It might seem counter intuitive to shop for garden items in the middle of winter, when the few remaining twigs and branches are encrusted in frost.
Yet, Lynn Hamlen's Darien shop for vintage garden items has maintained a bloom throughout the cold months -- and it's not only about the garden.
Hamlen, former director of the Darien Nature Center, opened Folly Design Elements during the holiday season, hoping to draw in gift shoppers, but noted that the business has been much less seasonal than she expected. Streams of customers are dropping by to look at the items Hamlen picks up from estate sales, auctions and antique shops around the country, and fit them into their own gardens or homes.
"By finding one-of-a-kind things, it satisfies me, and just having a statue or a birdbath or a trellis on your terrace draws your eye and enhances, whether inside or out," Hamlen said.
Folly is perched on a stretch of the Post Road populated with boutique stores and restaurants, in a jaunty white building with a gray and white striped awning. Hamlen's inspiration for the shop and its contents comes largely from old English gardens. The name of the shop itself is an English term for a landscape embellishment, "something in the distance that calls your eye," Hamlen said. (Eagle-eyed viewers of Downton Abbey might spot a "folly" on the grounds of the show's sweeping estate).
"Darien has some other shops that feature decorating options, yet each one has their own niche," said Carol Wilder-Tamme, president of the Darien Chamber of Commerce. "Folly is a wonderful addition to the nice mix of shops in that section of the central business district."
In the shop, Hamlen recreates certain "vignettes" that might appeal to customers and show them how different items might be used in a home or garden. A farm table with a mirror or a mantelpiece with a pair of lamps could sit very well in someone's living room, while a statue of a fawn might be tucked into a garden to brighten the landscape. Indeed, winter is a popular time for garden accessories, Hamlen said, as the lack of foliage and flowers calls for something else to draw attention.
Retiring from 20 years at the nature center last spring, Hamlen was quick to direct her talents toward retail, finding a vacant rental space where Executive Printing used to be, across from the Darien Playhouse. To fill out her inventory, she seeks out vintage pieces from sales in Maine, Vermont, California, Massachusetts -- wherever her interest leads her, Hamlen said. Naturally, this means letting go of some items she has become particularly attached to, like an Italian mirror and a pair of boudoir lamps, beloved pieces that sold within the first day of opening.
"I have kissed a lot of beautiful things goodbye," Hamlen said. "I always know instinctively where something's going when I buy it. The key to success if being true to yourself and buying things you like."
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