Tucked in beside the boutiques of Austin’s Second Street District, Mercury Design Studio’s unique finds from all over the world make a bold statement among a throng of shoppers. Intricately designed pieces of art, clothing and furniture are dynamically presented and worldly fashion statements line not only the displays, but the walls of the boutique. Those in search of an interesting, almost international shopping experience will find themselves standing among personally-sourced zebra taxidermy and an Italian cosmetics line whose formula dates back hundreds of years.
By Nikki LaSalla
Photos by Kristin Evans
Store owner Steve Shuck created Mercury to incorporate history from all places into Austin’s modern setting. For example, the store has “weird” pieces, like an old-fashioned soap vending machine stored in the back, mixed with sleek agate slabs and the popular stationery sets named “f*king-fan-tastic." Shuck also owns STAG Provisions, a men’s boutique on South Congress, which allows him to source from markets in New York and Dallas. He is constantly looking for pieces not just from the United States but also from around the Mediterranean and Africa to make his store distinctive.
Shuck’s distinct taste and personality make a statement in the form of this boutique. Long-time customer Emily says she continues to come back to the store because it “feels really artistic and unique.” Shoppers come from all over the world to see the antiquities sourced by Shuck and other members of the Mercury team. These treasures are not, as their website says, ones with a “fussy pedigreed history,” but rather pieces that actually give the “signs of a life loved.” “We’re kind of like [Shuck’s] baby project,” store co-manager Libby Swanner says. “He brings all of the cool stuff that he likes personally. This store really reflects who he is.”
While many pieces are from outside of Texas, their art collection is primarily sourced from different estate sales statewide. “We won’t necessarily know a backstory on the artist, but that’s the fun part,” says Swanner. “You can guess when it was made from looking at it and knowing about the art, but each piece has a little bit of mystique.” While Swanner has yet to go on an expedition, sales associate Mandy Bay has been involved in collecting art pieces for the store. She says that since she studied textile design, she felt she could really pick art pieces that mirrored the worldly textiles already in the store. She recommend pieces of art to Shuck and other employees that she felt would fit, what she called, the “world traveler” vibe of the store. Swanner and Bay both agree, however, that the process is collaborative. Shuck has a lot of say over what they stock, but the managers and workers also have say in how their personality is reflected in those products.
The shop itself has been around for almost 11 years and has changed locations once, while the personality of the shop has also changed over the years. "[The store] got a little bit edgier than before once we moved. We used to be a little bit more retro, and even glam,” Bay says. Mercury merged with Blackmail, another boutique that Shuck used to source items for, and since then has taken on a bit of a darker vibe. Ox skulls and rats sit on black and gold bookshelf in the front of the store, along with taxidermy, real and fake, that lines the walls. One of the most coveted pieces in the store is a Burchell’s Zebra head, priced at $4,000. While it shows the quality of the pieces they sell, it also shows the diversity of the store’s stock. “It’s different. You see new artifacts that draw you," Vanessa, a customer who spotted the store from across the street, says.
While the store front falls in line next to other popular boutiques on 2nd street, the inside of the store is constantly changing. The shop’s interior fluctuates based on the decisions of the employees and fan favorites. For example, the Santa Maria Novella bath and body care line is continually restocked for loyal customers. The bath and body line is sourced straight from a monastery in Italy and some of the formulas haven’t been changed since the 1600s. Another main attraction is the customer attention-catching jewelry. Gold necklaces accented with pops of colorful beads and dangling, jewel earrings are featured on a table in the middle of the store. Sarah, a first-time customer from out of town, says that while the storefront drew her in, the eclectic jewelry was what kept her in the store.
Mercury Design Studio is a thriving and eclectic experience. More than just another Second Street boutique, Mercury presents a carefully put-together story with each piece trying to strike the heart of its viewer. From animal skulls on square-shaped bookcases, to a jewelry display showcasing one-of-a-kind pieces, Mercury creates a hip, world-traveler vibe. “We have a phrase that we like to share with people,” says Swanner. “Rediscover something old while uncovering something new."