For most of us, stores are merely the fleeting destinations wherein we acquire our possessions, while homes are the more permanent spaces where we keep and lovingly display them. But for Jill Wenger, it’s the other way around: Ever since she moved to Seattle in 2001 and founded the cult boutique Totokaelo at just 26 years old, her store has been her material and spiritual base, while her living situation has remained mercurial. “I love change and generally don’t stay in any apartment or home longer than a year,” says the Texas native. Even as we interviewed her for this piece — which contains the first-ever published photos of one of her domestic interiors — she already had one foot out the door. Despite initially falling in love last May with her current apartment for its location — in Capitol Hill, three minutes away from Totokaelo — as well as its original hardwood floors and leaded-glass doors, Wenger is still in the midst of searching for something new.
At her store, on the other hand, the tremendous amount of effort and care she puts into sourcing the clothing, art, and objects she sells — not to mention the design she created for the space itself — has earned her a hallowed reputation among tastemakers around the world. From Morgan Peck ceramics to Margiela booties, the pieces she selects for Totokaelo, she says, “are the ones that are the most beautiful to me — I love the design, color, material, and I think they’re unique and pure. They were created because the artist had an idea and made it real because they felt it should exist.”
Yet these objects rarely come home with her. “I don’t own a ton of things,” she says. “I pick stuff up when I travel, some objects are from friends, and others I’ve brought home from the store, but I’m not super sentimental about them. The process of discovering an artist and bringing them to Totokaelo is more satisfying to me than something living on my shelf. The more I own, the less free I feel.”