Shopping in Darien, Connecticut
February 14, 2017
Darien’s Post Road offers an abundance of up-to-the-minute furnishings and home accessories, all in a setting with a delightfully old-fashioned aura.
Text by Dan Shaw Photography by Laura Moss
Strolling the Post Road in Darien feels like time-travelling to the set of one of Douglas Sirk’s 1950s Technicolor melodramas like All That Heaven Allows. On its picture-postcard main street, even the whitewashed brick CVS and clapboard Dunkin’ Donuts conform to the town’s patrician New England aesthetic. Unlike nearby Westport and Greenwich, with their high-octane retail corridors, Darien has a Yankee rectitude with independently owned home-design boutiques, where shopkeepers welcome strangers as if they were neighbors. And it’s such an old-fashioned town that most of these stores are closed on Sundays, so plan your visit accordingly.
Connecticut’s trademark preppy style has morphed into eclectic peppy style, and Kirby and Company is a bellwether of contemporary Fairfield County decorating. This exuberant emporium specializes in accessories and house gifts—vintage table lamps, high-impact throw pillows, whimsical barware, and fanciful mirrors. “The final 10 percent of decorating is what turns a house into a home,” says owner Elaine Kirby McCleary, who was a tableware designer for Juliska before opening her shop in 2014. Many of her customers are first-time homeowners from New York City who’ve played it safe by decorating in a neutral palette of grays and whites. “We encourage people to add color,” she says, pointing out a tall case filled with piles of throws in the colors of Jordan almonds. She carries quirky items—gold elephant bookends, foo dog ceramic lamps—that will add unexpected frisson to a room. And she offers custom services like the re-caning and re-painting of your old furniture, and collaborates with Monogram Mary of Greenwich so you can have your initials emblazoned on linen cocktail napkins and guest towels. The coffee bar in the rear of the store offers a full assortment of espresso-based drinks and has a bakery case with ten different flavors of French macaroons. Customers can linger over a cappuccino or a piece of quiche at cafe tables on the sidewalk under a royal blue awning or inside at tables in the front windows. “I wanted my shop to be a hangout,” says McCleary.
You don’t have to be a Francophile to be seduced by the assortment of housewares at Couleur Provence. Husband-and-wife owners Pierre and Michelle Gagnon, who hail from France, set up shop in Darien eighteen years ago. They are unabashedly chauvinistic about the style and quality of their imported stock, and it’s hard not to be captivated by their eclectic merchandise: colorful tea towels and tablecloths from venerable companies like Beauville and St. Roch; masculine handcrafted knives and corkscrews from Laguiole en Aubrac; bolts of woven striped fabrics from the Basque mill that makes the sturdy material used for espadrilles. One of their current best-sellers is a collection of trompe l’oeil vinyl rugs that resemble French cement tile floors, which are perfect for dressing up a mudroom or kitchen. You can also order the iconic bamboo-framed cafe chairs you see outside brasseries in Paris and choose custom colored weaves for the backs and seats. Couleur Provence has a je ne sais quoi that demonstrates the enduring appeal of authentic French design.
Nielsen’s, a florist shop that’s as vast as a garden center, is a Darien institution. The seventy-five-year-old, family-run business was named the National Retail Florist of the Year in 2011 by Florist Review, and it’s easy to understand why. Nielsen’s has a breathtaking assortment of fresh-cut and silk flowers, live and faux plants, and all the accoutrements for seasonal decorating indoors and out, including lush evergreen boughs for mantels and doorways, and an impressive array of wired ribbon. There’s a wide selection of ceramic planters as well as glass vases and hurricanes by Simon Pearce. A cathedral-ceilinged “conservatory” holds terrariums planted with succulents and orchids in full bloom. The most enchanting aspect of Nielsen’s is the walk-in refrigerator with grab-and-go arrangements and buckets of blooms sold by the stem (such as roses, Gerbera daisies, and Dutch hydrangea) so you can make your own bouquets.
Post Modern Home is named for both its Post Road location and its merchandise of primarily vintage midcentury furniture. Proprietor and former adman Dean Clark once owned the Stamford Antique Center in Stamford (which burned down in 2006), and his sprawling 5,000-square-foot shop has the vibe of a refined flea market. He carries classics—Bertoia wire barstools for Knoll, Hans Wegner’s Venus bench for Getama, and a Jørgen Rasmussen swivel chair—as well as one-of-a-kind pieces like a Karl Springer console and a serpentine sectional sofa that he got from a nearby estate sale. Since many modernist houses were built in Fairfield County in the 1950s, customers are often looking for authentic midcentury furniture. One of Clark’s specialties is rescuing distressed credenzas, coffee tables, and dressers and reviving them with lacquer finishes in bold colors. “For the same price as shopping at Pottery Barn, you can instead buy something that is solid and unique here,” he says.
As Dorothy Draper famously proclaimed, “Decorating is fun!” But it’s often fraught with anxiety. Ordering custom draperies and slipcovers or reupholstering a worn-out chair can be a daunting commitment. The team at Good Goods—where the walls are lined with hundreds of fifty-four-inch-wide bolts of fabrics in every imaginable pattern and material—is committed to making the process as effortless as possible. “We’re for the customer who enjoys decorating on her own and needs help bringing it all together,” says manager Debbie Simon. “Customers bring in pictures on their iPads and we help them make decisions.”
At a large worktable in the center of the shop, the staff spreads out fabrics, patiently mixing and matching options, and then arranges with its own team of craftspeople to get everything made. The shop’s in-stock fabrics are bought directly from mills, keeping the prices per yard surprisingly reasonable. The store can also order fabrics from most high-end brands that you find at to-the-trade showrooms.
Even if you’re only interested in a few throw pillows to brighten a sofa, the shop will make custom pillows in any of their fabrics and generously allows you take their ready-mades home for approval.
In Darien, decorating is, indeed, nothing but fun •
Couleur Provence, 863 Post Rd., (203) 655-9775
Good Goods, 859 Post Rd., (203) 655-8100
Kirby and Company, 1029 Post Rd., (855) 553-5900
Nielsen’s, 1405 Post Rd., (203) 655-2541
Post Modern Home, 110 Post Rd., (203) 202-9647