Creating the Store – Mrs. Nicholson Home
For sixteen years, I carried around a piece of paper in my purse, stuck in the back of my Day-Timer. It was dated February 22nd 1995 and it described my imaginary design store… the one I was going to have some day. I took it out and had a long look at it when my sister Christine, an award-winning tenured professor, admitted in late 2010 that she needed a new challenge. She asked me if I wanted to open an antiques shop. She would help out from time to time. I said no, there were already antique dealers in Annapolis Royal and I always wanted to create a store that sold the Cinderella bits and pieces known as “vintage”. That’s how it started… but two months later Christine had secured a leave of absence, I had bought a building downtown and Mrs. Nicholson Home was born.
The store — selling vintage home décor — opened in early July of 2012 after a six-month renovation of the little building at 212 St George Street. The pictures show how the Mrs. Nicholson Inc. team transformed what was originally the back storage shed of Beeler’s Hardware into a bright and snappy storefront with a lovely front garden instead of a parking lot.
A Little History
For many years, 212 St. George Street was the site of Beeler’s Hardware store. Here’s a picture of it from about 1945, courtesy of Mr. George Beeler, the owner’s son. Like most late Victorian buildings, Beeler’s Hardware was built right out to the sidewalk line, with storefront below and living quarters above. The lot was long and narrow, and also housed a small building behind the store to hold lumber and extra stock.
Unfortunately, the hardware store burned in the late 1980s. The little storage building was saved and the front of the lot was paved over. The little building was used for lots of different things — a deli, a pottery outlet, a dress shop — before I bought it in December of 2010. Here’s what it looked like then:
The building lacked a certain charm, so I turned to our local architect Harry Jost to see what magic he could make. I wanted a prettier entry and windows in the front of what had been a walk-in cooler in the old deli days. He came up with a simple but stunning design.
The next challenge was the parking lot between the sidewalk and the front door of the store. It takes 75 steps to go from one to the other. That’s a lot of real estate for even a motivated shopper to cross! I couldn’t afford to put a new building on the lot, so I decided to put in a garden instead, complete with a brick display area for store merchandise. I turned to the people I had worked with before on my other projects — garden designer Joy Elliott, and garden builders and plants people Niki Clark and Ian Curry.
We started on the renovation by tearing out the old parking lot. That was an interesting day. The Brown Bros. Excavating team made that heavy equipment move like ballet dancers!
Then mason Lennie Hannam put in the brickwork. We chose a herringbone pattern for both the walkway and the display space.
When Lennie was done, Niki, Ian and Shireen started on the garden construction. Joy had specified “Elizabeth” magnolias in the design to add to the species on display during Annapolis Royal’s magnolia festival each spring. We decided on boxwood hedges to contain low-maintenance gardens filled with perennials. Daffodils and daylilies, two of my favourite old-fashioned flowers, line the sidewalk edge and provide colour from spring to fall.
The Porter brothers then took hold of Harry Jost’s architectural plan and built the entry and put in the windows and generally fixed up the place.
Finally, the Burrell brothers completed the transformation with paint.
The result? A brand new look… both front and back. Just the kind of vintage building you need for a vintage décor store!
Special thanks to Eugenia Bogart, who hand painted our beautiful wooden signs and sandwich board!
So, what’s vintage?
The word seems to mean different things to different people. To me, it’s a term that loosely identifies used goods – furniture, lamps, clothing, decorative accessories, fabrics, china, glass, books — that are old, but not old enough to be called “antiques”. Unused things can also be classified as vintage… for example, a tablecloth from the 1950s that is still in its original packaging. Technically, it’s “new”… but it’s also vintage. Here’s a picture of vintage objects in my own dining room at home…
The plaster head is not signed. I have no idea how old it really is, but stylistically speaking, it belongs in the 40s or 50s. It cost me $12 at a thrift store three years ago. The grapes are made of alabaster with grapevine stems. These are Italian and were made in the 50s and 60s as popular tourist items, but they are getting harder to find now, and they’re a lot more expensive than they used to be.
At Mrs. Nicholson Home, our focus is on objects from the 30s to the 70s, but anything that catches my eye is fair game for the store!