Just days before the ribbon cutting ceremony at the new Gurnee home for her Loverly Cottage boutique, Juliet Abeille is a blur of happy motion. “This will be the main room for the gift shop,” she gestures to the left, “and back here is one of the rooms where we customize our painted furniture pieces…” her voice trails off as she ducks down a corridor past row upon row of vintage pieces waiting to be refurbished.
Abeille (pronounced a-bay) means “bee” in French, and as Juliet moves from room to room, pausing only briefly here and there, the association is an apt one.
An IT professional by day, single mom, and self-described, “goddess with a paintbrush and power tools,” by night, Abeille is hoping that three’s the charm for her Loverly Cottage.
Her business—which merges sales of refurbished and custom-painted furniture with home goods, gifts, and DIY workshops—operated in two other locations previously. Abeille outgrew the first space, called L’Abeille Vintage in Lake Bluff, years ago. The second Lake Bluff shop, on Skokie Valley Road, was lost to a fire at the same time that Abeille was about to have heart surgery (a cardia ablation to treat atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat.)
“You know, a lot of people don’t take signs from the universe, but I do,” she says. “Finding this location, at this time, feels like my grandparents and others out there are somehow looking out for me.”
The new sit, which quadruples her retail and warehouse space and comes with a pond and spacious gardens, will allow Abeille to host more special events, workshops and even makers’ markets.
“I often think how cool it is that I ended up both working with vintage and refurbishing” she says. “My step-grandfather was a partner in an antique shop and all the men in my family–my father, grandfather, step-grandfather–were tinkers, great at repurposing everything they could, creating something new out of something old.”
One example? Abeille’s grandfather took an old, 3-speed bicycle and rejiggered it into a homemade moped.
“He hooked it up to a car battery he put in the bike basket,” Abeille laughs. “So if he traveled too far and got tired coming back, he’d just fire it up and motor the rest of the way home.” As a child, Abeille says she learned sewing and needlepoint from her grandmother, and then hung out near the garage watching her father and grandfather work on projects.
“I always had my nose in it,” says Abeille, “asking them “What are you doing? What are you working on? How did you take that apart and put it back together?” They were never afraid to show me. I learned so much from watching them.”
But Abeille’s path to refurbishing began with teddy bears. She started making doll clothes when she was 10, and then taught herself to make her own her own teddy bears sold at craft and artisan fairs.
“My stepmom was a crafter and she would bring me to craft shows to help her work the booth,” Abeille recalls. “I learned at a young age how to run a business.” Initially, the teddys were made of a variety of fabrics. But a random thrift store purchase of a fur coatthat Abeille made into two bears, put her on the fast track to teddy bear stardom.
“It just snowballed. People would stop by the booth and say, “Wow, your mother makes beautiful bears!” And I’d say “No, I made these.” So then they would inspect them and say, “Wow, these are very well made! I have a fur coat from my mother, can you make a teddy bear out of that for me?”
In short order, Abeille was making dozens of fur teddy bears, repurposing vintage furs she bought, and, creating keepsake teddies out of clients’ family furs.
As her bears grew in popularity, Abeille started getting invitations to attend celebrity gift suites in Hollywood, and found herself selling bears at an Eva Longoria charity event for pediatric cancer research at Universal Studios, and at the Friars Club in Beverly Hills during the Golden Globe awards.
The peak came when a Robb Report feature as one of the “50 Best Gifts for the Holidays” prompted Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman to include Abeille’s fur bears as part of their loyalty rewards program.
But as the bear business burgeoned, Abeille also kept growing her vintage painted fur- niture clientele.
“I was doing all kinds of markets,” she says” and people kept saying to me, “You really need a store. Now that we are on our third location of the fulfillment of that dream,” she continues, “I’m really looking forward to taking the workshop part of what we do to the next level. People have always loved coming in and watching as we work on a piece. They’ll say, “Oh, I wish I could do that!” It’s great to be able to show them how in these workshops, especially now that we have a dedicated space for it.”
“I learned what I know by replicating what my father and grandfather did,” she says. “And now I have the opportunity to pass that on to people here. I’d like to think my dad would be proud of that.”
For more information, visit loverlycottage.com.