By Emma Castleberry | Photos by Katie shaw
Porter & Prince Luxuries and Linens, a retail and design store in Biltmore Village, has accumulated quite a list of accolades in its 21-year history. Just last year, the Huffington Post listed Porter & Prince as “Best Place to Shop in Asheville.” In 2006, Cottage Living named the store as one of the top 100 in the US. Over the years, Porter & Prince has received recognition from other prominent shelter magazines, including Southern Living and Lucky.
Owner Debra Slosman, who also offers her services as an interior designer, worked for many years as an account executive for a large fashion jewelry wholesaler before opening Porter & Prince in 1996. As account executive, Slosman operated the accounts for department stores, large specialty stores and major military bases for eight different brands and supervised a team of dozens of merchandisers across four states. This grueling career education helped Slosman form a vision of what she wanted her store to be when the dream came to fruition. “Having grown up with three brothers, hunting, fishing and driving tractors on my grandparents’ farm, it was easy to appreciate things designed for one’s girly side,” she says.
The name Porter & Prince is a combination of Slosman’s maiden name, Prince, and a nod to her husband’s support and encouragement. The ‘Porter’ portion of the name refers to a comment made by a marketing representative at Slosman’s first market. “She remarked that she thought I was destined to succeed, as I was wise enough to bring along a porter,” Slosman says. She was referring to Slosman’s husband, who was diligently “hunting, gathering, toting and fetching” on her behalf.
Stepping into Porter & Prince provides a sense of being transported, as any well-curated space will do. But what makes Porter & Prince so special is the place one is transported to: a place of dreams. “I want the place to feel sometimes glamorous and sometimes serene,” says Slosman. “Quality, beauty, being unique, pampering, impossibly soft and having a story to tell—these are the top criteria for merchandise in Porter & Prince. I want customers to leave us feeling their blood pressure lowered and their creative minds inspired.”
Slosman’s store has inspired many creative minds and also gained her many interior design clients. Sasha Osada entered Porter & Prince in 2005 on the hunt for inspiration. “I struck up a conversation with the owner, Debra, about design possibilities and we just clicked,” Osada says. “I knew then that I wanted to work with her on a project. I am a jewelery designer and recognize great talent when I see it. My husband is a custom, luxury home builder in the community and recognized her talent as well.” The opportunity for Osada and Slosman to work together arose in 2015 when the Osadas completed a full remodel of their personal home in Biltmore Lake. “During the project, she took into consideration our specific lifestyle needs,” says Osada. “She helped us bring our dream to life with classic design choices and finishes that created pizzazz. We are still thrilled with the outcome to this day.”
Slosman’s inspirations are many, from the flowers, beaches, stones and feathers of the great outdoors to the “ancient, stark and opulent” things one can discover while traveling. She identifies designers Bobby McAlpine, John Saladino, Windsor Smith and Susan Ferrier as her influences. But above all, Slosman says her choices are client-driven—even when this means shirking common expecations for design. “My concept of space design is absolutely personal,” she says. “We are most comfortable in spaces that reflect us by looking like how we feel inside. I advocate bending design rules to the arc of the homeowner’s personality. How a space feels is so much more important than whether or not design rules are followed.”
Slosman encourages clients to find ways to be spontaneous and unpredictable in their design choices. “Though those particular terms seem at odds with the vast amount of planning and coordination required for interior design projects, they actually are the origins of individuality and the interesting spark in a newly created space,” she says. This might mean the careful placement of a vintage rainbow light spectrometer in a newly designed room, or fashioning a drapery panel from a grandmother’s threadbare Aubusson rug, or hanging a reclaimed scoreboard as art in an office cafeteria: all design choices Slossman has facilitated. “Having grown up in the South, I’ve been influenced by the confidence southerners have of embracing what might be eccentric,” she says. “That willingness has become a welcome dose of the unexpected in the spaces I create.”
While balancing a retail location and an interior design business is no easy feat, Slosman has surrounded herself with a highly capable team to make it all possible. “They are knowledgeable and also great communicators,” she says. “They free me to be a strong creative influence.” Twenty-one years of business has not come without hardship, she adds. “We survived major flooding and economic downturn by learning to adjust to the changes that came our way, adapting to what was needed by our clients,” she says. “We have proudly reflected our own point of view, different from that of other stores, for these many years and are so grateful to our community and the trade for embracing us.”
Just as it is the personal and individual that informs Slosman’s design philosophy, it is the personal and individual relationships she has built in her long, successful career that make each day a new adventure. “The friendships I’ve had the opportunity to make with clients are precious and dear to me,” she says. “I love helping clients find what makes them happiest and being an emissary to their missions of creating serenity and beauty in their lives. I love my community.”
For more information about Porter & Prince or Slosman’s design services, visit porterandprince.com.