Artful living

There’s certainly something to be said for working with experts.

They know their fields inside and out, have a wealth of diverse experiences and a broad perspective and, perhaps most important, approach any project with an assured hand.

Make that two assured hands when it comes to Eleish van Breems, a business partnership focused on creating elegant interiors with a Scandinavian influence.

Those hands belong to childhood friends and longtime business partners Rhonda Eleish and Edie van Breems, who today oversee an ever-expanding empire headquartered in the Saugatuck neighborhood of Westport.

It includes their well-established design studio and a newer — and warmly welcoming — retail location around the corner. The latter space is a sophisticated-and-thoughtful reflection of both the approach and aesthetic the owners have honed over two-plus decades in business together, something further explored through the three interior design books they have written (with a few more in the works).

A recent morning visit to Eleish van Breems Home, which opened in December, is part tour, part fact-finding mission — and all about delving into a world of artful living, as Eleish and van Breems share their story in a way that’s as informative as it is down-to-earth.

“Edie and I grew up together locally,” says Eleish. “We met in the fifth grade.”

Each would go on to professional careers — van Breems as a food stylist and commercial photographer, with Eleish working in visual merchandising — before joining forces in the world of antiques and interior design.

Eleish van Breems, we learn, got its start in Litchfield County’s Woodbury as a fine antiques gallery that opened in 1997. Set within a charmed locale — a historic 1760 house and garden — the gallery was a virtual showcase of Scandinavian life, a nod to the shared heritage of the two women whose families were both from Saugatuck.

Its specialties were Gustavian formal and Swedish country finds combined with contemporary Scandinavian accessories, a unique mix that’s become the owners’ trademark.

Early sourcing sent Eleish and van Breems right to Sweden, where family connections, and soon growing professional ones, allowed the business to take off quickly.

“We had entrée into all these great dealers, historians, restorers and then we started marking our own friends,” Eleish says.

Soon, the business would expand to working on interiors and then a line of historically based Swedish furniture, both elements that continue today.

And, adds van Breems, “We started working with some small manufacturers in Sweden — and we still do this today,” with an emphasis on family-owned/operated companies that follow sustainable practices.

Within time, the antiques gallery would close, the pair selling goods online and also out of van Breem’s barn in Fairfield.

“We’re big sharers and storytellers, so for us not to have a space, it was hard,” van Breems says.

Westport seemed the next logical step, and the pair opened Eleish van Breems Design some three years ago, a cozy storefront across from the train station where they continue to meet with clients. Expansion was in the plans, with the owners jumping at the chance to secure a onetime warehouse/former granary that offered some 2,000 square feet of space — just around the corner.

“We love interesting properties that have a soul to them, a history, a patina,” Eleish says.

A gut renovation and custom build led to Eleish van Breems Home, which van Breems adds, is about “more than just furniture.”

A glance around proves that in no uncertain terms, the eye taking it all in, from an array of antiques (most notably a selection of classic Swedish Mora clocks) to wall art, tabletop goods to linens, pottery to lighting, copper kitchenware to mirrors, pillows to candles, rugs (including those made with recycled plastics) to jewelry, books, tea and more. WAG is even treated to a sneak peek of a signature line of leather goods, with Eleish van Breems working with a longtime private collaborator who’s also Sweden’s royal purveyor of leather (and the maker of the cases that hold The Nobel Prize).

“We’re constantly looking and developing,” says Eleish of travels near and far that build such relationships.

It all shows, too, in the way the shop is arranged, vignettes that constantly change but share a cohesive sensibility.

And there’s always room for fun, as evidenced by the work of Stockholm-based artist Charlotte
Nicolin, who specializes in quirky animal portraits. Here, in the dining-themed area of the shop, the personality-driven depictions of rabbits and pigs, cows and more are sported on everything from best-selling trays to plates.

A nearby children’s room includes re-imagined carriage cushions with playful animal themes, as well.

Throughout, there is a vibrancy.

“We love color,” van Breems says. “I think so many people think Scandinavian is no color, but it’s not.”

What it also is about is the mixing of old and new, again shown here by design.

“That’s how they live in Scandinavia. You keep the old things,” van Breems says, showcasing, for example, a heirloom dining table with contemporary tabletop goods.

Here, too, you can certainly find investment pieces but also distinctive gifts and well-crafted accents, such as $60 wooden candlesticks.

As Eleish says, it’s all about a “clean, elegant, less-is-more” appeal where good design is key, something they think their interior-design clients and casual shoppers equally appreciate.

“Here are things that we love, that we’ve curated,” Eleish says, noting twice-yearly trips to Sweden will keep that flow going.

“We have a ton of stuff coming in for Christmas and holiday.”

Eleish van Breems Home is at 99 Franklin St. and Eleish van Breems Design is at 22 Railroad Place, both in Westport. For more, visit evbantiques.com.

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