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Profile of:“In Twe-k, I finally found the ideal outlet for a quartet of my favorite passions - home design, accessorizing, travel and entertaining ”
By John L. Seitz – Courier Managing Editor
In 1966, the Academy Awards’ Oscar as best picture of the year went to A Man for All Seasons. Now, getting set to enter 2005, a youthful Beverly Hills lifestyle expert could aptly be nicknamed: “a gal for all reasons”.
Tara Lynne Riceberg is that and so much more. This dynamic part-marathoner, part-world traveler and part-homebody has rolled out an innovative new design and personal service concept which she calls Twe-k (pronounced tweak). And, for good measure, she has taken it a step further by becoming one of only two outside companies (the other being Louis Vuitton) to be granted a leased space arrangement in Saks Fifth Avenue on Wilshire Blvd. where she debuted the Twe-k Bute-k for the current shopping season.
“In Twe-k, I finally found the ideal outlet for a quartet of my favorite passions – home design, accessorizing, travel and entertaining,” she said. “We aim to achieve big results for our clients from making just a few small adjustments to their present home environment. Adding some simple style tips needn’t be either excessive nor expensive.
“When you watch TV home improvement shows and then question how to redecorate your own place on a dime, that’s where we come in – providing affordable and practical advice. It could be as easy as finding the right vase for a niche or selecting a paint color.”
As Riceberg explains it: “Think botox - not plastic surgery. So many people seem scared of the ‘money pit’ horror stories many decorators and building contractors are often accused of wreaking on their unsuspecting clients. Sometimes just rearranging the accessories or replacing cabinet hardware can give as good a result as demolishing an entire kitchen or tossing out your grandmother’s heirloom sofa.
“Painting, moving the furniture around, reinstalling artwork, adding new bedding, or editing objects such as too many picture frames are just some of the Twe-k’s tweaks.
“A home including the art and the other objects within it should reflect and compliment the lives of its inhabitants. As they evolve, so should their domestic accoutrements. I feel my clients can enhance their houses and lifestyles with accessories. It’s truly amazing what difference a few small changes can make.”
Twe-k has been called upon for a plethora of reasons. It was a mother wishing to spruce up her home for her daughter’s wedding; newlyweds needing assistance to combine their two households into one; and a fellow wanting his apartment to look “perfect” to impress his dates.
It was a couple with a newly purchased home with little or no money left to decorate, thus requiring furnishing in stages. It was a real estate agent attempting to improve her recent listing’s appeal before the caravan appeared en masse.
Another time, an actor had just sold his house but was in an interim rental before buying. He needed to pull together “the look” without having to make a major investment in what were, for him, temporary quarters. Twe-k brought the place alive with some plants and a few new picture frames.
Riceberg was well grounded in the basics of the design business from an early age, working and later managing Tesoro, the home design emporium owned by her mother. The store at Brighton Way and Canon Dr. (previously on Robertson Blvd. and later to be on Melrose Ave.) specialized in unique, handcrafted tabletop items from around the world. For a decade, she would showcase talented ceramic designers who often created stunning one-of-a-kind objects.
“I never got much pleasure selling dishes and bowls mass produced by the tens of thousands in China or Indonesia,” she stated. “I love supporting American craftsmen who bring such energy and initiative to their creations. Of course, my past experiences of traveling and living throughout Europe was a real eye-opener, too, as it gave me the opportunity to meet genuine artisans who take pride in old fashioned workmanship.”
The native of upstate New York left those snowy environs as a one-year old when the family resettled in Beverly Hills. Her Canadian-born father, Dr. Edward L. Riceberg, set up his internal medicine private practice in The City and joined the staff at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Her mother, Marlene, a former nurse from Georgia, not only spent time raising her daughter but owned and operated Tesoro. (The senior Ricebergs had met while both were stationed at a Fort Hood military hospital in 1967.)
“I obviously inherited the love of art and an artistic eye from my mother plus a knack for entertaining and throwing great parties,” Riceberg pointed out. “She wasn’t a ‘Southern belle’ from Savannah for nothing.”
Meanwhile, young Tara attended Lycee Francais de Los Angeles, Mirman School, and Westlake School For Girls before heading to Washington, DC, where she earned a BA degree in Spanish and print journalism at American University.
Returning to Beverly Hills and a temporary stint at Tesoro, her wanderlust nature led to take a buying trip to Europe on behalf of the store to visit some of its suppliers and replenish its specialized tabletop inventory. Once that was accomplished, however, she accepted an opportunity to join Young & Rubicam, the multi-national advertising agency, and set up shop in Prague.
With the end of the Cold War, the Czech Republic was undergoing extensive privatization of former state run properties. A cousin of her father, New York investment banker Mart Bakal and his company, Crimson Capital, were heavily involved with the government ministry in establishing capitalism and any type of private ownership there.
“You can imagine the shock in the lifestyle difference this Beverly Hills girl experienced when living in what was, in effect, a third world city,” said Riceberg. “The everyday amenities anyone would come to expect here were non-existent, and the food was so bad even McDonald’s had to stop serving breakfast there because the local eggs were not up to the company’s standard.
“The first thing I learned to say in the Czech tongue was: ‘do you have any cold Coca Cola?’ It was really something, but looking back now, living there for three years was probably one of the great learning experiences of my life.
“And besides my advertising work, I got to polish my entertaining skills by arranging receptions for Mart which often included interfacing with our US ambassador, Shirley Temple Black. I also acquired a deep appreciation of Czech glassmaking and visited a number of Eastern European artist studios to learn about their techniques.”
After leaving Prague, Riceberg lived life as a jet setter for a few months, shuttling back and forth among London, Milan, New York and Stockholm, before arriving back in Beverly Hills.
Though fun, it was not very fulfilling in the long run. By 1996, she had reached a major decision point: namely, what to do for the rest of her life? How about becoming a travel writer since she spoke a bit of Spanish, Swedish, German, Italian, French and Czech? Would it be law school, graduate school or back to Tesoro?
The answer for this cosmopolitan girl was to throw herself full bent into the family business. Her foreign experience and just the fact of being away from the 3,000-sq.ft. store had refreshed her. More thoroughly than ever before, she was happy retailing fine ceramics and tableware, as well as advising customers on home décor, gifts, and sophisticated entertaining – gratis, of course. There were eight employees and sales were excellent, but that was about to change.
Riceberg explains: “When you are in retailing, nothing ever stays the same. First of all, 9/11 occurred and every retailer in town got clobbered. Shortly, thereafter, the large parking lot adjacent to our store was torn up to make room for a new retail establishment, thereby eliminating any convenient parking for our customers virtually overnight.
“It became necessary to move and as heartwrenching the thought of taking Tesoro out of Beverly Hills seemed to be, we were unable to find appropriate space here. Eventually, we settled on the decision to set up a nearby boutique in the art district, adjacent to Pacific Design Center. At the beginning (2002), business was quite good as Tesoro enhanced its BH clientele by adding the Melrose ‘tres-chic’ crowd to its fan club.”
She continued: “However, our poor timing had trailed us to the new location. Pretty soon, the neighbors started construction on a new establishment. I soon discovered jackhammers and ceramics are not a match made in heaven as there was considerable breakage of our items.
“Though Tesoro continued to do well for awhile, this past New Year’s Day I decided to, as they say, ‘get out of Dodge’ and went on a holiday to Fiji. There, I had what I call my second ‘epiphany’. It was resolution time for some big decisions.”
And that was just what she made, deciding her creativity needed a focus beyond the walls of this single retail store. The second was to change her own career path from strictly retail into one with more of a personal service motif. The third was to create a unique business to utilize her myriad of talents and take advantage of the advice and house calls she had been making. The result was Twe-k.
Some marketing help was required to get this concept off the ground. While she was in New York attending the International Gift Show in August, the initial introduction of Twe-k came in the form of an announcement over a website called the Daily Candy.
“I immediately got 500 e-mails wanting information about the service (www.twe-k.com). It was truly astounding but I knew then I was on to something,” exclaimed Riceberg. Spending day and night at a Kinkos in Manhattan, she answered each inquiry and sent them a packet explaining what it was all about. When all was said and done, she turned 20 of these into actual paying clients by charging a small, upfront consultation fee to determine their needs, preferences and budgets.
After the 90-minute in-home visit, clients have the option of completing the projects themselves or hiring Twe-k at an hourly rate to do the legwork. The latter route would include presentation of fabric, painting, plant and furnishing ideas plus trips to wholesale resources through the final installation of all the new elements.
Riceberg states: “Advising clients is certainly not a new phenom for me as I ’ve been doing it throughout my life at Tesoro. However, making house calls is always an experience. I’ve been jumped on by Labradors and gone into Westside mansions having domestic help and found the beds unmade - in the middle of the afternoon. Talk about putting your ‘best’ foot forward!”
Though comfortable within the framework of any style, she describes her own particular taste as “fluid”, not being hemmed in by what’s “hot” when selecting art or furnishings, and making selections based on colors, textures, materials and artists techniques. She is drawn to pieces having the flexibility of working in different environments and prefers to use objects in unconventional ways such as silver icebuckets serving as wastebaskets.
Riceberg encourages her customers to start collecting anything from decanters to porcelain elephants. “It’s exciting to become an expert on something you love and to amass a collection. For instance, if you like mercury glass or match strikers, you’ve always got something to hunt down when you’re traveling.
“Your home fills with objects that are meaningful. Remember, it’s not about me or my particular likes and dislikes – it’s the client’s. I’m there as an entirely objective, new set of eyes, and to bring validation and, hopefully, taste to any project. At
Twe-k, we can make any decorative scheme work with positive warmth and energy.
“We’re starting to get repeat business which is really thrilling. We call these our ‘twe-kees’ as opposed to ‘trekees’ from Star Trek.”
Ever the marketer, Riceberg approached Tom Voltin, general manager of Saks Fifth Avenue, who embraced the idea of setting up a special boutique for the holiday shopping season at the driveway entrance at its Beverly Hills men’s store. Two weeks later, it was up and running.
As Riceberg put it: “The Twe-k Bute-k is all about pre-wrapped gifts, organized by price point. I kept visualizing those Mastercard TV commercials....’candle $30, pre-wrapped-priceless’. The beauty of all this is that customers are able to use the valet parking and their Saks charge cards as so many women are addicted to in order to receive the store’s frequent shopper points.
”After all my years in retail, I realized that for holiday shopping most people make lists and mark them up with price points. For instance, at Tesoro I would lead customers all around the store pointing to $50 gifts. At Twe-k Bute-k, I thought it would be a wonderful idea to have a shop where all the merchandise was displayed by price. In other words, you need a $30 gift - look here; a $100 gift - look there.
She also pointed out that a customer really doesn’t need much, if any, sales help while in the shop. Since everything is organized by price and wrapped, they can simply take the gifts off the wall.
Riceberg provides the inventory of candles, vases, cheese knives, photo albums, bowls, throws and other gifts with the mix including works by Michael Aram, Adam Aaronson, Carrol Boyes and others. It has also brought the Twe-k concept added exposure and led to invaluable mentions in Cosmopolitan and Los Angeles magazines.
She sends e-mails with her “Twe-k of the week” suggestion to a list of more than 1,000. Her lectures on tabletops at the Pacific Design Center plus appearances on NBC, Style and USA networks were especially productive in growing the business.
And now that Martha Stewart is currently ensconced in temporary living quarters, a member of the Beverly Hills agents’ community brought up the feasibility and possibility of packaging a weekly Twe-k TV show.
But whether she eventually becomes the “new Martha” as many of her admirers foresee or writes a book on Twe-k Tips, right now she is contented building her business, entertaining friends in her Beverly Hills home, running marathons, and traveling.
One thing for sure, Tara Riceberg is a young woman who has it altogether. Yet the question often arises as to whether this glamorous entrepreneur has time to have a current man in her life. “Absolutely,” she says, “his name is Domino and he’s the cutest dog you’ve ever seen.”
Domino is one lucky pup.
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