Betty Cooke: Baltimore Stylemaker and the Heart of Cross Keys

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Trends may come and go, but style lasts forever. Case in point: Betty Cooke, owner of The Store Ltd. For over 50 years, she’s been one of Baltimore’s most interesting – and consistent – tastemakers.

Cooke and her husband, the late Bill Steinmetz, opened The Store Ltd. In Cross Keys in 1965. The city and the world have changed dramatically since then, but the couple’s preferred aesthetic style – driven by the clean lines and bold angles associated with midcentury modern – remains as relevant as ever.

The shop is an eclectic combination of things that interest Cooke. “We started this as a good design store,” she says. “Architectural and design-oriented.”

At The Store, “good design” is what ties together an otherwise eclectic combination of goods, including everything from home accessories to toys and jewelry, some of which was made by Cooke herself. A jewelry maker since the 1940s; today, Cooke is held in high esteem for her striking modernist designs.

“Men like the jewelry because it’s really clean cut and simple and strong,” she says. “Now I have young people come in because it’s so modern and contemporary – cool and classic at the same time.”

Cooke’s creations are strong examples of the midcentury aesthetic, a design style that originated years ago, but has boomed in popularity over the past decade and a half.

“Midcentury got a title in the past 10 years,” says Cooke. “When you were working, you didn’t realize you were part of a movement. You were just doing something. Then it becomes part of a movement, which is nice.”

She recalls designing showrooms and offices with pieces like Eames chairs and Noguchi lamps. “We were able to use all these new things that were great contemporary furniture. It’s exciting because at that time, it was very avant garde – and it’s still good.”

At the retail level, Cooke has been a strong proponent of modern midcentury design since the opening of The Store. “We have some things at The Store that we’ve always carried,” she says. “The Aalto vase – from an architect who designed a line of glass made in Finland. We had those in the ‘60s when we started and we keep carrying it because it’s a symbol of a good design piece that is forever good. Those pieces are interesting.”

In terms of personal style, Cooke appreciates invididuality. “You develop personal style because you find things that feel good. You look good or funky or extravagant and it’s what you’re comfortable with and proud to walk out in,” she says. “Style is something individual and exciting and you notice it.”

Her style, which comes through in her jewelry, is innate.

“It’s not something you learn all the time,” she says. “It’s just the way you handle metal or clay. It feels like it should look like this or do this.”

Though the shop’s merchandise is all grounded in the principles of good design, the style of different pieces varies. Some items, like the Aalto vase, are classics that have been available for decades, but The Store’s collection of merchandise is constantly evolving.

“We’re always getting different things in,” says Cooke. “Exciting surprises – anything we think is interesting, design-wise.”

That’s good news for customers, some of whom have been visiting the shop for years.

“We have a certain clientele that has stayed with us all these years,” says Cooke. “We’re now in the fourth generation of people that shop here.”

The customers are what “make the shop” says Cooke; they also make creating her own jewelry an immensely satisfying pursuit. “It’s fun to work with people and make something for them,” she says.

1 COMMENT

  1. Great article about Betty and her unquestionable place in the history of great design and style. You did, however, neglect to mention that The Store Ltd also has sold women’s clothing and accessories for decades and Betty has managed to keep the same ethic and sense of iconic style present in this section of the store.

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