Restoration Hardware–Budget Envy

It seems every other day I get another Restoration Hardware catalogue in the mail featuring some guy in blue jeans standing or kneeling in front of a cabinet or a table.  It’s making me crazy.  It’s not that I resent the attempt Restoration Hardware is making to transition from a retailer of mass produced, assembly lined products to one offering inovative items bench made by craftsman.  After all it is something we have been doing at British Cottage for over 25 years.   I just wish I had their budget!

But alas I don’t.  So I just had to make my own cover,  one featuring Keith as the cool European guy in old blue jeans and tell the British Cottage story…

   Keith Nelson
The US & the UK
In the mid-eighties Keith was traveling around England buying antique pine furniture to sell in our Red Bank, New Jersey store when he stopped at Anthony Clark’s small shop in Ringwood, a small village just outside the New Forest.  When he saw the farmhouse tables Anthony was making out of old pine floorboards, he bought the lot and immediately put in an order for 10 more.
Not long after that Keith and Paul Wilson, who owned an amazing antique pine furniture company in the North of England, figured out how to make tables from re-milled, centuries old pine beams.  This was an improvement over the floorboard tables because this wood still had a great patina, but was not as likely to crack and splinter like the floorboard tables did.   Over the years we must have sold hundreds of these tables.  And when Paul expanded his production range of old wood furniture to include hutches and armoires…we carried those too in our Red Bank store.  Most of these pieces are still being used today and will most certainly be the antiques of tomorrow.
Sadly, due to bad planning and worst luck, Paul lost his business but fortunately we were able to happen upon a wholesale warehouse that was selling antique pine furniture in Hungary.  The borders of Eastern Europe had just opened up to the West and we were able to buy great antiques, and also have tables and cabinets made to our specifications in  their workshop.
Handmade, bespoke, custom, one-of-a-kind is what we do at British Cottage.  All day, every day.  Come in and see for yourselves.
To be continued.

Baxter the Bear Visits British Cottage

Clearly I am  new to blogging, but I thought Baxter’s visit to our store worth a mention.  During the week he lives in a classroom at the Holy Cross preschool and then on the weekend he gets to go home with a student.  Evidently Baxter comes with his own wardrobe and particularly enjoys going out and about with his young friends.  So this is Baxter out shopping on Saturday.

Maidenform Shoot–Underwear and Armoires

                  During the Shoot

Earlier this week, Marty an advertising wiz at Connor Communications, called to ask if she could borrow British Cottage for an afternoon to shoot some background photos for a Maidenform Bra catalogue.  She wanted a sophisticated, yet rustic setting and promised no nearly naked buxomy lasses would be running around the store depressing me and delighting Keith–we’d have undergarments sans the bodies.  

Next she collared Mike, the friendly and talented  photographer from The Image Shop across the street from us and by golly on Thursday afternoon British Cottage was awash in underwear.  To be honest it brought back memories of living with a teenage daughter–clothes everywhere but in the dresser drawers. 

Marty is a no-nonsense kind of gal and she quickly had Keith shifting furniture around to accent the architectural foundations of the undergarments–who ever knew bras were architectural?   But sure enough, like furniture, they can have interesting curves and a variety of shapes and colors. 

Are All Rooms a Work in Progress?

I love it when people tell me they have finally finished a room…I don’t think I have ever finished a room in  my life.  Or they say they hate modern, Victorian, stripped pine or you name it…life is just too short to get stuck in one period or mood.  All Victorian can be a little depressing, too much modern cheerless, and all pine way too country, but a little bit of each can be just right. 

Decorating in the 21st century isn’t about rules or absolutes.   And don’t worry about matching so much–or size–buy what you love.  I have a customer who bought a 9′ antique English pine farmhouse table that had to be placed on an angle to fit in her suburban New Jersey dining room.  Twenty two years later she has retired to a custom-built post and beam home on a lake in Massachusetts and her table is the focal point of an open plan and everyone raves how perfect it is.

Part of the fun of owning a store is that our decor is constantly changing; we sell something and bring in another piece, then shift some of the artwork along with some of the furniture and the atmosphere changes completely.  Often people, who have come into the store several days apart, will ask if we got in totally new merchandise and the answer is usually no, we just moved things around.

And you can do that at home.  One of our favorite customers moved her furniture around so many times her father suggested she needed therapy.   Her house is the sort of huge, open plan space we all think we want until it comes time to decorate.  With room for three full seating areas,  two dining tables and one baby grand piano it was a challenge to pull it all together.

Some days I would go over and the dining table would be in front of the fireplace and the piano would be where the table was and the next time it would all be put back.  The last time I dropped by the big comfy couches from the kitchen sitting area were in the formal living room, the formal living room removed to the upstairs sitting area off the master bedroom and whew, the big table was back in the great room. 

 No wonder her father was perplexed, but in the end it all worked out fine.  The more casual couches from the first house are now in the kitchen area in front of the fireplace, perfect for lounging.  A rustic pine farm table is behind the sitting area for casual family dining while the main dining table is back in the great room section.  The piano?  In the large, mostly unused foyer.

The flat screen moved from above the fireplace in the kitchen, along with the casual comfy couches to the formerly formal living room and now the whole family spends a lot of time there. They are all enjoying space that was rarely used when it was decorated with the more serious furniture–and no television.  
 And that is another great blog topic–does it really take a television to make a room?

In this case the answer is yes.  When it is time for entertaining other young couples with children, the adults can prepare dinner and enjoy cocktails in front of the fireplace in the kitchen, undisturbed by the television (or the children).. .Yet, when they have a formal dinner party, the TV is off, the kids in bed and the grown ups can enjoy the space. 

The point is to be flexible.  If the dining room seems too small, and the living room is a larger space you rarely use because you have a great room or a family room where everyone always hangs out, consider switching the dining area with the larger living room space.  The former dining room then makes a lovely office, or a sitting room, and the new dining room is large enough to entertain the whole gang.  It’s your house, you can do what you want.

Rooms to Treasure

While I was forced to strong-arm my friends to send photographs of their beautiful rooms; the results are well worth my bullying. I’m only sorry I cannot figure out how to transfer all the images from my email to this page but trust me I am working at it.

With the third week of my blog comes an awareness of the difficulties of producing said blog. Uploading pictures, tending to layout and text issues is not so easy but hopefully, in time, I will become a wiz.

And fortunately these pictures speak for themselves. Note the mixture of formal 18th century portraits, peeping fowl, stripped pine and comfy upholstered pieces. Does anything match? Not really, but it all goes together perfectly!

Mixing it Up

 Twenty years ago when we began buying antiques for resale, Keith and I were obsessed with age, provenance, and authenticity. We looked for original hardware and bases; stressed over the possibility of a marriage (a top and a bottom that did not start out life together) and looked for the earliest pieces possible.
What we found when we got our treasures back to the store is that our customers were often far more concerned with other issues. Size, function and condition out-trumped age and authenticity almost every time.

Thus over the years our focus shifted. While we still absolutely adore and treasure original antique pieces; we build and buy items that are sturdy enough to be used every day but also beautiful enough to stay with the family forever.
In the photograph above you can you see how we like to mix things up. A huge, family friendly trestle table with a sandblasted, rustic plank top, a country french style cabinet with a distressed painted finish (adorable, practical and affordable because it is brand spanking new) and limed oak chairs with burlap coffee sack backs to lend a contemporary vibe.
     Throw an over-the-top chandelier into the pot,
an architectural item like a birdcage, or  a
funky terracotta dog for some whimsy and
you have the makings of a room. It is all about the
mix: function, beauty, humor, and charm are what
make a house your home.
We would love to see what you’ve done to make your home distinctive; you can email us your photos at , reference the blog and we will endeavor to publish them on this site.