Thursday, May 21, 2015

May--British Cottage in the News

May--British Cottage in the News
     I don't think the store has ever looked better.  Once we got over the whole show house debacle and set our sights again towards Red Bank we never looked back. Retooled and rebooted, we are all ready to rock into summer.
     It doesn't hurt that we've had some local media attention.  First, one of our trestle tables was featured in the cover story of this month's designNJ.  Then Dan Jacobson, owner and publisher of the triCityNews popped in for a chat the other day.  Either he really is curious about how things are going in our neck of the woods or he had a deadline looming and he just knew Keith and I, probably mostly I, would not be at a loss for words. 
     Although we don't often agree with Dan editorially, we appreciate his intent to focus on a part of Red Bank that is often ignored.  Without any boosting from Rivercenter or much attention from City Hall, Shrewsbury Avenue and the West Side of Red Bank is literally teeming with life.  There is a vibrant Latino population, a strong African American community, a long time older population of mainly Italian descent and a smattering of artists and twenty or thirty somethings attracted to the still-affordable housing and the relaxed nature of our neighborhood.
     And the commercial side is healthy too.  Nearly every storefront is occupied and businesses like Roger Mumford's Forefront Homes, arguably one of the premier builders in Monmouth county, and Karen Siciliano's Siciliano Landscaping Company are in the neighborhood.  Add to this mix architects Matt Cronin and Jerry Larsen, Bruce Blaisdell's Architectural Design Center and the fabulous B&C Stairs and you could design, build, landscape and then, if you came to British Cottage, furnish your home all in a ten block area five minutes from the Parkway.
     While we are looking forward to the completion of the West Side Lofts project, particularly the Triumph Brew Pub, we agree with Dan that there was and is more to this part of town than flashy new housing and splashy commercial enterprises.  Fortunately, there is room in town for all of us.  We say welcome to Red Bank and hope you enjoy walking on the West Side as much as we do.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Modern Farmhouse Tables with Extra Leaves at British Cottage

      At British Cottage we offer a variety of farmhouse tables: traditional, transitional, old pine, new pine, oak and other hardwoods.  However, at the moment, we offer only one with leaves.  Made in a style we call transitional, a form with roots in the past but with clean, more contemporary lines, this table is available in 7' or 8' with two additional 18" leaves. 
      Above and below are photographs of the 8' table we have in the store now.  Although the sizes are always the same, each table is unique because the wood itself is always a bit different from table to table.      
  Note how the leaves are inserted in the center of the table so they are amply supported.


Once the leaf is in place there is an overhang at each end so host chairs fit comfortably.
With two leaves in this table becomes a whopping 11' long.

Although we are showing five, we think with smaller chairs you could fit six on each side.


      An aerial view of the top.  As you can see it is slightly distressed so one more nick or scratch won't mean disaster.  The finish is a matte polyurethane, basically what goes on hardwood floors, and is very  durable making this the perfect table for people who don't want to fuss with table cloths and pads...   just spray  with a mild cleansing agent, wipe and you are so done. 


Thursday, April 23, 2015

April is the Cruelest Month
     I hardly know where to start.  At first, when there was little promise of spring we were buoyed a bit by the thought of the latest Stately Home by the Sea 2015 Show House.  As all our British Cottage aficionados know, we love a show house.  However, over the years as the buy-ins became more expensive and our belts less expansive we have opted for more peripheral roles: loaning designers product and glamming up the admissions area.
     But this year when Norm Hungerford, Chair of the Landscape Division and Master Landscaper Extraordinaire called and asked if we would like to tackle an outlying area, a vine covered pergola on the periphery of a fabulous secret garden, he basically had us at hello.  Never mind that we had to traipse in through several feet of snow and chase away a herd of deer; the space was amazing...over fifty feet of vine covered pergola with a brick floor, all weathered and mossy--we thought we were in Sissinghurst.

  The burning question for us was, how would we design this outside space?  At British Cottage we are all about interiors.  However, we did have in the warehouse a fabulous 9' teak table and then along the way we'd bought some mostly indoor but still a bit outdoor rattan furniture that looked like the crazy expensive version sold at the chichi Treillage in Manhattan and next thing you know we were on a roll.  All we needed was to gather together a slew of oversized blue and white Chinese porcelain jardinieres a la Carolyne Roehm and another dozen or so  terracotta pots of holly and white azaleas. Our inspiration there came from Alan at Sciliano Landscaping who had successfully taken on the challenge of the Secret Garden, transforming it from a deer haven into dearest heaven with mass plantings of box, ferns and perennials.  It was all happening.

     Or so I thought...I still needed a dress for the gala...the hardest part of the challenge perhaps, so I was out on the hunt when I got the call from Keith asking if I had bought a dress. When I said "Yes" and he said, "Well take it back," I thought for a moment we'd hit an all time low--getting fired from a volunteer job.  But it was worse than that; the whole house was on fire.  On Monday, the day of the photo shoot, when months of preparation were finally over, all the rooms picture perfect, Blithewald, The Stately Home by the Sea 2015 caught fire. Incredible.
     If you have never done a show house then you have no idea of the work it takes.  At the aftermath meeting one of the officials said, and I think he thought he was being complimentary, that the homeowner, who had been planning to sell the house, thought after seeing all that had been accomplished, that he might like to stay.  No wonder... after thousands of hours of planning and months of sanding, staining, wallpapering, painting and furnishing in order to execute the dream rooms of not one but several dozen designers, of course, the house was transformed.  And not only the house, but the gardens...This house had it all: formal gardens, lily ponds, porticos, and lawns and they were all transformed, by hard labor, into visions of beauty.
    For me, I think, part of the attraction of a show house is that for a moment in time, a few months at best, you get to be part of a life style you, or at least I, will never enjoy.  Homes made for staff: elevators, sleeping porches, deep water pools, tennis courts, butler's pantries, silver closets, and maids' quarters.  It is like being in Downton Abbey live.  So after the fire, and the loss of this beautiful home and all that time, energy and money there was some speculation that this is the end of the show house. Somehow I think not.  There will always be designers who cannot resist the opportunity to decorate an extraordinary space on their own terms and demonstrate their vision and talents to an appreciative audience. 

                                                             What might have been...

Friday, March 20, 2015

March at Last

March at Last
     How did the pioneers make it through winter?  We have electricity, heat and tv and when I look out the window on this first day of spring and all I see is snow falling it just makes me want to cry.  Where is my fortitude? Fortunately my forebears were made of stronger stuff.  I will just have to look inward.
     Which honestly, thanks to three major shipments this month, looks pretty darn good.  First came the upholstered couches and chairs:     They are made by Hickory White, an American company with over 100 years experience in the furniture industry.  With over 700 fabrics to choose from and a number of seat, arm and skirting options we can basically offer a bespoke sofa for a big box store price...What we show here is the two seater couch in navy linen with white piping which pairs nicely with a striped club chair with a navy welt and a box pleat skirt.
     Then we did a three seater couch in a khaki blend with an English arm and no skirt and a smattering of nailheads.  Two side chairs with waterfall skirts and no welting for a slightly more contemporary vibe complete the ensemble. All in all I think we nailed it.  Crisp, clean, coastal, classic, and cool. What more can you ask for?
     The turn around time is about six weeks and the hardwood frames are guaranteed for 45 years.  Oh, I forgot to mention comfort.  The spring down cushions are crazy soft when you sit but then, when you get up they bounce back into more fluffing.  Come in and sit for yourself.  These are amazing.

The day after the chairs and couches arrived we unloaded a shipment of furniture from a supplier who imports a wide range of products.  We got in end tables, side tables, cupboards and coffee tables in every finish from dark walnut to greige.  Check this out:

    And then finally, on Friday March 13, our new shipment of antique and reproduction pine furniture from Hungary arrived and life was good.  Now if it would only stop snowing.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Google is our Friend, but...

    The last call of the day was from a salesman pitching SEO, which for those of us not in the know means "search engine optimization".  Evidently we are missing out on clicks and that is not good.  The gentleman on the phone promised he could turn our business around with his intimate knowledge of metrics and the mysteries of Google.
     Now don't get me wrong here.  Google is our friend.  At some point, if you live in the United Sates and are looking for fabulous pine furniture and you sit with your computer long enough, the name British Cottage will pop up.  And that's what I told the man on the phone.  "But not first, not by a long shot!" was his reply.
     I agree.  I think the farther away you are from New Jersey, the longer it takes to find us, but you will find us.  Certainly not first or second but if you are in Seattle looking for a pine kitchen table do you really want information about a store in New Jersey popping up on your screen first?  I don't think so.  But, eventually, if you persevere, British Cottage will come up.
    What we are finding is that there are plenty of people in states nowhere near New Jersey who are intelligently perusing the options presented on Google.  Unswayed by position they just scroll and scroll until they find the product they want. I told the man selling clicks that maybe the hunt(or search)is part of the fun--people like to look for things.  Of course he had no idea what I meant. 
    Back in the olden days, by that I mean the Pre-Computer Era, searching for furniture, particularly antiques, could be quite complicated and required a fairly advanced skill set.  First, somehow, whether by reading something actually printed on paper, a newspaper or magazine article or advertising, or by word of mouth, you would learn that a particular area was a good place to find fabulous items for your home.  It could be an entire state--Maine comes to mind--or a town, think Lambertville, or an area like the Amish Country in Pennsylvania.
     Then you had to figure out how to get there. City folk might have to rent their cars, and everyone would have to buy a map, plan a route, maybe even book a hotel or two.  And then, the really clever ones figured out that by asking questions and being the teeniest bit charming they could easily get antique dealers to talk, and talk, and at some point invariably spill the beans about their sources and thus another journey would be required and so on and on and on it would go.  
   Every year we sell more and more furniture over the the internet. Not because of Google metrics or click counts.  By the time a customer gets to our site they are not just browsing, they are actually searching for something.  They know what they are looking for: be it a Welsh dresser, a 40" pine bookcase, or an antique pine blanket chest. By the time they look through our perhaps not so styled, not terribly slick, but we hope thoroughly authentic web site they have learned quite a bit about British Cottage, our products and our design philosophy.  Then they call or email and we talk.  And often we talk some more.  It is in our DNA--we love to schmooze. 
   Although I guess we can no longer be called a Mom and Pop business--we still operate on a very, personal, maybe somewhat old-fashioned level.   We are pleased the internet has expanded our customer base and for that we love that there are search engines out there.  But we believe it is the customer, not the search engine, driving that train.  

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

February 2015!
    February promises to be a busy month at British Cottage.  Our new shipment of antique and reproduction pine furniture--meant to arrive mid-January will land mid-February instead--actually we just heard it is going to ship mid-February!  It's taken a lot longer than expected because of the two week Christmas holiday Europe enjoys, the weather, the flu and whatever else you possibly imagine that could conspire to delay matters...just keep your fingers crossed at this point.
     A new shipment of blue and white Chinese ginger jars did come in:

     Also sometime around mid-February our new line of upholstered furniture should ship from North Carolina.  Made by Hickory White to our specifications we will have what amounts to an essentially custom made couches and chairs at a decidedly not custom price.  Turn around time is meant to be 5 or 6 weeks--that would be amazing--and the fabrics are simply beautiful.  And I think there is a 45 year warranty.  How can we go wrong?
     Meanwhile Sunday, February 1 we are off to the NY International Gift and Home Furnishings Show at the Javitz Center in NYC.  Hopefully the snow will hold off.  Although not as furniture oriented as other major shows, it will be fun to get out and see what's hot and what's not...We promise to give you a full report.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

    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 and admittedly a fair amount of time; but it's worth it.  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.  Maybe even a new bed?  It is a new year, after all. Get going!

Our newest British Cottage bed.