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G FORCE | STEFANE BARBEAU

Emptying Vessel

Though Stefane Barbeau (left) and Duane Smith are closing Vessel, they’ll still utilize the space, and conduct their design work. “That’s when the magic happens,’’ Barbeau says. Though Stefane Barbeau (left) and Duane Smith are closing Vessel, they’ll still utilize the space, and conduct their design work. “That’s when the magic happens,’’ Barbeau says. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)
By Christopher Muther
Globe Staff / May 20, 2010

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Bargain hunters have descended upon Vessel, the housewares and furniture store with a strong slant toward modern design, as the store slashes prices before its May 29 closing. But just because nearly everything in the store is 70 percent off does not mean that its owners, Stefane Barbeau and Duane Smith, are leaving the design world, or even vacating the space at 125 Kingston St. The two men, who are best known for designing Candela rechargeable lights, will continue with product design, and explore new options for the space. We recently caught up with Barbeau to talk about the closing (and yes, the entire store is still on sale).

Q. Why did you decide to close the store?

A. It was mostly a personal decision. We made it through the economic crisis, and we’re proud to say that we did. But we’re both product designers, so the retail was a good experiment. But what the crisis did, as it probably did for many people, was it really made us think hard about what we wanted to do, and retail is not one of them. It was great to connect directly with consumers, but it’s time to move on to other things.

Q. What originally motivated you to open the store? You were probably already pretty busy with product design.

A. When we started doing the retail, it started online. The great thing about that model is that if you’re producing your own products and selling them yourself, then your margin is much higher. We had our studio here, so we figured we would open a store where people could experience the products firsthand. Then we started carrying other people’s merchandise to round out the offerings, because obviously we didn’t have sofas in our line.

Q. Now that you are closing the store, what will happen with the space?

A. We’re going to be having some events and some exhibitions. We’re connecting with colleagues in the design industry and possibly sharing the space with them for events with them. I can’t say any names yet because it’s not confirmed, but it’s people who you probably know.

Q. But you’re not giving up the design side of the business at all?

A. That’s where Duane and I work best together. That’s when the magic happens, so we’re going to continue to do that.

Q. In the time that you and Duane have lived in Boston, has Boston become more of a design savvy city?

A. Totally. It has changed drastically. We moved here in 1997, and at the time the exposure that we had to design was mostly institutional and industrial design. But I think there has been a re-emergence of more lifestyle-oriented design work happening.

Christopher Muther can be reached at muther@globe.com.