If you have ever experienced the frustration that comes along with trying to apply wallpaper so it doesn’t look like a failed childhood art project, then the goods curated by the new Fairfax City-based Curio by Fifth & Main will feel like gifts from the decor gods—or at least from co-creators Heather Shaw Menis and her husband, Dennis.
The couple, who launched the company in November, had started making their own wall coverings after having a negative experience with the traditional paper. “We paid someone to put it up in one of our rooms, and I wasn’t happy with it,” says Heather, a luxury goods publicist with a longtime dream of opening a retail business. (Dennis works in the printing industry.) “It has to be done perfectly, and it was a huge waste of money.”
Their sustainable, small-batch selections solve that problem. The textured peel-and-stick paper is easy to put on (and change frequently, as Heather likes to do in her own home) and is printed with HP latex ink. It contains no hazardous air pollutants, and it’s the only ink that’s certified safe for hospitals, nurseries and for people with asthma. There’s a petite-but-growing range of patterns: The duo sources the commercial rights to the papers and, with the help of Heather’s designer, Maia Gantcheva of Tam + Flo, tweaks the look till it fits their aesthetic. Heather says she’s particularly proud of the playful Over the Rainbow iteration, with its stucco-like appearance. Cream-colored florals decorate a different covering, while cranes gracefully stretch their wings on another. She also works with interior designer Jill Switzer, who can advise customers on wallpaper selection.
The whimsical but sophisticated mix is mirrored throughout the rest of Curio’s thoughtfully curated, ethically sourced decor, self-care products and accessories. “These everyday delights should feel luxurious,” Heather says. “I am avidly against buying something off Amazon because it’ll fit my needs right now but then throwing it out in a few years. I’d rather search for months until I find exactly what I want.”
It’s a breath of fresh air at a time when mass-delivery services have all but taken over our shopping habits. It’s also an amalgamation of everything Heather loves. Born in Norfolk, the self-described Army brat and her family lived in Panama, Alabama, Virginia and all over Maryland. She attended the University of Maryland, where she studied journalism, was an environmental studies scholar and met Dennis. Gigs in environmental affairs and luxury lifestyle PR and hospitality followed; a job as marketing director for Saks Fifth Avenue at Tysons brought the couple to NoVA, where they live with their son, Max, and dog, Winnie Pooh. She eventually went out on her own with Fifth & Main PR and has been at it since 2014—until the pandemic ground things to a near halt. Yet the slowdown allowed her to focus on her other dream.
Visit Curio’s online shop and you’ll find ceramic candleholders from DC-based Wilo Studio, towels from aptly named Towl (a former client) and alphabet silk scarves from Jessica Russell Flint. They’re little gifts for you and your friends, though Menis says she’s terrible at buying presents for people. She doesn’t think she’s much of a designer, either, though we’d disagree—as would her burgeoning clientele. While most of her customers have been local thus far, she’s expanding her reach. Also on her wish list is doing regional, in-person pop-ups at brick-and-mortar shops, when COVID allows. Most recently, Curio was a small part of a virtual third-anniversary soiree for High Side craft beer bar—one of Heather and Dennis’s favorite spots when they’re not on the job.
So, what’s it like working together? Fairly easy, says Heather. They don’t talk much during the day—she has her headphones on, and he’s upstairs in his office. “Sometimes I want something done right now, and he’s got another job to worry about. But all in all, it’s been pretty good.” Perhaps it’s because of their shared belief in what Curio offers. “We’re bringing items that surprise and delight,” Heather says. What could be better than that? // curiobyfifthandmain.com
This story originally ran in our April issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to our monthly magazine.