January 2015-1

January 2015!
Finally!  That seemed like the longest holiday season ever.  Thank heavens it is all over.  Since Thanksgiving it seems like we’ve been running a marathon.  What a relief to have the tree at the curb, the decorations back in the attic and nothing more social in sight than a trip to the gym.
Now is the time some people pore over seed catalogues, we are devouring the decorating magazines we were to busy to read last month and the books we treated ourselves to at Christmas and hoping to get inspired.  What do we predict for the new year?
First of all, although the official pantone color of the year is marsala, don’t go there–unless you are using it in a sauce.  We don’t even see it as an accent color. What we are seeing is pops of blue and white everywhere…lamps, pots, throws, dishes, rugs…From the quiet Darryl Carter aesthetic, to the California beach boy Barclay Butera, one thing they have in common is a love of blue and white.  Go there.
Walls in every magazine spread we love are light.  Light white, light grey, light blue, but all light.  Kitchens are light.  Couches are light, bedding is light.  It all looks impossibly fresh and inviting.  Maybe this is what happens to those of us who toil in the design field but too much color and pattern just seems jarring–and dated. 
People are always amazed at how great things look in our store.  The reason things look nice–in spite of the fact we have a tremendous mix of styles and objects to present and nothing really “matches”–is the floors are neutral, the walls are neutral, and the wooden furniture is essentially neutral–and natural.  We choose our accessories with great care, looking for items that will work in a wide variety of settings.  And actually the same is true for our furniture.  You might think you can only use a chest of drawers in the bedroom but you would be surprised how lovely a beautiful chest looks in a dining room and what beats drawers for stowing linens and silverware?
Which is a long winded way of saying think out of the box.  It’s a new year; go for it. Take a walk around your house and think about switching things around.  Maybe the oriental rug should go in the dining room for a color boost and that lets you tone down the living room a bit…I am not a television advocate but maybe if you put one in the formal living room and some slipcovers on the sofas you might have a room you can enjoy when everyone else is watching the big game.  Do you really need that flat screen three feet away from your bed anyway?
This could be the year you redo your bedroom.  Having a beautiful bedroom is one of the greatest pleasures in life.  To close your eyes in a wonderful surrounding and wake up to the same?  We are amazed how in totally gorgeous homes the master bedroom is often a pig sty.  All it takes is a little thought.  Clean out the closets, put your wash away, maybe it is time to repaint?  Paint is the biggest bang for your buck in the decorating world and it is one of the few things the average bear can tackle–if a painter is not in the budget.
And come see the new British Cottage bed…With a  paneled headboard and footboard in natural pine our bed is soon to be a new classic.  Robust enough for him; stylish enough for her. So unplug, lose the gadgets and who knows what you might happen? It is a new year, after all. Get going!

Happy Holidays, & The Fair Haven First Floors Tour

Because it wouldn’t be Christmas

without a house tour…

     Here we are in Fair Haven this morning putting the finishing touches on a home we helped decorate for the “Fair Haven First Floors Tour”.  It takes place tomorrow, December 12, from 10:30 to 2:30 in this bucolic riverside community.  Don’t miss the opportunity to view seven homes, see how they are decorated for the holidays and not only check out the kitchen designs but enjoy the food prepared by chefs from a variety of local eateries…
     Our mission seemed simple, which is why we decided to accept it, help with the holiday decor of a house on the tour in conjunction with the homeowner and a local florist–in our case–Sickles.  A piece of cake…until I woke up Keith with all my tossing and turning as I tried to think how could I possibly put a British Cottage spin on a decidedly lovely, impossibly elegant, European styled manse?
     Actually, in the end, it worked out better than just fine.  We toned down the elegance with a soupcon of burlap; threw in some antiques to soften the pristineness of the freshly built home and stayed with a fairly strict palate of green and white and gold with just a spark of red to keep the holiday in check and let the handsomely decorated rooms and the architectural beauty of this house be the star.

    That is my story and I am sticking to it.  Go on the tour and see for yourself.  Trust me this is better than all the Pinteresting in the world.  This is boots on the ground.  See if you like marble in the kitchen; does it look like it is holding up?  Do you really want a flat screen above the fireplace, or a dedicated dining room, or a mudroom with cubbies and a bench?
     This is your chance to see how it all works in the real world.  Go forth.

And finally Autumn has arrived!

    I’m embarrassed to see I have not managed a post since June. Alas, it was that kind of summer.  Three funerals and no weddings– but we did get a visit from the beloved grandchild. Who, his parents report, at 8 months and change has become a whirling dervish so we feel blesssed to have had him in a less mobile, more snuggle bunny phase.
   I lie awake at night hoping they have been diligent in their baby-proofing and marvel that decorating around children–and pets–is no longer an issue for me.  At one time, besides two children, we had a couple of lizards, something called an erf, gold fish, a lab mix, a sheltie and a pygmy African hedgehog.  The challenge was to keep all those animals healthy and happy without the house looking (and smelling) like a barn.  Now all I have left at home is a husband who is fairly low maintenance; as long as there’s food in the fridge and I toss him a beer or two, he’s happy.

   But our decorating hasn’t changed all that much, in fact, surprisingly, we still have a lot of the same stuff we had when the kids were toddlers.  We’ve never had a formal living room or dining room.  Our couch, bought second hand years ago, is a decidedly dressy camelback style with mahogany trim, but I upholstered it in a tone on tone blue denim so it was instantly more inviting.  I can’t show a photo of it because it is decidedly tatty and I can’t come to grips with the idea that it could–after 20 years–be time to move on and get a more comfy couch that may be a little larger in scale than I would like. Want to vote family? The coffee table is a child friendly, cut down antique pine table with a big drawer for coasters and reading glasses and then there’s a couple of slipcovered wing chairs.  

   I must confess there is another probem couch, a Biedermeier beauty bought in Denmark, not like anything else we own, but it was a good deal so we took it (temptation is a hazard of the trade I’m afraid.) This sits with a pair of bergere chairs, once gilt framed with green and gold upholstery but Keith painted the trim an antiqued white and we reupholstered them in linen so they feel much calmer.  Then there is a Danish secretary in original buttery paint, a long Chinese sideboard, three or four end tables and that’s my living room.

  The dining room is open to the kitchen at one end and the living room at the other and in there we have a big, battle scarred pine hutch stuffed with old blue willow platters, and a farm table.  There is a grandfather clock with peeling paint, (we do have one young visitor who comes once a year who I have to keep an eye on because she likes to peel it a little more), and a glazed cupboard from Spain that holds the spoils from years of buying antiques abroad.  But these treasures are up high and behind locked doors, safe from little paws.

   The beauty of buying antiques is that one more knick or scratch– unless you are of the high gloss, Chippendaled mahogany crowd–generally is not a big deal. Signs of wear are to be expected.  Do I use coasters?  Yes.  Do I go crazy when my family and friends don’t?  No.  A little bit of furniture polish and the marks go away.   Slipcovers are key–easily washed or dry cleaned when mishaps occur.  Just not white slipcovers;  but that is for another blog and another day.  “My experience with shabby chic” to be continued…

Let’s put the thanks in Thanksgiving

Crunch time is here.  Believe it or not we will be delivering dining room tables and chairs on the day before Thanksgiving…wow.  It happens every year, but even I can’t imagine waiting until the last minute to put my dining room together. 

But maybe it’s because there are just too many options?  Besides what is available in your own neighborhood, on line you can shop the entire world.  Add to this the pressure people feel to chose something that will last forever, throw in the fact that there are usually two people who must agree on a design they both feel they absolutely have to love FOREVER and voila, gridlock.  

Actually that is why we don’t try too hard to sell furniture over the internet.  In my heart I believe you have to see it, feel it, and touch it to understand what you are buying.  Too many times I have loved, really loved a product on the page or on the screen only to feel mega disappointment when it finally arrives. 

So thank all of you who call me from Ohio and elsewhere.  Probably you would really love my things, and I encourage you to buy them but I am uncomfortable guaranteeing there will never be a problem.  I’ve had four people come in the store in the last month saying they returned dining room tables they ordered from Restoration Hardware because of color and condition issues. Actually it happened to me today.  I have a customer who patiently (sort of) waited six months for her bedroom furniture and the color is off. 

The fact is when you are dealing with a product that is handmade out of natural materials, there will be some variation in color and condition.  Sometimes it can be a lot of variation–each piece of wood, particularly reclaimed timber, is different. The reason why our tables stay sold is you actually see the exact table you are buying and we explain how to maintain said table…

For example, the worst thing in the world for old wood is a super hot house heated by a furnace that sucks all the moisture out of the air.  In fact many times when we get a call that a table top has cracked we’ll find a child with bronchitus–the air is just too dry and a humidifier is needed–stat.  I
f a top does split, chances are it will come back together again when you turn the heat off in the spring.  And if not it is an easy thing for us to run over, pop the top and clamp it back together again. 

The other major problem is finish.  If you are buying a table with a raw wood top it needs to be protected from spills or else it will stain.
A waxed finish lends a lovely patina to wood and will provide protection against spills, but a wet, drippy glass will leave a ring. We always provide a can of wax when we sell a waxed pine table so you can touch it up at home. 

For the last couple of years we have been selling hardwood tables (and some pine) with polyurethane finishes that provide more protection, but you still have to be careful about scratches.  Because we usually start with wood that has been distressed, our fix is to fill in the scratch with a furniture touch up pen in a slightly darker color, hopefully making the the scratch look like it has always been there.

Luckily for those of you who demand zero maintenance, we do offer a finish that is probably a resin and use it on our sandblasted trestle table.  It is so hard I think you could probably drive a truck over the table top and not leave a mark.   However, I’ve been in this business long enough to know it is only a matter of time before a teenager somewhere, somehow manages to mess it up. 

But that is another whole blog–teenagers and furniture.  Meanwhile l
et’s just be thankful for our families and friends and remember fondly those who made our lives possible. Happy Thanksgiving!

September Already!

Sorry, August clearly got away from me. 

Between exhibiting at the NY Gift Show, visiting with my son Colin and his wife, Melissa, who enjoyed a little r&r at the Jersey shore (cooler than Houston, but not by much) and just my usual days at the store, I missed my August blog.  However, not to worry, I have great plans for September.   

Basically we have covered bedrooms and dining rooms, I think,  but have we ever talked about the foyer?  It’s huge.  If you haven’t cleaned in weeks, there’s dishes in the sink,dust bunnies reproducing as only rabbits can, it doesn’t matter–as long as your foyer is well designed and attractive.   The reason I say this is strangers have no reason to go any further into your house.  Play dates can be dropped, business can be conducted, and neighbors can peek in without anyone knowing you haven’t made a bed in weeks. 

All it takes is a little planning and some cunning.  Banning the children and your husband from the area may sound mean, but that is why mudrooms and garage entries were invented.  Put some hooks and a bench by the back door and only allow relatives and close friends access to that part of the house.  They know you so there is no use pretending.  

Next you need to find a piece of furniture which is not too deep, unless you have a McMansion and then you have help so this blog really does not apply to you. 

In your case all you need is a gorgeous round table and a fabulous flower arrangement–I recommend my new best friends from the gift show, Diane James and her daughters, Caroline and Cynthia.  They make the most beautiful flower arrangements you can imagine–their wholesale customers include Neiman Marcus and Gumps.  Just go to their website, DianeJamesHome.com and you will see what I mean.  They are not inexpensive but when you consider one arrangement could last a really long time (the flowers are all artificial but you would never guess unless you touch them).  And Caroline blogs three days a week, clearly an overachiever, but it is fun to read.     However, I digress.  For those with moderate to small foyers, the answer is a table or a chest. 

Something with a few drawers to stash the bills, park your keys, and hold a hairbrush.  Next comes a beautiful mirror, which not only makes the space look larger but also affords you the opportunity to make sure your hair is neat, teeth brushed, and zipper zipped before exiting your home or answering the doorbell.      

Next some lamps, a basket, or a small flower arrangement to put on the furniture you selected.  Try to leave very little of the top showing for two reasons.  The first is beauty, second you prevent family members from leaving their junk on the top.  And try to refrain from parking family photos here.  Unless someone in the family is a supermodel, these belong in more personal spaces (like the backstairs or an upstairs hallway).  

Now I fully intend to illustrate this blog with photos from the store and home (I actually have two of the vignettes I described because I could not figure out which one I liked best) but first I need to eat lunch and then pay my September bills…but after that I’m on it!  have a great day and enjoy this fabulous weather.Cheers!  Tricia

Countdown to the NYIGF (New York International Gift Show)

 As usual it seems it is the end of the month and I have yet to blog, which is amazing because I have so much to report.  The big news is Keith and I have been furiously preparing for the New York International Gift Fair,  which takes place in mid-August at the Javits Center and Piers in NYC.  The show is designed to present the latest innovations in furnishings, tabletop, accessories and more to retailers and designers in the metropolitan area.

We feel this will be a good opportunity to expose (there has to be a better word) our British Cottage products to a wider audience.  For years we have been manufacturing our own designs, first in England, and now at our factory in Hungary.  Bespoke, handmade, and hand delivered are our standard operating procedures, not a marketing ploy. 

So this will be a test to see if our British Cottage vision is viable out of our comfort zone in Red Bank.  Our pricing has always been reasonable, partially because there are no middle men, we are direct importers, and also because we are committed to staying affordable.  While we may have one or two rock stars and three or four moguls as customers, mostly we sell to people with tuitions and car payments and orthodontistry to worry about. 

Which brings me to my next point, one of the problems with selling a product that is built to last is that the customer only ever needs to need to buy just one.  There is no built in obsolescence at British Cottage.  A pine farmhouse table never goes out of style; it doesn’t break.  In fact, it can actually improve with age.  So we are happy to widen our customer base.  According to some reports as many as 35,000 will attend the gift show.

And we are not only bringing furniture but also one-of-a-kind antiques and accessories we have picked up in our travels to Europe.  We’ll have dough bowls and Staffordshire china, antique maps and botanical prints, authentic British flags, watering cans, you name it.  The items in the photograph are just a few of the things we plan to exhibit.  We’ll be on Pier 94, booth # 43060, come see us if you get a chance.  Or stop by the store; Red Bank is easily accessible by car or train if you are coming from the city.

The Last Day of June

When I first decided to blog I set myself a weekly target which soon ratcheted down to once a month; thus I better get cracking as it is the 30th of June already!  But boy has it been a busy month…
much of it was spent in England, scouring the countryside for quintessentially British items to use in our booth when we exhibit at the New York International Gift Fair in August!

For those of you who don’t know what that means, the Gift Show takes place twice a year in NYC at the Javits Center and the Piers–it is enormous.  Thousands of vendors, selling everything from candy bars to couches, present their wares to retailers in the tri-state area, all 35,000 of them.  So what is British Cottage doing there?  Hopefully branding ourselves. 

For at least 15 years we have been building our own furniture designs, first in England, now at our factory in Hungary.  Always bespoke and bench made, sometimes with reclaimed timber, sometimes beautiful, lovingly harvested new pine from a managed Scandinavian forest (but that is another blog, how we were green before we even knew what green meant).  Anyway, we muddled along quite nicely, enjoying a very solid customer base in the the centrally located coastal community of Red Bank. 

But then things changed.  Our cherubs grew up and away, the dogs went to heaven and instead of enjoying our leisure time we were working twice as hard for half as much money as the dreaded recession caused business to slow to record levels.  So instead of packing it all in we decided to take it up a notch.  We’ve had several wholesale relationships in the past supplying stores in Westfield and Nantucket, so why not the whole metropolitan area?

So that is the plan.  We’ve produced several items that we think are truly unique and would work in a variety of homes. We’re going to layer those with all the British Country style accessories we all love, real Staffordshire, garden items, vintage maps and prints and hopefully we’ll take New York by storm.  As many of you know our pricing for our quality is extremely reasonable and if all goes well hopefully many more will find out!

Why Do we Decorate?

I think most people have forgotten that the whole point of decorating is not to impress their friends or demonstrate a superior design sensibility.  The whole point of decorating is actually quite simple–it’s to make people feel welcome.

Growing up in a crowded family with five brothers and sisters and a frugal mom meant we never had new furniture.  Other people bought sleek Danish modern and we got their hand-me- downs.  Enormous Victorian chests of drawers with carvings and inlay, one drawer enough to hold a small child’s entire wardrobe, anchored our bedrooms. Colorful quilts hand stitched by long gone relations kept us snug in our beds while couches were slip-covered in polished cotton, concealing worn springs and sagging frames. Bright and cheerful on the outside, the fabric line dried, and broken in like a pair of old jeans, they were perfect for curling up with a book or sinking into an afternoon snooze.  All our rooms were for living, slightly worn, but always welcoming.

Our kitchen table was scrubbed pine, donated, I think, by an elderly aunt. It is impossible to count the hours spent at that table throughout my childhood.  Baking bread, eating dinner, doing homework, sewing with my Mom’s old Singer, and later, when we were older, having a few late night beers.  Dinner was at 6:15 every night and friends were always welcome.

When guests, which were frequent, pushed the number of diners over 8 then it was off to the dining room and the solid round oak table my mother found at an antique store in the early 60’s, when we finally moved to a house big enough to have a dining room.  With its two mismatched leaves in under the freshly ironed linen table cloth, we were ready for any festivity.The chairs were also mismatched, not by design, but by a kind of domestic Darwinism–only the strongest could survive in our household.  And if sheer numbers meant the weakest chairs were called to duty, you made sure not to wiggle, or worse lean back and cause the chair to implode resulting in laughter that always stung more the floor.

What makes a house a home is putting together objects you love with the things you need and then taking the time to enjoy them.  Once we delivered a hutch to a fabulous kitchen, recently renovated with every imaginable appliance and an incredible river view.  When I complimented the homeowner and asked what delicacies she had dished up lately she laughed and said none.  The kitchen was too perfect to use so she and her husband ate at the diner every night.  She’s divorced now.

I’m not sure what the moral of that story is except that kitchens and homes should be welcoming.  In fact, I think that is why we have been so successful selling our pine kitchen tables.  Even in the most modern of kitchens, a farm table is always appealing.  It takes the edge off and makes you feel like sitting down and having a cup of tea and one more nick or scratch just makes it look better! 

Back from Vacation

Spring is definitely here.  I went to Florida for a long weekend with some of my oldest friends and when I got back to New Jersey the grass was green, the daffodils were up and the forsythia out.  Thank god!  Finally we can open the windows, sweep out the cobwebs, literal and metaphorical, and get to work.
How to freshen up for spring?

1.   EDIT!  By edit I mean take a long look at what is where.  If you absolutely have to post pictures and photos on the fridge–get rid of two thirds of them–you know what your children look like,  And if you still have Christmas photos up; shame on you.  Next take a look at the desk in your kitchen–overflowing?  Then dump or file but get rid or it.

2.  Here’s another radical suggestion.  I know you love your children, grandchildren, etc but family photographs need not be displayed on every possible vertical and horizontal surface in the house.  And wedding pictures…okay, maybe the first year but after that?
The answer is a wall of fame.  It can be in a hallway upstairs, a foyer, even a powder room–anywhere but all over the frigging house.  You don’t need to match frames, you don’t need to tape out the wall; just get a hammer and some decent picture hooks and start banging.  Not only will it be therapeutic, your table tops and shelves will look clean and fresh.

3.   You may have to spend some money.  I know, I know, times are tough, but guess what?  If you prioritize, make some lists, and think about how you live, you would be surprised at what you can live without.  For example, let’s say you need a new kitchen table.  The old one came from the curb, your mother-in-law, Ikea, whatever–it looks like crap.  But what to do?  Start cooking.
Give up take-out, pizza nights, and a few dinners out.

Not only will your spouse love you but you might shed a few pounds and teach the kids some manners (another blog topic) at the same time.  Before you know it you’ll have money for a new table, and now you will be such a great cook that all your friends and family will be clamoring for invitations.  Or maybe not but at least you will have a beautiful new table to love.

It’s time to love your bedroom

Decorating is about making decisions and for many of us it is finances more than aesthetics that dictate the choices we make. You can easily spend $35,000.00 on a high end dining room or you can buy a folding table and some folding chairs, a table cloth and a funky flea market chandelier and you’re in for under a 1000 bucks.  Either way you get the job done.  A little candlelight and a lot of wine and you have atmosphere no matter how much you spent.

But the bedroom is another story completely.   Keith delivers all our furniture and comes home with horror stories about the way people actually live in their private spaces.  Maybe in the heights of passion it is possible to ignore crappy sheets, lumpy mattresses, piles of clothes all over the floor, dust dinosaurs and gross wallpaper but this could also be why someone is not getting any.

How can so much energy go into public spaces–like dining rooms–yet the marital bedroom is complete squalor?   And this goes for singles too, your bedroom is not a dumping ground on the way to the laundromat–it is the stage before sleep, it’s the space that informs your dreams and launches you into the next day.

Spend some money!  There is simply no excuse for not having a decent mattress, a lovely bed, chests of drawers that actually work, closets that are organized and a soothing color on the wall.  This cannot be faked!   In fact in Scandinavia it is not uncommon to spend $10,000.00–or more–on a mattress.
The reasoning is, we were told, is if you are going to spend at least one third of your life in bed–it should be a good one.

And if you managed matching crib bumpers and comforters for the baby’s room, you can apply the same effort to your own bedroom.  After the mattress start with all cotton sheets–a dust ruffle is required only if you are hiding stuff under the bed–and then pile on the pillows and comforters.  Mix and match, the more the merrier.  For great bedding go to Susan Fowler’s Down to Basics in the Galleria in Red Bank.  On a budget, try Marshall’s, even Target has a wide selection of linens.

Probably a coat of paint wouldn’t hurt either.  And that is the cheapest way to transform a room.  In this day of not doing it yourselfers–anyone can paint a room.  BM’s calming aloe, polar sky, swept away, winter wheat…are all fabulous colors.  Calm, bright, and pleasant is what makes a bedroom special.  Save the dramatic hues for the dining room; you are the drama in your bedroom so get to work!