The average person might look at a tree and see a place to get some shade. Mitchell Siegel, on the other hand, ponders how he can turn it into a functional piece of art for the home.
An avid traveler, Siegel (pictured above) journeys far and wide to places such as Thailand, Brazil and the Philippines to collect natural materials for distinct designs, which he sells at his longstanding store in Greenwich, Connecticut. In January, he opened a second location on Fifth Avenue South in Naples.
In February, national home goods retailer Pier 1 filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, with plans to close up to 450 of its stores. Many factors could be involved, of course, but if the news says anything about the state of the home goods industry, it’s that people are inching away from mass-produced decor.
“I think what’s happened in the whole world of retail is that it’s all been consumed by monsters, and people are sick of the same,” Siegel says. “If they buy a piece from me, they buy the one and only production.” Siegel also said people today want more nature in their homes, and judging by Cocoon’s busy Naples crowd, he’s right.
“The store on a bad day gets 200 people, and that can be a Monday,” Siegel says. Customers can admire live-edge tables and other natural creations in the 2,300-square-foot Fifth Avenue South showroom. They can buy those tables on the spot, or work with Cocoon’s craftspeople for a custom-made piece.
The clients also get to learn how some slab of petrified wood ended up as their new dining table. There’s a lot that goes into transforming the exotic materials Siegel sources into furniture fit for Naples’ discerning buyers. For Siegel, that sometimes starts with a long quest to find the right earthy elements.
“I don’t go to the secondary source; I go to the primary source – if it takes me 18 hours in a car ride or no toilets for 10 hours to get to a place,” he says. “My ability to source is like no one else.”
Using an exclusive license, Siegel imports the rare materials he finds to his Greenwich workshop, where he and his small team of craftspeople work them into furniture and home accessories that are safe, durable and incredibly refined.
“We’re not carpenters,” Siegel says. “The woodworkers I have are artists, and we make art. We have the capabilities to enhance what nature creates.”
It took a long time to construct a team of that caliber, Siegel said, so for now, most of Naples’ showroom supply will come from Greenwich, rather than opening a second workshop locally.
“The craftspeople I have in the Greenwich workroom would be very hard to replace. It’s taken years to put together the staff,” Siegel says.
However, he hints at expanding Cocoon throughout Florida in the future, and keeping an open mind is what brought Siegel to Naples in the first place. Siegel didn’t plan to open a second store here, but his longtime friend and financial backer, who he declines to name, urged him to set up shop in sunny Southwest Florida, where his friend has done business.
“He drove me around, and all I saw were cranes, dump trucks and landscapers,” Siegel says. “Naples is in a very big growth period.”
Still, he wasn’t sure how Naples’ demographic would respond to his work.
“In Greenwich, our customer is considerably younger—35 to 42 years old. My concern in Naples was that people are older, and as you age, you want to get rid of stuff, not buy new stuff,” Siegel says. “But I’m finding it’s exactly the opposite. My things are so overwhelming [to customers], even if they didn’t plan on buying anything, they do.”
As it turns out, the combination of rare materials and refined design that has led celebrities, finance moguls and even presidents to purchase Siegel’s work is favored here, too.
This lets Siegel continue his quest to obscure locales, searching both land and sea for the right materials to then create what mass retailers just can’t duplicate.
“I’ve said to people that if I were to fall over at this moment, don’t feel bad,” he says. “Very few people can say they can’t wait to go to work every day and love every second of it. There’s been nothing I’ve missed.”