Article written by Kim Rodriguez, originally published in Coral Gables Magazine.
For Owner Elena Stele, Everything Must Be Handmade by Indigenous Artisans
The epiphany hit her in Mexico. It was during the early days of the pandemic, and Elena Stele had spirited her two children to Tulum for a month-long escape to a simpler life. There, in the former coastal Mayan enclave, she fell in love – not just with the rustic yet sophisticated design she found there, but with the way every- thing was being reused, recycled, and repurposed in creative ways. “Necessity is the mother of invention at its full force,” says Stele, as is the belief that we can create beautiful things while saving precious resources.
Upon returning to Miami, Stele hoped to find similar items here to buy for her home, but found nothing. That’s when the idea of Ben & Giules was born. “I instantly knew that I wanted to bring these unique handmade products home and make them accessible to other like-minded people,” she says. Starting with a store on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach, this past December she opened her second boutique in Coral Gables, a pop-up on Miracle Mile.
I was excited to visit this new addition to The Mile, simply because we don’t have another store quite like it in The City Beautiful. Ben & Giules, named after Stele’s two sons, is filled with handmade and sustainable home décor, apparel, and textiles all sourced from artisans around the globe.
Stele, of Ukrainian descent, grew up in Germany but has called Miami home for many years. She worked in corporate America but her first love was always design and architecture. So, a few years ago she decided to pursue her dream and attend UM for Interior Design. Not sure exactly how and where to start in the field, she continued to work in her “day job” until the pandemic hit and she headed for the Yucatan.
When you walk into B&G you will feel like you’re in a small boutique on vacation. The scents are earthy, and the natural, organic feeling is tangible, from the hammocks hanging on the walls, to the macrame in the window, to the thatched lighting fixtures throughout. Stele has a designer’s eye not just for the pieces but how they are displayed. And everything in the store is made of recycled materials or reused thrift shop finds.
Stele loves to educate her customers (if they’re interested) on the unique pieces in her store, where they came from, and what their purchase means to the artisans and towns where they were made. At Ben & Giules, customers will find carefully curated artisanal, hand- made, and sustainable home décor: textiles for bed covers and runners, pareos, napkins, ham- mocks, pottery, apparel, jewelry, and fabulous hats. All are made by hand around the world as well as locally. Her prices range from $8 for sage to $250 for a dress or bedspread.
“Our focus is to establish ourselves among existing businesses who cater to the environmentally conscious and holistic… mindfully creating sustainable habits to support the fight against climate change,” says Stele. “I believed that an expansion into Coral Gables was going be a welcoming contribution to Miracle Mile’s shopping diversity.”