani said, inspires her collection.

Rohani is planning a buying trip in Europe to find more accessories, furniture and textiles. She'll also have textiles sourced in Africa and Asia.

When traveling to foreign countries, she tries to build relationships with the local artisans, helping support employment.

And she also likes sharing the story behind each home decor piece with her clients.

Take the framed vintage Yoruba textile. The piece, she said, showcases Yoruba women's contribution to the artistry. Even though the men do the weaving, the women assist by planting and harvesting cotton and dying the thread.

"These are things are gorgeous and will never go out of style," Rohani said. "It's unique because it has a history."

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IF YOU GO

What:  Art Show Open House: Kate Buckley's new collection "Sea and Stars"

When: Saturday, August 29, 4 p.m.-7 p.m.

Where: Laguna Mercantile, 813 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach

Information: (949) 680-7199 or visit lagunamercantile.com

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