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Cupboards and Roses

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The RuraList: The Search For Mud Boots

Global warming or not, mud season seems to be hitting the ground early this year. If you haven’t yet outfitted yourself with the proper footwear for traipsing through the squelchy muck that signals spring in the Northeast, we’ve sought out four retailers across the region where you can make a beeline for quality boots that will hold up their end of the bargain through whatever the weather gods throw our way.

Berkshire County
The Family Footwear Center in Lenox, Mass. is aptly named: it carries a large selection of Bogs for men, women and kids. You can choose the classic black, or go for the newest ones with camo and plaid prints. They range from about $50 for the kids’ styles (which have handles so they’re easy for the little ones to pull on) to $120, but they’re currently on sale so now’s the time to pick up a pair.

Family Footwear Center
444 Pittsfield /Lenox Rd., Lenox, MA
(413) 442-6330

Columbia County
Tractor Supply Company stocks boots from the trademarked Muck Boot Company. This mid boot is suitable as an everyday shoe (“rain or shine,” it says), and cute enough for it, too, but there are of course the tall “wetland” boots. Women’s boots range from $74.99-$154.99). There are many more styles for men (but sorry, guys, the men’s boots only come in black) priced from $99-$184. Some are available only online.

Tractor Supply Company
350 Fairview Ave., Hudson, NY
(518) 828-5710

Dutchess County
Horse Leap in Amenia, New York is an English tack shop that sells high-end equestrian merchandise – everything from saddles and Barbour jackets to plates and glasses with fox-hunting scenes. But, says owner Barbara Wadsworth, although much of it is consignment, the store also carries brand-new boots from Noble Outfitters, which offers a line called MUDS in short, mid and high styles for men and women, ranging from around $80-$119. “Every product they make is great,” Wadsworth says.

Horse Leap
3314 Rt. 343, Amenia, NY
(845) 789-1177

Litchfield County
The ladies’ shop of R. Derwin Clothiers recommends the Ilse Jacobsen rubber boots, which look so smart that even if you never set foot in a puddle, you might want these in your wardrobe. They’ve got heat-insulating lightweight soles that keep you warm in cold weather, but you can wear then all year-round, says Linda Calabrese, the shop’s manager. There are short, mid, tall and slip-ons, and besides the basic black, the spring line is bringing forth a palette that includes peach whip and flamingo, arriving any day. Prices range from $175-$199. The men’s store carries Dubarry of Ireland waterproof leather “country” boots and Gumleaf neoprene boots.

R. Derwin Clothiers
The Ladies’ Store: 48 West St., (860) 567-4095
The Men’s Store: 38 West St., (860) 567-0100
Litchfield, CT

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Posted by Lisa Green on 02/27/17 at 08:29 PM • Permalink

Susan Schneider Perfects The Art Of The Lampshade (And More)

Photo: Shandell’s

By Lisa Green

“I’m changing the world one lampshade at a time” declares Susan Schneider. The proprietor of Shandell’s Lampshades (and other goods, which we’ll get into in a moment), has recently relocated from Millerton to an antique house on Main Street in Sheffield, Mass.

“You can’t have a plain shade. It’s like having a plain hat,” says Schneider. That’s a fitting metaphor for Schneider, who approaches lampshades like a milliner might, consulting with clients about shape, proportion and trims. She’s got a supply of vintage wallpaper and shibori-dyed fabrics on hand (more accurately, spilling out of cupboards and drawers) for her clients to create their one-of-a-kind shade. Because she says, and it’s true, most lampshades are pretty uninspiring. But not when Schneider’s got her hands on them — and she does make each one by hand.

Over the years, Schneider’s artistic impulses have expanded, and visitors to her exuberant new shop and studio will find a delightful assortment of decorative and gifty things. Along with the lampshades, Schneider makes night-lights, tissue boxes, decoupaged glass trays, and lamp finials that look like — and are displayed as — pieces of the finest jewelry (she calls them lamp candy). She also has become passionate about hand painting and marbling paper, and shibori, a technique of indigo dyeing using the art of tying and folding fabrics to create one-of-a-kind patterns. (She plans to offer classes on the shibori process later in the year, when weather permits the dyeing to be done outside.)

“I don’t throw anything away,” says the self-described “mad collector,” and that’s quite clear. The shop is divided into separate ateliers, with armoires, cabinets and workbenches overflowing with objects waiting to be turned into lamps, like the stunning vintage wood and brass wallpaper rollers. Other surfaces hold curious items that have made the transition. My favorites were the 19th-century carriage wheel hubs [below]. It takes a while to figure out what some of the bases originally were, but Schneider is happy to give you a little history lesson.

So how did a nice Jewish girl from Teaneck, New Jersey end up as a lamp lady in the Berkshires? Schneider has been visiting the area all her life, but prior to actually settling here a few months ago, she had lived in the Hudson Valley and Millerton, NY. Back in the ‘90s, she was an antiques dealer who got into lighting and could never find shades she liked, so she decided to make them herself. This was before the internet, and she couldn’t find any books or instruction manuals for how to make a lampshade.

“I’ve always been fascinated with how things are made. So I took some lampshades apart to see how they were constructed, and I taught myself how to make them,” she says. “I’m totally self taught.” The same goes for the marbled paper, matchboxes trimmed in copper tape and the shibori cloth she’s created out of a variety of natural fabrics. She makes each piece in her studio in back, where she’s kept company by her two rescue dogs, Matilda the Jack Russell and and Abby the Newf.

Schneider with hand-painted papers; decorative matchboxes; finials.

You usually need to be working with a decorator to find someone to design and make custom lampshades, which is why Schneider is such a treasure. Last year, Victoria magazine highlighted her as one of “seven exceptional women who have transformed their passions into profitable ventures,” and her work has been featured in House Beautiful, Country Living and the New York Times, among other publications.

Customers often come to her with their own heirlooms and other objects they’d like to have wired, and there’s almost nothing, Schneider says, that can’t be turned into a lamp (except, maybe, for that sculpture someone once brought in).

Just don’t go in there looking for a plain white lampshade.

Shandell’s
15 Main Street, Sheffield, MA
(413) 248-1063
Open Thursday – Saturday, 12–5 p.m., by chance and by appointment.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 02/13/17 at 10:56 AM • Permalink

Not Your Average Alpaca: Alicia Adams Softens the Edges

Photo: Claire Rosen.

By Nichole Dupont

We all remember them, the rough-as-bark, dun-colored sweaters so bulky so that they could make even Kate Moss look puffy. But we so wanted to like them because there was some revolutionary air about wearing a fat, itchy alpaca sweater.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way any more. Alicia Adams has transformed the wiry fiber of the puffy animal into a vibrant, soft collection of capes, sweaters and even baby clothes. Adams is the official design arm of Alicia Adams Alpaca, Inc., a unique Millbrook, NY-based farm and textile business that specializes in the production and design of products made using fiber from Suri alpacas.

“It all grew very organically; this whole thing,” Adams says. “It’s a learning by doing kind of thing. My husband Daniel returned from a trip to Australia — we were living in Munich at the time — and said we were going to breed alpacas. He was so excited. At that time, I honestly could barely knit. So it was a crazy idea.”

That was 11 years and three children ago. The family of six, who started with 15 alpacas, now owns and operates the main farm of 40 or so alpacas. The other 160+ are raised at sister farms in California and Ohio. The farm in Millbrook is also home to a plethora of chickens and non-alpaca critters, and more often than not Adams’ children are in charge of the smaller tasks of egg gathering, naming the alpacas and making sure their “baby” sister (now two and a half) is doted on. And during trade show season, her eldest daughter, who is 14, is often at Adams’ side, lugging sweaters and talking up potential retailers. 

“This is a 365-day, 24 hours a day job,” Adams says, laughing a little. “I am busy all the time. This is an adventure and we just do it. We don’t complain. I don’t really think about my to-do list. I’m happy that our children know we work and see us working.”

Photo: Tom Moore.

Daniel Adams is at the helm when it comes to the “wooly” end of the business, including raising and breeding the Suris (which are a rare and coveted breed) and gathering and processing the fiber that is then used for the apparel, with the help of his children, of course. Alicia and a small team of designers, people she refers to as her “other family,” then decide what to do with the luxuriant crop. The results are almost miraculous. Drapey capes, vibrant scarves and gloves, soft sweaters and cuddly baby items are the foundation of the collection, which also includes home goods (throws and blankets) as well as Adams’ favorite classic, the two-tone hot water bottle.

“I am German and Mexican and I grew up in Mexico City. I am very Latin in my heart and I love color,” Adams says. “We develop our own color schemes here, we don’t follow color charts or anything like that. One of the most exciting things about this job is getting the prototypes and samples!”

Perhaps more surprising than the array of pinks and blues and creams (offered in a multitude of textures) is how the products feel. Remember that scratchy sweater? Not. Even. Close.

“I’ve had a lot of people ask me if it’s cashmere or mohair because of how it feels,” Adams says. “Alpaca is really earthy and substantial. It’s not a mass-produced product — alpacas have only one baby a year – it doesn’t pill, it keeps its form. Quality is very, very important to me. This is something that you’ll have for a long time.”

Photo: Tom Moore.

Adams is heading into the thick of the trade show season. (“I feel like I live at the Javits Center.”) More than 200 stores across the country — mostly small boutiques but also the likes of Barney’s — carry Alicia Adams Alpaca, as well as many international locations in Paris, Switzerland, London, New Zealand, Australia and Japan. But Adams doesn’t sweat it when clients are clamoring for next season’s mock-ups. She’s just as grounded as the fiber itself.

“I design for now, not for next season. There are no pre-orders,” she says. “I come up with the things that I feel are necessary and essential, and see what goes well. I don’t follow any fashion timeline. This stuff is timeless.”

Alicia Adams Alpaca
3262 Franklin Avenue, Millbrook, NY
Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. –5 p.m.
Sunday, 11 a.m .– 4 p.m.

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Posted by Nichole on 01/23/17 at 11:28 AM • Permalink

Sawkille Co. Defines Rural American Design

By Andrea Pyros

Sawkille Co., a small furniture company in Rhinebeck, has been reflecting the heritage and mindset of the Hudson Valley for more than 15 years. But, though it’s hard to fathom now, appreciation for their type of goods didn’t happen right away. “Around 2010 there seemed to be a burst of activity,” explains Tara De Lisio, who runs the business with her husband, Jonah Meyer. “There was a bigger movement and appreciation for handmade goods, value in the process, and the story behind a business that became as valuable to the consumer as the product.”

Their story — told in quietly beautiful images on their blog — is one of artistry, commitment and community. Sawkille considers itself part of the “rural American design” movement. The company’s solid wood pieces are inspired by country furniture and are simple, classic, hand made, and built to improve with age and frequent use. It’s not surprising that their signature wooden stool is based on the decidedly unfussy milking stool, nor is it surprising that people are taking notice and responding to Sawkille’s gorgeous style. The company has been written up in Elle Decor, their chair was chosen by Jenna Lyons as one of her “favorite things,” and the company was selected as an honoree for the launch of the Martha Stewart American Made Awards, highlighting entrepreneurs in the United States.

Like many other craftspeople in the Hudson Valley, Meyer and De Lisio wear many hats. The partners — both in life and in work — are business owners and artists, and are committed to being active participants of the Upstate business community.

The pair first met after De Lisio moved back to our area. She’d grown up in Woodstock, but left for schooling and to live in the Southwest and California. Meyer, who designs Sawkille’s furniture, was raised in Pennsylvania, and he moved to the Catskills after graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1993. Their collaboration began with Serv ce Station (without the ‘i’), a rural outpost in the Catskills that sold Meyer’s work as well as those by other artists, including De Lisio’s mother.

“It was a balancing of our skill sets that made it possible to work together and our desire to create work for ourselves that supported a life we wanted to live. We each had something to offer and it made the situation a bit more whole,” De Lisio says. In 2010, the couple decided to home in on their furniture business. They rebranded their enterprise as Sawkille Co., and worked to translate Meyer’s sensibilities into more than just a few pieces at a time. They also moved their showroom and workshop into an inviting farmhouse-modern space in Rhinebeck, 5,000 square feet of old industrial space owned by Prandoni Design and Fabrication a.k.a. the “brilliant team” of brothers Stewart and Matt Verrilli who create Sawkille’s metalwork.

“When we opened in Rhinebeck, we weren’t sure if the town was the right match,” De Lisio says, “but it has proven to be a super spot to be in business. We connect with individual homeowners as well as professionals from the design industry. It was a terrific surprise to find out who was walking the streets of this little hamlet! The business atmosphere was immediately supportive and community oriented. We’ve always felt grateful for that positivity.”

Businesses such as Paper Trail, bluecashew and Cabin Fever Outfitters were very forthcoming in sending those visiting their shops down West Market Street to Sawkille. They often heard shoppers say “we walked over here because ____ told us to come see your work.” 

Their intention wasn’t just to find a way to express themselves creatively and independently, but to participate in the local economy. De Lisio says, “As a native of the area, beyond seeking adventure and wanting to see more of the world as a college graduate, one of the reasons I didn’t return to this area was that I didn’t feel there was diversity in employment options. So it has become a very meaningful part of what we do to create a work environment that would be enticing, and would allow people to put down roots and invest in being in this area.”

Photos courtesy of Sawkille Co.

After 18 years of a successful partnership, the couple’s roles still switch and responsibilities continue to change. But, “at the core, Jonah is the artist and I push the vision and tease out possibilities, tossing them at Jonah and letting him turn them into something that I feel is magical, through his creative process,” says De Lisio. “Our goals are to support each other to have the best life each can have; in most recent times that has meant Jonah would be intensely hands-on with the work of Sawkille and I would delve into how to bring our family along — without losing the integrity and soul of what we both feel essential to a life we can feel grounded in and joyful about.”

Sawkille Co.
31 West Market St., Rhinebeck, NY
(845) 876-2228
Showroom open: Thursday – Monday

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Posted by Lisa Green on 01/16/17 at 01:02 PM • Permalink

Wrap It Up: RI’s Annual Holiday Gift Guide

By Amy Krzanik

Where we live, you don’t have to travel very far to find unique gifts for everyone on your list. Whether it’s a thank you for your holiday party’s host or hostess, or a package sent to a friend or family member far away, choose from our list of artisanal, homegrown goodies and don’t forget to include a card that reads “from the RI region with love.”

TO EAT & DRINK:

Oliver Kita Fine Chocolates Named one of the Top 10 Chocolatiers of 2015 by Dessert Professional Magazine, Rhinebeck’s 20-year-old eponymous chocolate shop has used flowers, herbs, citrus, exotic fruits, berries, nuts and spices to create its line of organic and fair trade fine chocolates. Perfect for gifting, its 16-piece studio collection ($40) was created to fulfill requests for a collection of its most popular flavors, but you can also make your own favorites from its selection of bon bons, buttercrunch toffee, hot chocolate, chocolate-dipped mallomars, and chocolate Mah Jongg tiles, buddhas and polar bears.

H.R. Zeppelin Chocolates Stockbridge’s own organic and fair trade chocolatier will tempt your palate with inspired taste combinations you didn’t know you craved, such as lavender-blueberry milk chocolate, raspberry white chocolate, and cardamom-lemon or sweet basil-lime dark chocolate. They also offer double chocolate truffles made with Berkshire Mountain Distillers corn whiskey and a four-piece box of peanut butter goodness (peanut butter nougat, caramel and peanuts) dipped in milk or dark chocolate and tied with a bow. You can find some of these goodies at Bizalion’s and One Mercantile in Great Barrington, and at Six Depot in West Stockbridge. All of them will be available at the Berkshire Grown Holiday Market in Great Barrington on Saturday, Dec. 17.

Taconic Distillery This Stanfordville, NY distillery and tasting room was only officially completed in August of this year, but its Dutchess Private Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey already has earned accolades from Hudson Valley Magazine and Maxim. Its handcraft spirits are made in small batches using natural spring water from its 113-acre Rolling Hills Farm. Along with the Private Reserve, current offerings include three other whiskeys and a rum, as well as two versions of maple syrup (two 12.7 oz. bottles for $40).

Hopkins Vineyard In 1979, Bill and Judith Hopkins transformed their New Preston, Conn. dairy farm into a vineyard and have been known for award-winning whites, reds and sparkling wines ever since. Hopkins Vineyard isn’t a vineyard only in name — the location grows 11 varieties of grapes on land overlooking Lake Waramaug. Not only that, but its tasting room offers live late-night music, wine bottle painting parties and more.

363 Days of Tea Local author and artist Ruby Silvious has collaborated with Hudson, NY tea shop Verdigris to offer limited edition tea tins based on her new coffee table art book, 363 Days of Tea: A Visual Journal on Used Teabags. Her book ($26.95) can be purchased at the shop and, gifted together with a tea-filled tin, the two serve as a daily reminder that inspirational art can truly be found everywhere.

Hillhome Products In 2009, David L. Davis began making jars of marmalade for his own use and to give to friends. The response was so positive that he began selling at farmers’ markets around his Norfolk, Conn. home. Now you can purchase all of the marmalades, preserves, jams, chutneys, relishes, hot sauces, caramel and fudge sauces, pickles and dressings that David produces, “puts up” and markets by himself. He also offers private labeling, so you can make your holiday gift that much more personal. But as he warns on his website, be careful because “all products tend to be addictive!”

bluecashew Kitchen Pharmacy Surprise your party host this season with a decadent gift from Rhinebeck’s bluecashew, now offering white ($100 – $1,300) or burgundy ($27.50+) Italian truffles and a selection of wild or farmed caviar (call for prices). In addition, your hors d’oeuvres table will be the talk of the town when you serve up La Madia White Truffle Acacia Honey ($15), which the store suggests you drizzle over chunks of Parmesan cheese.

TO OWN:

Bottega Organica This Hudson shop is the brainchild of Dr. Andrea Alimonti, a world-renowned geneticist, whose products are based on patented scientific research into the most effective anti-aging plants. All ingredients come from farms in Italy and upstate NY, are made without preservatives or artificial fragrances, colors or synthetics, and each is handmade in small batches. The line includes creams ($85-$165), balms for lips, face and body ($36-$125) and hydrating hair and skin mists ($38-$68).

Hawkins NY Based in Hudson, but known by chic people everywhere, Hawkins NY is famous for its furniture and its collaborations with other designers. The store offers highly curated wares including bedding, rugs, throws and tableware, but we’ve got our eye on their thick Amoeba wooden cutting boards ($68), and Shapes Rugs which are a collaboration between Hawkins and Austin-based designer Alyson Fox ($75-$1,000 depending on size). 

Source Adage Founded by creative directors Christopher Draghi and Robert Dobay, the Hudson, NY based fragrance brand and flagship store are dramatically dark (the shop, black; the product line, black) but the scents are inspired by nature. All fragrances, which are named after great American landscapes, are available as candles ($95), reed diffusers ($115) and room sprays ($60). Most recently, the brand launched two parfums for humans ($160) so you can smell good wherever you go, and a collaboration with local gallery The Gilded Owl — the limited edition candle, “Leonor”, smells of cedar wood, musk and dark incense with dusty rose and wild lavender and is inspired by artist Leonor Fini ($95). 

Amrita Lash Pottery Not only does Williamstown resident Amrita Lash make beautiful music with her band Long Journey, she creates beautiful pottery, too. Her vibrant work, which is food, microwave and dishwasher safe, includes plates, bowls, mugs, salt cellars, tumblers, yarn bowls, spoons and other items. They can be found on her Etsy page or you can catch her at the annual holiday shindy at Shire City Sanctuary this weekend or at the Pottery Sale in Williamstown on Thursday, Dec. 15.

TreacleandWolf A perfect gift for the friend or family member who loves to entertain, Great Barrington’s TreacleandWolf aprons are handmade with retro-inspired prints and designed with deep pockets to make sure you have enough room for a “plethora of paper umbrellas and a surfeit of swizzle sticks.” Half aprons are $24, and full are $36.

Floating Girl Artist, children’s book author and educator Valorie Fisher lives in Cornwall, Conn. with her husband, children, two cats, many mice and even more trees. Her collaged art cards ($4 each or 6 for $18), on sale at her Etsy shop “Floating Girl,” are a witty way to send a smile across the miles.

TO READ:

Fresh Fish by Jennifer Trainer Thompson Hancock Shaker Village’s new CEO is also a published author, and her latest is a “fearless guide to grilling, shucking, searing, poaching, and roasting seafood.” Put out by North Adams, Massachusetts-based Storey Publishing, the book offers simple step-by-step instructions on how to buy and cook everything from whole fish to shrimp, mussels, calamari and more.

Pacific by Simon Winchester The bestselling author and Berkshire County resident tackles the history of an entire ocean in his latest book. From Silicon Valley to China, and from Magellan’s 16th-century discoveries to the future of the world, this memoir of the Pacific covers it all.

Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt Hunt’s latest novel (her third), described as a “contemporary gothic,” has garnered acclaim from Vanity Fair, The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. Set in Upstate, NY, this is a “subversive ghost story that is carefully plotted and elegantly constructed.”

Putin Country: A Journey into the Real Russia by Anne Garrels For more than three decades, Garrels reported from some of the most dangerous places on earth as a correspondent for ABC and NPR. Called “a quiet masterwork” by Bookforum, the Litchfield County resident’s newest is based on her years reporting from Central Russia and helps explain Putin’s appeal to his country’s people.

Fire + Ice: Classic Nordic Cooking by Darra Goldstein For those not familiar with Scandinavian home cooking (I’m guessing that’s a lot of people), this James Beard-nominated cookbook offers more than 100 recipes that showcase the region’s sweet and savory dishes. Along with how to make smoked arctic char, savory puffed pancakes and cardamom braids, the book contains Goldstein’s illuminating essays on the countries of Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden.

Check out last year’s Holiday Hit List for even more great gift ideas.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 12/05/16 at 06:54 PM • Permalink

Matt McGhee: 40 Years of Christmas Treasures

By Jamie Larson

In 1976 Matt McGhee opened his first shop in Greenwich Village selling oriental decorative pieces. That Christmas, however, it was his traditional tree ornaments that captured the imagination of holiday shoppers. Now, 40 years later and relocated to Hudson New York, McGhee’s shop (it too called Matt McGhee) is filled with handsome examples of his original designs as well as traditional antique ornaments and decorations of pewter and glass.

The 40th is the ruby anniversary and for the occasion McGhee has painted a new edition of his classic Saint Nick ornament with what else but ruby colored highlights. Made in Germany to McGhee’s specifications, his creations are classical and whimsical. While they might be as high style as decorations get, they still shine with a sense of fun.

“In the early ‘80s I began traveling to Germany and dealing directly with producers,” McGhee says. “Over the years I have taken more of a hand in the design of the ornaments I carry, ranging from specifying the colors that traditional forms are painted, to — in some cases — sculpting models from which molds are made and the ornaments blown, and then painted in Germany or by me.”

McGhee and partner Ronald Kopniki said the appeal of Christmas ornaments is a kind of healthy nostalgia. Because you see them for only a little while each year, the feeling and the memories they impart intensifies.

“It’s a thing that binds the generations,” says Kopniki. “The memories attached to the decorations go beyond the actual objects.”

The shop itself makes for an elegant and festive visit. In one of Warren Street’s beautiful old buildings the space is resplendent with ornate historic moldings and built-in cabinets that set the perfect stage for art glass or the intricately painted little dioramas and Nativities. The miniature pewter “flats” that make up the little winter and woodland scenes are a really pleasant surprise. They are sweet looking from far away and a wonder from up close, hand painted in intricate, nearly microscopic detail.

“Flats are a key component of my business,” McGhee says. “These hand-cast, hand-painted forms and figures are related not only to Christmas, but to other themes and seasons. There are trees, bare or in leaf, elaborate 18th-century garden scenes, winter skating scenes and circus scenes, for example, as well as Christmas trees, Santa in his sleigh or carrying a sack of gifts, and Nativity scenes.”

McGhee’s ornaments seem somehow pre-charged with pleasant holiday memories. There’s a collective sense of the holiday warmth molded and painted into them, by his own hand or his elves over in Germany.

“The ornaments can be very old fashioned or traditional but then also very colorful. You’re allowed to be colorful,” Kopniki says. “And when it comes to some of the art glass, we are also talking about beautiful things you can display all year.”

Winter Walk is coming up this Saturday in Hudson. Warren Street will be closed to cars and the street filled with shoppers, window watchers and holiday performances. There is perhaps no better time to go look around Matt McGhee for your next favorite ornament.

Matt McGhee
445 Warren Street, Hudson, NY
(518)-822-1700
Holiday Season Hours:
Daily 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 11/29/16 at 10:35 AM • Permalink

Mail Call: Annie Selke Company Introduces Its First Catalog

By Lisa Green

Catalogs are near and dear to Annie Selke’s heart. As a girl, the founder of and creative force behind the textile-driven Annie Selke Company, headquartered in Pittsfield, could be found poring through the myriad home and shelter catalogs her parents received. And because so many catalogs carry products from all of the company’s divisions — Pine Cone Hill, Dash & Albert, Fresh American and Luxe — she was used to working on them from the service end.

So now that the company has announced it will soon be sending out its own direct-to consumer-catalog, the big question is — especially from those of who can’t get enough of the insanely beautiful bedding, rugs, sleepwear and furniture coming out of this company — why did it take so long?

Catalogs and print materials have been standard practice in communicating with their more than 2,000 retailers, of course. But apart from The Outlet @ Pine Cone Hill, itself located within the headquarter’s meandering complex of buildings and warehouses, customers have purchased Annie Selke products only through retailers or the website. 

From her bright, brick-walled office, surrounded by fabric swatches and rugs, Selke, who lives in Lenox, explains why she waited 20 years to create her own consumer catalog.

“In 2012, we went direct-to-consumer online,” she says. “We needed to have an online presence. I called it ‘passive retail.’ We were just turning on the lights, and people came.”

Two years ago, the company started advertising to consumers, using print as well as web ads as drivers to annieselke.com (a delightful site, by the way, that includes not just shopping opps but “Fresh American Style,” a blog filled with decorating tips, how-to’s, Selke’s travels and even recipes). A consultant advised that it was time to dip their toe in the catalog world. (A little retro, maybe, but that never hurt L.L. Bean or Horchow.)

“We just decided to do it in May” (as in but five months ago), Selke says. “It’s been crazy doing it so fast and we’re still figuring things out as we go, but at least we have a process in place. We hope to put out six more next year, including holiday and furniture versions.” The new catalog division has necessitated hiring more people, and isn’t that music to our ears here in our rural community?

So on September 19, around 300,000 lucky homes will receive the inaugural Annie Selke catalog. Berkshire residents will be pleased to find the introduction of the Berkshire Collection. These pillows, furniture and window panels with patterns and colors inspired by our area will have familiar names like Greylock, Glendale and Barrington.

“I cannot wait for the referendum,” Selke says.

We’re betting the numbers will be good, but regardless, that “Bringing Happy Home” tagline the company uses? It’s pretty much a given.

To be added to the catalog mailing list, email catalog@annieselke.com.

Meet Annie Selke on Friday, Sept. 16
The Outlet @ Pine Cone Hill hosts a meet-and-greet event with the founder and CEO, Annie Selke, from 2:30-4 p.m.. At the event, which is open to the public, Selke will share her latest design inspirations and answer questions from guests. RSVP at RSVP@annieselke.com or (413) 629-2314.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 09/07/16 at 03:50 PM • Permalink

Master Artists Reimagine The Modern Jewelry Box

By CB Wismar

Tim McClelland is laughing. Which is okay, because he’s laughing at himself.

“I just thought it would be fun to reach out to 15 extraordinarily talented people who had been part of an intense, creative environment 35 years ago and see what they’re doing now.”

The “what” is stacked in heavy cardboard boxes delivered courtesy of UPS and FedEx. These invited guests surround Tim on the main floor of the jewelry atelier, McTeigue & McClelland in Great Barrington, Mass. It is in this noble gray stone building on Main Street that Modern Treasure Chests, a month-long exhibition of jewelry boxes made by contemporary American Masters, will welcome and intrigue visitors. 

The “makers,” as they call themselves, are all graduates and former faculty of Boston University’s Program in Artisanry (PIA) or Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), and these “boxes” are fanciful works of art.

“So understand,” Tim [left] says, “I really didn’t know how many artists would respond. When it was 15, I couldn’t believe it.” 

Believe it, Tim. Time to unpack.

The PIA lived for the 10 years from 1975-1985 on the Boston University campus, graduating artisans in ceramics and fiber art, metalsmithing and jewelry making, or woodworking and furniture making. 

Certificates of Mastery in hand, they scattered to the winds. Some remained in New England, others migrated west to teach and work in Rochester, New York, Madison, San Diego. The marks of their time together, however, were indelible.

Flash forward 35 years. The challenge sent out to that eclectic community was to create a new interpretation of the jewelry box. After all, McTeigue & McClelland is a luxury jeweler, with Tim (himself a graduate of PIA in metalsmithing and jewelry making) creating unique designs, and his partner, Walter McTeigue, searching the world for the finest stones. Jewelry boxes made perfect sense.

“When the invitation came, how could I say no?” Tommy Simpson, a self-professed “imagineer” from New Preston, Conn., was quick to respond, with designs that are… how does one say this… unique.

Tommy, who brought a great sense of humor to his stint as a visiting instructor at PIA, will be exhibiting his creations alongside the intricate work of Peter Superti, whose studio is in Red Hook, New York. “There was no time like it,” recalls Peter. “PIA was 24/7 with some of the most imaginative people I’ve ever met.”

Rosanne Somerson, now the President of RISD and a skilled furniture maker in her own right, remembers the time as being one of incredible cooperation. “We’re trying to instill that in our students at RISD. It was like being in an extended family,” she says.

The award for “Furthest Distance Traveled” will go to Wendy Maruyama’s piece, hailing from San Diego, which she gently calls her “bento box.” Lined in silk, it has a quiet presence that seems more art than craft.

James Schriber, whose elegant casework adorns the McTeigue & McClelland showroom, was both reflective and brutally honest about being part of the exhibit. “I couldn’t not be there. These people were family. The idea of a reunion after all these years was just too good to pass up. If it had been a major furniture show, maybe it would have been different… but a jewelry box? That you can ship.” 

These Modern Treasure Chests are fashioned out of rare and exotic woods that have names evoking foreign travel and the courts of kings and maharajahs. Cuban mahogany. Celanese satinwood. Maracaibo boxwood. Clara walnut. Figured Swiss pearwood.

Each of the artists represented in Modern Treasure Chests has had a singular influence on the American Studio Furniture Movement. They carry on the traditions of Sam Maloof and Charles Eames in their own terms and with their own flair. To see their work is to be awash in talent, to move from one piece to another is quietly overwhelming.

Tim McClelland is smiling, and shaking his head as the boxes are opened and the wrapping scattered to the corners of the showroom. “Amazing,” he says. “That’s the only word for it.”

Modern Treasure Chests
Opening Reception: Saturday, Aug. 20 from 5-7 p.m.
McTeigue and McClelland
454 Main Street, Great Barrington, MA
The exhibit will be in place during normal business hours until Saturday, Sept. 24.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 08/08/16 at 07:00 PM • Permalink

Oatmeal Studios: Always Good For A Laugh

A trade show display.

By Lisa Green

When Oatmeal Studios gathers its team for a creative brainstorming session, it’s no ordinary staff meeting. The greeting card company based in Lenox Dale, Mass., has been in the business of making people laugh for over 35 years, and the writers, illustrators and managers involved never seem to lose that sense of humor.

“You’re crying, you’re laughing so hard,” says Nancy Crane, the company’s creative product manager, describing the tenor of those gatherings.

“We’re writing funny cards,” adds Joe Gallagher, the general manager. “You can’t take it too seriously.”

But make no mistake: this is a well-established, $1.5 million business, with its products available at 2,100 locations in the U.S. and abroad, and 140 independent sales representatives. Still, a pet rabbit named Oatmeal was the inspiration for the first card created by an artist in Vermont back in 1978, and that’s kind of amusing, right? In 2011, Excelsior Printing Company in North Adams, Mass. bought Oatmeal Studios and brought the lighthearted, brightly colored card company to the Berkshires.

Joe Gallagher, Nancy Crane, David Crane

“In 2010, David Crane [he of the Dalton, Mass. Cranes, who established Crane & Co., Inc. in 1770] asked me to look at the greeting card market because there might be an opportunity to buy Oatmeal Studios,” says Gallagher, who worked in product and business management at Crane for ten years. Excelsior was already printing the cards, so it was a natural transition for the company. (Later Excelsior Printing was sold to Integrity Graphics, which now prints the cards.) A little over a year ago Oatmeal Studios moved to its current location, so its offices are now housed within the Excelsior Integrated warehouse — a 58,000-foot fulfillment facility with David Crane as the CEO — that not only fulfills Oatmeal Studios cards but assembles and ships products for about 80 other companies, as well.

But back to those hilarious staff meetings. Everyone gets a say in what cards are produced.

“We’re a team, and we all vote on the designs,” says Nancy Crane (no relation to the famous family, although she was a product manager at Crane prior to joining the card company). “Everyone gets a chance to ‘ugh’ or ‘I love it.’” The team consists of Gallagher and Crane, sales and advertising folks, and a few of the original people from Oatmeal in Vermont.

Two of the bestselling cards.

The creative process starts with the written word, and what the team is voting on — while laughing hysterically — are the concepts submitted by freelance writers. After they agree they’re going to buy a concept, they start thinking about the appropriate image for the copy. Nancy assigns the job to one in her stable of illustrators, some of whom have been working with Oatmeal Studios since Oatmeal-the-rabbit days. Sometimes an illustrator will submit the whole package — graphics and copy, which are tweaked into the final product.

The company averages about 70 new cards a year, and there are bestsellers that have been in the line for years. Crane does the designs for the newer line of photo cards herself.

“We stick to humor,” says Gallagher “We don’t do seasonal cards, and some are more risqué than others. Some of our retails don’t want anything to do with them.” But with 300 designs in the line, there’s plenty for every kind of retailer to choose from.

Unlike your standard Hallmark cards, Oatmeal Studios sells its products in less traditional settings — liquor and hardware stores, car washes and UPS outlets. Locally, you’ve probably seen them at Guido’s in Pittsfield, The Purple Plume in Lenox and Salisbury Pharmacy.

“What also makes our cards different is that the insides are illustrated, they’re still made in the U.S., and they’re printed with vegetable-based inks on recycled paper,” Crane says. And, creatives in the Rural Intelligence region will be gratified to know that the illustrator gets a prominent shout-out on the back of the card. This is a company that appreciates its staff — even if they’re freelancers.

As with any printed product these days, you have to wonder how long the market will be there. Nancy Crane acknowledges that younger people are more likely to send electronic cards. But selling in so many unconventional locations helps business — you’re buying a gift or a bottle of wine for someone, and you need a card to go with it, and there stands a carousel of delightful cards.

“It’s definitely a mature product, but because we’ve kept it fresh and have a unique look, we’re still doing pretty well in the market,” says Gallagher.

And having fun doing it.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 08/01/16 at 03:25 PM • Permalink

Braza In Our Back Yard: Home to Fashion Emergency Solutions

By Lisa Green

I’m not positive about this, but it’s extremely probable that some of those celebrities you see on the red carpet are wearing a Braza Bra product, and that’s not an interesting fact just because the products are the kinds of things that prevent wardrobe malfunctions. It’s actually a point of pride, because the strapless panties, backless bras and various (ahem) enhancers underneath those designer gowns come out of an unassuming building in Lee, Mass. In other words, it’s what you don’t see that’s made this 31-year-old Berkshire-based company the success it is today. From its first product, the stick-on bra, Braza has grown into a line of 200 “solution oriented” products for women.

Ted Davis, the twinkle-eyed creator behind Braza Bra, didn’t start his career as an expert in lingerie. As a textile exporter, he had a customer in Brazil whose wife discovered a precursor of Braza’s stick-on bra. He brought the product to the U.S. and an industry was born. Shoulder pads, bra extenders and clothing shields followed, and so did the customers. Retailers first sold them in the lingerie department, but soon the line extension carved out its own niche.

“We created the lingerie accessory business,” says Davis. “People would have an idea for a product, we’d listen, and create a solution to an undergarment problem.” He points out that one of the company’s new products, the backless freedom bustier (“wear the strapless dress of your dreams!” declares the packaging), took a year to get right. While he uses fit models in New York, a lot of the testing was done by the employees.

The growing business called for a larger space than its original New York office, and so in 1993, Davis and his wife, Karen, moved Braza Bra to the Berkshires (they had a house in Becket). They built a 10,000-square-foot building in an industrial park in Lee and, when space grew tight there, they added on another 20,000 square feet. Now, Braza employs 40 people, who often suggest ideas for products, and who seem totally nonplussed that they are handling products that might make some people blush.

To be honest, I wasn’t even sure what some of the products were for, but the packaging is informative and the names are clever. The Silicone Magic Super Dolly offers “super duper” enhancement; the reusable Petal Tops (nipple covers) are “comfortable, convenient and economical;” Flash Tape, the original double-sided dressing tape in a dispenser is “perfect for all fashion emergencies.” There’s a reason the company’s tagline is “Problem Solved!”

“The package has a promise, and you’ve got to make sure it’s going to work,” Davis says. He says friends are envious of his job — yes, he looks at some of the finest breasts when working with the fit models — but it really is about the fit.

Karen, the spokesperson for the company (a.k.a. Braza Queen), who gives seminars for retail salespeople on how to help their customers use the products, backs up her husband’s quest to produce products that help solve a problem. “He lives, breathes, eats and sleeps how to make things better,” she says.

April Burch, co-owner of Bra and Girl, shows the bestselling Magic Clip, which creates a racerback for any bra.

And it’s not just about preventing those embarrassing wardrobe malfunctions. Braza has expanded into footwear comfort solutions, hair wraps, hosiery and pumice stones (for removing pilling on sweaters). There’s a whole line of “swimwear essentials” that includes cleavage kits, water-resistant Flash Tape and Swim Petal Tops as well as products for nursing mothers and affordable breast forms for post-surgery (most insurance plans don’t cover additional prosthesis products).

From its warehouse off Route 102, the products go out to more than 4,000 retailers in 32 countries, including Ricky’s of NYC, Faces in Northampton and Victoria’s Secrets. In Great Barrington, the clear bra straps and converter clips are best sellers. “They’re kind of like our nuts and bolts,” says Dan Alden, co-owner of Bra and Girl.

“It’s been 31 years and you can still find people who have never heard of us,” Karen says.

Well, not that they’re admitting, anyway.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 05/31/16 at 02:41 PM • Permalink