When it comes to decor, many people are keen on heirlooms, antiques, and handcrafted objects because there’s often a deeper story behind the item or its maker that can elicit nostalgia, awe, or delight. That’s why Whitney Parshall chooses to offer a curated selection of artisan wares, historical antiques, and other one-of-a-kind finds at Opera House Co., a home goods and interior design shop in Athens that opened in early July.
“We’re a lifestyle brand for the storied home,” Parshall says. “We focus on objects that have a history, whether they’re vintage, antique, or handmade. They’re beautiful, wonderful, unique items that make me say, ‘This is amazing and I have to share its story.’”
Around the shop, informative signage accompanies pillows, dinnerware, furniture, art, and other small housewares hailing from both Hudson Valley and global purveyors. Among locally sourced items, you’ll find simple black-and-white pottery by Melanie Starr and fresh or dried flowers from Doodlebug Flower Farm—both located in Athens. “There wasn’t a flower shop in town, and I think fresh flowers are such a nice addition to any home, so we worked with a local organic farm to provide that option,” she says.
Parshall also carries uncommon goods by non-local independent artisans, like a woodworker from North Carolina who carves spoons by hand using wood from storm-felled trees, and Queens-based upcyclers Casa Grace who work with Fair Trade artisans in Colombia to reimagine heirloom quilts into distinctive jackets and throw pillows.
Interior design consultations are also offered in-store. While Parshall says her heart is in uncommon design choices with a historical nod and an emphasis on “color, texture, and pattern with a little more color, texture, and pattern thrown on top,” she has a broad design and antiques background. That includes an 11-year run working in television, during which she was a casting director and producer for the History Channel’s hit show “Pawn Stars.” At that time, interior design was her side hustle, but as she began feeling burnt out from the TV industry, she sought to pursue her passion full time. She became a stylist for Anthropologie for three years, “and I learned a lot, but there was still so much more I wanted to do,” she says. “My current brand is similar to Anthropologie’s offerings, but with more of a historical context, and without mass-produced goods. We’re also a proper wallpaper shop, with a breadth of options, a large collection of tactile books, and consultations or design work by appointment.”
Even the building itself has its own distinctive story. Parshall and her husband, Isaak James, were weekend warriors-turned-homeowners who collaborated on restoring old houses. As Parshall scouted for the ideal space to open a design shop of her own, her husband suggested a 1700s Dutch barn on property they owned. “The barn is old enough to predate the village incorporation,” she explains, “and the space just really lent itself to my brand. It needed a lot of work, but it was worth the time to restore.”
After a year of renovations, she opened the boutique with a name reverent of another aspect of Hudson Valley history: the region’s myriad opera houses that are long-shuttered but still standing. “I’ve been enchanted by the old opera houses of the river towns,” she explains. “In the late 19th-to-early 20th centuries, they were the heart of communities. People were facing such difficult times, yet they still built these magnificent structures. The opera houses gave people a reason to put on their pearls and meet for community to enjoy art, culture, music, and stories.”
And that ethos is part of how she wants to have her shop seen: an ever-evolving space, welcoming to all, where the community can enjoy whimsical, rare, and antique additions to the home—or simply gather. “I’m constantly refreshing the space and I want people to feel invited, whether they’re looking for a gift, for something special for their home, or even if they just want to browse the new items and displays because they see us as a place to visit and enjoy,” she says. “I love when I see someone read our signage and have that little flicker in their eye because they learned something or felt enchanted by an item. Hopefully, either way, you’ll leave with a new story.”