Umei Boutique Brings Japanese Style to the North Loop

It’s a well-known fact that Minnesota is full of fans of minimalist, contemporary Scandinavian design. But lesser-known are the similarities between Scandinavian and Japanese design. Despite the differences in their cultures and locales, these interior designs have much in common, and trend forecasters have even given this blended style a name: Japandi. Both styles are minimalist, emphasizing functionality and simplicity, with clean lines, raw textures, and timeless elegance.

So Scandinavian design fans would be smart to check out Ūmei Boutique, a new Minneapolis retailer that combines minimalist Japanese style with an eclectic, global vibe. Tucked away on an unassuming corner of North 5th Street in the North Loop, the boutique stocks a mix of Japanese-made goods alongside other home products culled from all over the globe as well as several from Minnesota makers with an emphasis on handcrafted, minimalist design.

Ūmei—pronounced “you-may” and phonetic for “dream” in Japanese—was founded by Susan Brouillette, a Mattel Inc. retail development executive whose job led her to spend a lot of time in Japan. She would bring home little dishes and other treasures from her travels, and got hooked. “Opening this place is a dream for me,” she says. “It comes my love of Japan with my passion for home and design.” (Brouillette and her husband also have a business designing and rehabbing homes.)

Much of Ūmei’s selection consists of ceramic tableware and vessels, as well as linen towels and napkins in a traditional Japanese blue-and-white palette, including a series of rice bowls hand-painted with animals to represent the zodiac signs of the Chinese lunar calendar. The store also carries Japanese throw pillows made from cruelty-free silk and a selection of modern brass home objects from ancient Japanese brass foundry, Futagami, including shelf brackets and wood-and-brass clothes hangers.

The selection is rounded out by goods culled from all over the world, including a collection of rainbow-hued row of glasses from Italy and silk velvet pillows from Turkey, add a colorful, contemporary punch. “I think they make good friends with the clean lines of the Japanese pieces,” notes Brouillette. “The look is global but still strongly Japanese.”

Among the store’s local makers include Michele and Eric Vevang’s hand-carved wood bowls and Liz Pechacek Ceramics’ minimalist, striped ceramic vessels, which evoke the Fog Linen striped towels that hang nearby.

This weekend, Ūmei joins forces with neighboring storefronts, Spring Finn & Co. and Veronique Wantz Gallery, for a combined holiday event featuring maker pop-ups, wine, and live jazz. Also Wednesdays through Sundays this month through December 22, Spring Finn & Co. is hosting a month-long winter bazaar featuring hand-picked artisan finds from designer Talin Spring’s travels.

North 5th Street Holiday Celebration: Friday, Dec. 8 from 3–8 p.m. & Saturday, Dec. 9 from noon–7 p.m. @ 903 N. 5th St., 901 N. 5th St., & 875 N. 5th St., Minneapolis

Ūmei Boutique is now open at 903 N. 5th St., Minneapolis. Hours: Wednesday from 11 a.m.–7 p.m., Thursday–Saturday from noon–7 p.m., Sunday from noon–4 p.m. (closed Monday & Tuesday)