Nicki Clendening was lucky enough to have one of those grandmothers. You know: curious, creative, a midcentury woman of the world who charged at life—even its great mysteries and obstacles—with an infectious certitude. Between stints abroad (Saudi Arabia, China, Belgium, Great Britain) she and her engineer husband returned to an upland South Carolina farm lugging Turkish tin, hand-woven rugs, a grove of shepherd staffs, and other curiosities. Raised in a separate house on the same farm, Nicki, the oldest of five children, worshipped her grandmother. “Mimi spawned my early love of collecting bits and bobs found in nature,” says Clendening, the owner of the interiors firm Scout Designs. “She nicknamed me Eagle Eye, because I was always finding arrowheads and Civil War relics in the freshly plowed fields.”
Now Clendening is wielding that knack in a new venture, scouring markets around the world for one-of-a-kind jewelry, art, decor, and clothing to sell on Beetle, the boutique e-commerce site she launched in June. Her digital bazaar offers an intimate shopping experience—each piece is rare and fascinating, and the tightly shot images seem to whisper to you. When Clendening says, “These are all things I love, that I live with or wear,” you believe her.
The idea for Beetle came to her, in fact, after the umpteenth time someone asked where she found the vintage jacket or caftan or ring she happened to be wearing. The name honors both the scarab—her grandmother’s travels sparked her ancient-Egypt obsession—and the june bug, her nod to summer days spent in the South.
The designer still loves the outdoors—she forages in Central Park—and adores nature-inspired objets d’art. Recent Beetle offerings include a serpentine diamond-encrusted gold ring from Venice, an antique staghorn wine opener, and a Scottish boar-tusk pin. She features fifty or sixty items at a time, and replenishes the site’s collection every few months with new discoveries, some from such classic Southern hunting grounds as Atlanta’s Scott Antique Markets and Texas’s Round Top Antiques Fair. The last time she made the latter trip, she came away with mid-twentieth-century abstract art and a stunning black lava ring.
For the upcoming holiday season, Clendening will add treasures from Europe; there, she searched brocantes in France’s Charente area, and the antiques market of Piazzola sul Brenta, in northern Italy, where sellers hawking religious relics, jewelry, glassware, and more take over the entire city. The European markets, like Round Top, can be massive. Clendening’s sharp eye helps, but the designer also draws on bargaining skills she picked up, naturally, from her grandmother. “Mimi was persuasive,” Clendening says. “She once convinced a shepherd in the Scottish Highlands to sell her the bell off his cow’s neck.”