Brian Cousins and Hicham Benmira are the proprietors of Darr, a found-objects and furniture shop, and Hollander & Lexer, a clothing boutique, in Brooklyn. The two businesses are situated side-by-side within a circa 1903 building in Williamsburg, and on a recent Saturday I stumbled in and felt as if I'd entered another world. The pair answered some of my questions too.
You're the proprietors of the clothing shops Hollander & Lexer and the furniture and accessories shop Darr. Which is the harder of the two businesses to operate?
Both of the shops are challenging in their own way. Hollander & Lexer requires a lot of scheduling and organization. Darr calls for a lot of personal attention to every piece, from finding objects that fit our aesthetic to arranging how it fits in the store.
The things in Darr are mostly found objects. Where do you scout for your finds?
We have a van and we drive all over the country. We have so much fun doing it.
What is your favorite item right now?
Katie, our assistant in the Williamsburg shop.
Your new shops, side by side, recently opened in Williamsburg. They're stunning. How did you find the location and what did you do to the space to make it your own?
Our friend John Patrick from Organic called us up really early one morning going on and on about this space that would be great for us, and the rest is history. The spaces have had lots of different tenants over the years, and we wanted to get it back to what it looked like decades ago.
How old is the building?
I believe it dates from 1903.
The metal walls in Hollander & Lexer are stunning. What did you do to achieve that effect?
The walls and ceiling are covered in pressed tin, with several different patterns on the walls. We had never seen a room with tin covering all of the walls and the ceiling. They were original to the building. All the tin was covered in layers and layers of white paint; sheetrock walls had been added too. After removing the sheetrock (we weren't sure what we would find behind them) we had to Soda-Blast the tin to remove the paint. Sandblasting would have been too abrasive. We hand-finished the walls by adding different pigments and textures, and worked our magic.
And what did you do to the walls in Darr?
The walls in Darr are tin plate and wood paneling. All the wood, in both stores, was stripped to remove most of the paint. Again we added pigmentation and texture to build the patina.
How did you light the space?
Lighting the space was indeed a challenge. We designed our own ceiling lamp fixtures from scratch. We wanted fluorescent lighting, but then we had to find a way to soften the light to make it more attractive. We also wanted to reinforce the industrial/ historical connections with the area, and that influenced the overall shape and proportion of the lamps.
We live here and we don’t like to take the subway, so we just walk.
You design your own eponymous clothing line in addition to stocking others. How do you choose what labels to carry in your shop?
They happen to be our friends and they’re talented, so why not.
Do the same people who wear your clothes shop Darr too?
Yes, they do. They are of the same species.
How did you come up with the names for both shops?
Darr means "home" in Arabic, and Hollander and Lexer are two plastic surgeons from the early 1900s.
Where do you find your inspiration?
In our heads. Eventually we have to let it out, et voilà—the shops.