Home Makers

Home Makers

Albert Hadley Jr. (1920-2012), interior designer to the prominent and powerful—Al Gore, Jackie Onassis, director Mike Nichols—once said, “Design is coming to grips with one’s real lifestyle, one’s real place in the world. Rooms should not be put together for show but to nourish one’s well-being.”

That sounds like a recipe for everyday facility; but, faced with empty or even partially empty rooms to fill, many of us need help distinguishing between flashy empty calories and meaningful nourishment. That’s where the designers of Fairhaven Furniture, a local store specializing in quality craft furniture, come in. To them, “Home should be a sanctuary—you spend so much time there, it should make you feel good,” says store co-owner Colleen Gala. “We can help with that, really help make it feel personal to you. We’re not curing diseases, but we are helping improve people’s quality of life with something that makes you happy when you walk into the room.”

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This service is “essentially free,” as the website puts it, if you buy your new decor through Fairhaven. In that case, the design fee, which depends on “the scale of the project and our designers’ travel time,” is applied to the purchase. The designers include Joe Shelfo and Emily Mitchell, both graduates of Paier College of Art & Design, as well as Gala and Fairhaven co-owner Lao Triffin, who acquired the store from Lao’s uncle, Kerry Triffin, and Kerry’s wife, Elizabeth Orsini, in 2016.

You won’t find cheap or disposable decor in Fairhaven’s 20,000-square-foot showroom. “Our inventory leans very modern,” Gala says. “But we call it ‘modern-transitional’ because we are based in New England. So we’re not ultra-contemporary—a lot of hardwoods and earth tones are appropriate to our geography.” Cherry wood furniture has been a popular choice for local homes because it’s a neutral tone that’s not too severe, Gala says, but walnut, a darker, richer brown wood, is growing in popularity, though it’s pricier.

As for fabrics—on couches, recliners, beds—Gala emphasizes function even more than form. “Leather is very popular, because it’s going to last the longest of any upholstery you can get. Nowadays, customers are after kid-friendly and pet-friendly, so we have a lot of high-performance fabrics.” Color-wise, she says, clients tend to go with neutral tones for large pieces like couches and bolder choices for accent pillows, rugs and chairs.

Many of the choices Fairhaven has on display come from New England manufacturers, including well-known companies like Vermont’s Copeland Furniture (which produces sustainably handcrafted products from mid-century modern-style dining tables to American Shaker-style bedroom dressers) and Gold Bond mattresses, manufactured in Hartford. Others are produced farther afield, such as couches from American Leather, made in Texas, and Younger Furniture, of North Carolina. Stressless recliners come from Georgia and powered relaxer recliners from Fjords USA Inc., New Jersey distributors for a Norwegian company that “offers great promotions and discounts.”

As a browser, what excited me most were the unique gems from independent artisans near and far. Some of these items are found during the store’s annual spring pilgrimage to the Highpoint Furniture Market in New Jersey, a trade show featuring more than 2,000 companies over 12 million square feet. Others are brought to the store by ambitious crafters who think Fairhaven just might be the place to sell their creations. The store finds its vegetable-dyed wool area rugs, handmade in India and Pakistan and mostly one-of-a-kind, at a wholesale furniture market in North Carolina. “I’ve been there for hours sometimes, just picking out rugs,” Gala says.

Mesquite wood side tables inlaid with river stones and turquoise are the creations of a New Mexico artisan who Gala met at an American Handcrafted show in Philadelphia. “This was in February; she agreed to bring our picks to Connecticut in September when she travels cross-country in her van to deliver to all her customers,” Gala says. Other decorative tables are made by a woodworker in New York, including maple fig leaf and cherry wood burls with bow tie-shaped insets of complementary woods like ebony and hickory. I loved an Indonesian display table, perfect for a front foyer or tall side table, enhanced with a large insert of sculptural found wood. At the moment, the store also has funky wood sculptures by Connecticut’s William Kent (1919-2012), a self-taught visual artist, Yale School of Music-trained pianist and onetime curator of New Havens’s John Slade Ely House (now known as the Ely Center of Contemporary Art).

Fairhaven also contains a full-fledged gift shop equipped with decorative and functional home accessories as well as apparel, personal-care products, jewelry, games and educational toys for the kids. These items are largely hand-chosen from both the annual American Handcrafted expo and a biannual visit to trade events at the Javits Center in New York City. “These shows are a great way for us to touch, see and feel what would work best for the store,” Gala says. I was particularly eager to see and touch ZPots Studio’s pottery from Vermont, inscribed with paintings, quotes and poems; David Howell & Company earrings, many of which are inspired by architectural and natural landmarks; and a selection of sock lines, particularly colorful alpaca foot-warmers from Peru and socks from Conscious Step that support a variety of causes.

A sale is on right now, and next month, there will be a unique way for you to see and feel Fairhaven Furniture’s stock for yourself: a “Holiday Hoopla” open house on Saturday, November 11, from 6 to 9 p.m., which will feature a sofa sale as well as festive drinks, light bites and live music from The Mediums. After all, full nourishment requires more than well-chosen furnishings alone.

Fairhaven Furniture
72 Blatchley Ave, New Haven (map)
Mon & Wed-Sat 10am-6pm, Sun noon-5pm
(203) 776-3099

Written and photographed by Patricia Grandjean.

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