The Organic Hudson Valley Holiday Gift Guide of 2016
By Holly J. Coley
Grab the cookie sheets and dust off the decorations. You know what time it is! We love the holidays at OHV, but we’ll be the first to admit they are stressful. While we can’t box up relaxation for you, we have the next best thing: our holiday gift guide! We’ve done the legwork of finding offerings from local shops and artisans that will make even the pickiest receiver keel over with gratitude.
For the New Home Owner or Art Connoisseur
October Design Co.
Stephanie Reppas was always the artist kid. You know, that kid? The one who sketches and is likely found making something? Yeah, that was her. Growing up between Ohio and Florida, she seemed destined for New York, the place all artists eventually feel pulled toward. “In ’97, I took an impromptu trip [there] and finally found my people,” she recalls. “Everyone wore black and moved at warp speed!” She moved there a year later and still holds a soft spot for it, though the corporate world of graphic design, which she began after school, she was happy to leave behind. After a decade, the work had become dreary and was certainly not conducive to her creative self. “I’d work a desk job all week and have no time or energy left for my own projects—20 sketchbooks full of unrealized ideas!” she says. When she moved from the city to upstate, she found more space, quiet and “a wonderful cache of found rustic and industrial design materials to work with.”
While Stephanie designs a number of things (furniture, décor, clothing, jewelry), there’s a common thread in all her work, and it’s finding a purpose for discarded items. “I love abandoned things,” she explains. “Anything the world has passed over or cast off.” It’s not uncommon for her to hop into Betty-Lou (her ride) and visit estate sales and old barns for inspiration. She’s even been known to turn on her power tools at 3:00 a.m. when a new idea pops in her head. There’s always a vintage quality in her work, whether she’s using metal, wood or another material. “In a world overrun with mass-produced plastic, I naturally gravitate to the old rustic and industrial aesthetic, to objects that have weight, history and character,” she says. “There was so much craftsmanship built into simple utilitarian fixtures a century ago. People took the time and care to hand-forge beautiful, decorative elements into something so basic, like a pulley, used to haul bales of hay from one end of the barn to the other. And each object I find has a story behind it. I love that!”
Her company, October Design Co., has been open for five years now, and if you’re looking for a piece with real soul, you’ll love all that it has to offer. Her Equestrian Mirrors ($100–$250) feature hand-tacked vintage leather and real heel chains and bits. Stephanie found the inspiration for them in a junk shop in Tuxedo, where she saw an old horse bridle and thought, “I could use the leather on something.” If you’re looking to brighten up a kitchen or bring interest to a drab office space, she offers a collection of lamps and chandeliers that range between industrial and farm chic. Made from fallen birch wood from Stephanie’s own backyard, the Birch Wood Pendant Lights (starting at $50) bring the outdoors in and add texture to a room.
In the upcoming year, Stephanie will be expanding her line of leather-detailed equestrian furnishings and will also be working on a wine-and-spirits-themed décor collection. To shop October Design Co. online, please visit www.octoberdesignco.com.
For the Hostess
Everything tastes better when it’s made with love, and it’s always been a love thing when it comes to being in the kitchen for Jennifer Mercurio. The culinary creative behind Eleanor’s Best remembers spending time with her family in that room some of us refer to as the belly of the home. As she puts it, “any job was a good job in the kitchen.”
The company name comes from the women in Jennifer’s family, many of whom (including her daughter) are named Eleanor. Going 150 years back, the name, like preserve making, has been passed down along with the memories of when it wasn’t about the business of making artisanal jams, jellies, preserves and marmalade but just being part of a long-standing tradition. Jennifer remembers being a child and standing around with her female family members, washing, squashing and eventually cutting, peeling and stirring when she was old enough. When she came to the Hudson Valley as an adult, she started making jams again, gifting them to friends and family. But soon word got out, and people started showing up at her home wanting jars. It’s not every day you find the types of preserves your parents still talk about—made with real fruit, hand stirred, no fillers and no additives. “Real food with authentic ingredients, made the old-fashioned way, tastes better,” she says. “You don’t need as much of it to experience more.”
The art of preserve making is labor intensive, and here are some fun facts to share with the receiver. It takes hours to make jam and three days for marmalade. “We prep the fruit, make the jam and then hot-water bathe the filled jars,” Jennifer says. “Sitting unopened on a shelf in the pantry, they can outlast the zombie apocalypse.”
For the holiday season, the Hot Pepper Jam ($8) will go great with any cheese-and-cracker platter. The Sweet Onion Jam (also $8) goes well on holiday roasts, as well as bruschetta at brunch. And of course, if you’re giving to the more traditional palate, you can always package up a breakfast-jam trifecta of Strawberry, Blueberry and Raspberry ($8 per bottle). Jennifer suggests the Grapefruit, Bitter Orange, and Meyer Lemon marmalades, all which make wonderful stocking suffers and will awaken your tongue in the most frigid winter. The company believes in supporting local and family farms. Ingredients are locally sourced when possible, and in peak season, when they’re ripest. “It’s gratifying to share our delicious old-fashioned homemade food with others and know the joy that they’ll experience because of it,” says Jennifer.
To shop Eleanor’s Best, please visit eleanorsbest.com.
For the Naturalist
Knowing what’s in your skin-care products can be like seeing how your meat is made: you just don’t want to. Once you do, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed as you search for brands you can trust. It’s a frustration Donna Wacker knows all too well. More than a decade ago, she searched every aisle for products that didn’t aggravate her niece’s skin and came up short. “It was then I began my research,” she says. “Being a certified teacher, I took my researching skills and started searching the web for mild ingredients, mild anything for sensitive skin.” Her digging led her to the healing properties of goat’s milk, a source high in vitamins and fat. In soap, it provides a wonderful lather that enriches skin instead of stripping it.
She continued using the powerful ingredient to make soaps and lotions for her niece and family, learning the craft from a woman who lived on a little farm in Pennsylvania. “The knowledge she provided just enthralled me, and I was hooked on how she put so much great positive, loving energy in the making of her ,” she says.
With the encouragement of her mother, Donna started to share her goods past her circle of family and friends, creating Smellz Good, a company dedicated to all-natural, small-batch skin-care products. In addition to being made without parabens or sulfates, all ingredients are ethically sourced, certified organic, and from local or eco-conscious companies. “I’m always researching and looking for better; looking to make sure the place I buy from [isn’t] purchased by big-box or commercial companies that may have cut corners and changed the quality of the materials,” Donna says, and since she started her line in 2004, she has gone on to offer everything from Magnesium Oil to Room/Body Spray.
Wrap up and stuff stockings with thick bars of Lavender or Orange Clove Soap ($5). The packaging for Tooth Sudz ($18) is reason enough for us to gift a jar. It comes in flavors like Peppermint and Bubblegum, and is made without sweeteners or harmful ingredients like triclosan and sodium lauryl sulfate. You can gift Fido with his own Doggie Shampoo Bar ($5)—made with goat’s milk, of course. And if you’re planning a trip, consider picking up Wack’s Attack ($5–$13), the company’s bug spray. “Being a fly fisher and camper, I had to create a great and effective bug spray,” explains Donna.” Smellz Good also provides wedding favors and takes part in many local market events.
To shop Smellz Good, visit them at smellzgood.com, and like them on Facebook.
For the Fashion Conscious
Some people fight against their creative urges. Some out of fear, others for practically. Kathryn Luciana is not one of those people. Before opening Huzzah Handmade, her luxury knitwear and accessory shop, she had pursued and conquered a number of artistic avenues. At first it was all about drawing. By junior high she knew how to sew. She would go on to pursue English lit and photography, creating work that would be nationally shown. By the time she began knitting she was well into her career as a wardrobe supervisor. “Knitting appealed to me for many reasons,” she says. “I was fascinated with the amazing variety of things that could be created with two simple stitches and a couple of sticks. Plus, the lure of beautiful and colorful fibers is addictive.”
In pursuit of a craft project that she could do during her down time at work, she learned to knit at a local library 12 years ago, where she was taught by a “very kind and patient woman” who ran a local yarn store. Eventually she would start experimenting with nuno felting, a craft that uses silk fabrics and fine fibers to create abstract patterns and designs.
Kathryn’s shop offers a variety of items, from capelets and shawls to bags and even e-reader covers. Everything, as the name indicates, is handcrafted and is made using a variety of materials such as designer wool felt, organic cotton, industrial felt, silks and upcycled items. And like its name, an archaic term to express joy or delight, much of the line features an array of lively and rich colors—all sure to brighten the bleak winter months. The Long Scarf ($65) features lace edges and organic cotton yarn and comes in a delicious turmeric color. The blend of the purple, aubergine and dark blue in the Twilight Nuno Felted Shawl ($165) is elegant and the gift to give to the friend who is always going to holiday parties and big events. The Felt and Leather Crossbody Minibag ($59) in its brilliant cobalt blue will be a welcome addition under any Christmas tree. “My palette ranges from earth neutral colors to wild and bold, depending on how I think a particular fiber will pair with the design,” says Kathryn of her line. “The correct pairing can make or break the finished product.” Items can take anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks to make. “No one ever took up knitting to make things fast!” she jokes. Along with all of the clothes and accessories in her shop, she also does custom work.
Huzzah Handmade can be found in local shops like ReMade at 133 Main Street, Beacon, NY. Kathryn can often be found showing her looks at a variety of juried shows and events throughout the area. To learn where to find her and shop her full collection, visit www.etsy.com/shop/HuzzahHandmade.
For the Vintage Lover
The Highlands Foundry
Cheryl Pagano and her husband Joseph have always wanted to be in business together. While coming from different fields (she a designer for Ralph Lauren, he a glass blower), they’ve long had a mutual interest and appreciation for items from different eras. The name of their business, the Highland Foundry, even has old roots. “The foundry is an old term depicting how various artists would come together and work in a studio environment creating things,” Cheryl explains. “This we felt encapsulated what we are doing: working with classic, natural materials such as cotton, wool, leather, glass and wood to create functional and beautiful things for people to enjoy.”
What they are doing is keeping elements of our collective history alive by infusing iconic vintage style into home goods and fashions. Peruse through their shop website and you’ll get a sense of pure Americana. There are lots of red, white and blue; durable fabrics; and classically inspired prints. “I have a deep love of vintage textiles with their history, quality and utilitarian purpose,” Cheryl says of the brand’s line, which has been inspired by her appreciation for vintage denim and the workwear of the industrial and agricultural industry. “I want the story and history to continue, so I use these clothes repurposed into modern-day tote bags and pillows so we can continue to love and appreciate them.”
The pair divide work according to their area of expertise, Joseph creating the glass bell jars ($225) that are hand blown and then cut and polished in a cold shop on their property. He also hand cuts and shapes all of the cutting/serving boards ($120–$175), preferring to work with hard exotic woods with versatile interiors. Cheryl frequents estate sales and flea markets, searching for fabric materials. Once home, she cleans, repairs and cuts them according to the design she wants. She makes all the patterns by hand. The Salvaged Navy Ombre Plaid Pillow Cover ($95) was once a double-weave plaid wool blanket from the 1940s. The luxurious and authentic Curly Sheepskin Pillow Cover ($150) is hand cut and has a 100 percent cotton fleck canvas back with an envelope slit closure. A popular store item are the totes with deerskin bottoms like the 1930s Ticking ($190), which is lined with natural cotton and has an interior pocket made of blue chambray. The Maritime Nautical Bag ($175), inspired by “the classic mariner’s pea coat” makes a gorgeous carry-on for holiday excursions and features a pocket from a genuine 1930s herringbone denim-fabric workwear coverall. It’s a perfect place to store your passport or other items you need quick access to.
Joseph and Cheryl create new items regularly, and, along with the current items available on their site, Cheryl will be unveiling her latest throw-pillow designs created from vintage plaid shawls and blankets. They will also be part of the Hudson River Exchange in Hudson, NY, in December. To shop now, visit www.thehighlandsfoundry.com.
For the Holiday Stressed
Humans have had a long-standing love affair with tea. From its medicinal boons to it serving as a symbol for time to unwind, there’s something comforting about the familiar flavor of a warm cup of peppermint or that mug of English Breakfast in the morning. “Drinking tea is an experience, it’s relaxing, it’s reflective.” This comes from Jules Fernandez and Olya Malikova, the duo behind the organic tea and beauty company BeauTea Studio, based in Montgomery. Both consider themselves “big tea drinkers” and their love of its positive effects, from calming anxiety to its promotion of self-care, brought them together to bring an online boutique experience that’s part apothecary spa, part tea room.
BeauTea Studio specializes in high-quality blends of non-GMO, organic full-leaf tea, most being Fair Trade. “Full leaf equals big taste and the best benefits,” says Jules. Along with their blends, they also make accessories like tea infusers, skin-care products such as bath salts and facial serums, and aromatherapy items like soy candles.
The pair began working together in 2015. Jules had been running a small shop on Etsy that offered several different assortments of tea. When Olya decided to join her, they expanded to make custom blends, skin-care products and other feel-good sensory items. “Jules has a background in esthetics,” explains Olya. “Skin care and aromatherapy came as a natural addition to the shop.”
When working on a new product, the team comes together to combine leaves that not only have complementary flavors but provide sippers with extra tea-drinking perks, like a boost of energy or heart-healthy antioxidants. “While taste is always important when creating a new blend, herbs have so many beneficial health benefits that both play an important role when we are creating,” says Olya.
For the less-than-restful holidays, we recommend gifting the Beauty Sleep Herbal Tea ($6.50) containing skin-nourishing calendula, rose petals, lavender and chamomile flowers, and tension-relieving peppermint and spearmint leaves. The Chocolate Mint Tea ($10) is prepared in small batches to ensure maximum freshness, comes loose or in unbleached bags, packaged in kraft pouches, and yields two to three cups per bag. We cannot forget to mention the beautiful Blooming Green Flower Artisan Tea ($12, four per set) that unfolds before your eyes as soon as the blossom hits water. Each of the teas comes individually wrapped and packaged in a wooden box. Olya and Jules enjoy making custom orders, so don’t be shy about contacting them. They’re more than happy to make a blend to suit your needs and taste. “Wellness, relaxation and taking care of our inner and outer selves go hand in hand,” says Jules. “It’s beauty from the inside out! [It’s] an important part of both our lives, and it’s our lifestyle.”
Instead of Wine
Bonnie S. Gulden always wanted to work with wood. “Carpentry is just in my blood,” she says. But it took a while for the owner and designer behind Spatial Issues to get her hands dusty (brownie points if you get the joke). For a long time she worked in retail, unsure that the male-dominated industry of woodwork would accept the likes of her. It took the infamous IBM layoffs of the ’90s to make her bite the bullet and take the plunge.
Bonnie’s work indicates a visionary’s eye and a gift for seeing the multifaceted potential in everything. You’d think she had spent years apprenticing, or at least in art school, but she’s mostly self-taught, relying on creative instinct. “Most of my training was just doing it and figuring out what works for me,” she explains. “I started working as a trim carpenter in the 1990s and refined a lot of my skills that way for years.” She “can’t throw good things away,” which is largely how she came to start her business. “When my collection got a bit out of control, I decided it was time to start creating,” she explains. “All of my designs are right out of my head. I lay things out on the floor of my shop so I can look at them every day, and the ideas just come to me.”
We love how the pieces found in Spatial Issues are made partially, if not completely, from reclaimed materials. What you’ll love is the way they make you think about ordinary objects differently. Instead of a jewelry box, give one of the Necklace Holders ($35) made from faucet spigots. Deliver the nature lover the wine bottle turned Bird Feeder ($35–45). If you’re thinking of bringing wine to a party, reconsider and present one of the Wine Towers ($125–$160) instead. Customizable and coming in a variety of styles, the towers can be made to your size specification and given a finish to be polished or rustic. They can be mounted on the wall, hung from the ceiling or free-standing. If you have something else in mind, Bonnie is happy to work with you. “I do custom work all the time, either modifying existing designs to a client’s own personal taste, or I will also make something totally from scratch,” she says. “I have also been challenged with modifying existing pieces, to make them into something for a different purpose. I love that too.” Her current favorite designs are her Original Gulden Lightboxes, which come in three styles.
You can visit Bonnie and shop Spatial Issues at 165 Bedell Avenue, Highland, NY, Friday through Monday, 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. You can also visit her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Spatial.Issues.
For Your Coworker,
Kid’s Teacher, or Neighbor
Simplicity is best when it comes to gift giving; instead of going for trendy, think timeless instead. It doesn’t get more timeless than porcelain and stoneware, like the pieces from Virginia Piazza. For the last 20 years, she has been creating functional ware that will be home staples for years after they’ve been received.
Virginia has worked in a variety of mediums, but clay is a personal favorite. “I immediately liked the process of making something out of a material that is so simple and formless,” she says of pottery. “I also was struck by the idea that I could make something that was both beautiful and useful.”
The Mugs ($15) will be in heavy rotation in any household and come in a variety of colors, including chartreuse and aqua. To go along with the mugs, wrap up the Sugar Bowl and Creamer Set ($65), coming in white with either an aqua or chartreuse interior. Both bowl and creamer are made from a pound of wet clay, creating the lids separately. The next day the bottoms and tops are trimmed and the finishing touches are placed while on the wheel. No morning-coffee scene is complete without a vase of flowers, and the hand-thrown Mini Vases ($16) in shiny aqua or even matte turquoise will be a lovely sight in the early a.m.
Virginia is strategic in the way she approaches her work. “I usually start to imagine a form—color, shape and size, and subtle variations in the proportions, the foot and the rim,” she says. “Sometimes I am inspired by a particular food or flower. I might do some sketching before heading to the wheel.” She mixes all her glazes by hand and buys her clay from local suppliers. Her kiln can hold between 60 and 80 pieces, and her creating process has a four- to six-week cycle. “I always start with standard coffee mugs—then proceed to bowls and larger forms,” she explains. She can throw between 12 and 20 pieces in one day.
You can find Virginia’s line at a variety of local stores, including Newburgh Mercantile and the Byrdcliffe Shop located in Woodstock. You can also shop her wares in her Etsy shop under the name CeruleanBlue. If you’d like to meet Virginia herself over the season, make sure to visit her on Beacon’s Second Saturday at Flora Garden and Home located at 197 Main Street. For custom work and inquiries, contact her at virginiapiazza.com.
For the Traditionalist
The Angels on My Tree
Books are one of the few things that keep giving long after they’ve been read, and the lessons given from The Angels on My Tree ($17.99) are no exception. The story tells of author Lu Ann Schnable Kaldor’s first Christmas after the passing of her father and the tradition she and her mother began of sharing acts of kindness during the holiday season. Illustrated by Eve S. Gendron, it’s a beautiful story that will inspire readers young and old to dig into their hearts to bring love and hope to whomever they meet. The book includes a Kindness Journal, where your little one and you can jot down the ways you give back during the holiday and after.
Lu Ann started collecting things at a young age. Short stories, quotes, ideas, they all found their way into a steno pad where they formed a vivid picture of the world she wished to live in. But adulthood called, like it does for us all. She found herself in retail, all the stories inside her untold. It took her working with South African jewelry designer Kevin Friedman, a man she describes as a “creative siren,” to change all that. “Kevin sees the world differently,” she explains. “While working with him, I was ‘telling stories’ through the staging of our showrooms, writing the texts for our catalogues and assisting with product development, but those stories still weren’t mine.”
But that wouldn’t last long. One day after the Christmas rush, Lu Ann noticed many of the ornaments on display had been broken by the scrambling of hands to get on-sale goods. The sight made her sad. Her favorite holiday had turned into an opportunity for people to show their greedier side. She phoned Eve, whom she had met nine years earlier at a new-moms group at Vassar Hospital. She confessed to Eve how embarrassed she was that the season had become so superficial. She shared how she used to celebrate with her mother, and her friend said, “Go home, write that down, send it to me and you’ll feel better.”
The story of the charitable acts Lu Ann and her mother perform is heartwarming, but there’s another lesson the tale imparts—that loss, and the grief that follows, can be overcome. It’s a powerful message and an important one to share with the younger ones on our lists. “This is the book I wish I had when my father died,” Lu Ann says. “Children need to know they are not alone in this experience. Also, at a time when their world has been shockingly and irrevocably changed, they need to be reassured that ultimately they will be okay.”
Lu Ann is currently working on another children’s book about acceptance called The Little Orange Girl. You can purchase The Angels on My Tree at www.theangelsonmytree.com.
For Your Christmas Tree
Gillinder Glass Store
Have you ever wondered where your glass comes from? If you want to know the technical side, it’s a matter of heat (2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, to be exact) melting down composites of sand, soda ash, limestone and other ingredients, which is then hand formed into molds where it can be transformed. There’s really no limit in what glass can become, and if you can think of it, chances are it’s probably been done. Of course, it’s far more appealing to just watch this process take place, like at the tours given at the Gillinder Glass Store factory. The 155-year-old company has been keeping this seemingly magic art alive and current by putting out well-made modern designs.
Monday through Friday people come into the Port Jervis location and stand in awe as they view the raw materials being turned into industrial and commercial goods. “Our customers who take the tour consistently tell us that they had no idea what it takes to make a piece of glass, and they’ll never look at glass the same way again,” says Allyson Gillinder, Director of Retail Operations. She supervisors the tours, as well the Gillinder Glass Store where customers can buy glass pieces made by guest artists.
To give the Christmas tree extra sparkle, pick up Charlie’s Friendship Ornaments ($21.95). The glass Buddhas ($33.75) come in avocado as well hunter green and spectacularly radiate light when hit by the sun. To make receivers audibly ooh, gift wrap one of the store’s Doggies ($24.95), which can serve as a paperweight or a decorative accent. The detail given to the pups’ furrowed brows and curiously guilty expressions will make them cherished items for dog and non-dog lovers alike. Both the Buddhas and Doggies are poured and pressed into molds, not hand blown.
The sixth-generation family business will be holding special glass-blowing demonstrations December 10 where customers can observe guest artists as they make one-of-a-kind glassworks that will also be available for purchase. For more information, or to shop Gillinder Glass Store, please visit www.gillinderglassstore.com.
For Your Best Friend
Yvonne Laube Designs
When Yvonne Laube makes something, “it’s a matter of waste not, want not. There’s no such thing
as garbage. Everything can be made into something. The Gold Hexagonal Studs ($9.99) from her jewelry collection are made from the wooden by-products of other projects. These eco-friendly, handmade and hand-painted earrings also come in copper and feature laser-cut hard maple wood. Like all Yvonne’s accessories, they have a simplistic beauty that highlights the wearer.
Long before Yvonne opened her shop, Yvonne Laube Designs, she had creative inclinations. She always had a sketchbook with her. She was always drawing. “When I graduated high school, I attended Massachusetts College of Art in Boston to pursue a degree in painting,” she explains. Painting gave way to lino-cut printing and other paper crafts, though by the time she was in the working world she wasn’t doing much in the way of hands-on art. Everything was digital, and she was working as a marketing and sales person, her toolkit now software. She found herself missing the act of creating with her hands. When her son was born, she found herself thinking about it more, and the desire to explore other materials again was palpable. She decided to go into business for herself in 2013. Her full use of materials should not be mistaken for upcycling but rather as a capacity to see the possibilities of what those materials have to offer. She’s like a chef who can see the 17 different uses for the poultry in front of her. If her mind can conceive it, her hands can follow.
“I consider my wooden necklaces a unique and modern take on a Victorian locket,” she says of one our favorite pieces in her collection (Monogram Necklace Pendant; $24.99). “Each necklace has a wooden base that I hand paint with water-based acrylics. Then I use wood glue to adhere the ‘face’ of the frame to the base—making it like a little picture frame. I then cut out each little image—wishbone, initial, clover, flower—out of paper and encase the image in resin to give it a protective, finished look.” Her Mother and Daughter Necklace Set ($44.99), which features a vegetable-dyed pink leather heart, also makes a wonderful and sentimental holiday gift. “I try not to waste any scraps,” she says. “I have jars of paper and wood bits just waiting for their purpose.”
Along with jewelry, Yvonne also creates ornaments, note cards and paper-based wall art. She still keeps a sketchbook with her where she can jot down and expand on project ideas. “I am in the process of designing a new holiday greeting card–ornament set and hope to introduce it soon,” she says. She will also be taking part in a number of local marketplaces this season, including the Dutchess Handmade Pop-Up Shop at Arts Mid-Hudson, which opened November 7. To shop Yvonne Laube Designs now, visit www.yvonnelaubedesigns.com.
For the Little One
Wonder and Kind
Some memories stick with you for the rest of your life. Your first kiss, the name of your first best friend, that favorite toy you had as a kid. You know, the one who was always at your side, keeping you company when you were sick, scared or making mud pies in the yard. Jenni Glassford had such a toy. His name was Tubby. Plump and odd-looking, he came as a Christmas gift. She loved him. “He was my constant companion for quite a few years,” she says. “Sadly, I’m not quite sure what became of him, but I’ll never forget what a great friend he was.”
Now she’s in the business of building friends like Tubby was to her. Her shop, Wonder and Kind, specializes in handcrafted heirloom stuffed animals. Teddy bears, mice, kitties and even bunnies are just some of the cuddly creatures she specializes in. Each are made of wool and mohair, feature floppy joints and have embroidered features giving them extra personality and texture. “Quality toys have always been important to me as a parent,” says Jenni, whose daughter inspired her business. “I am a strong believer in toys helping to shape a child’s imagination in the ever-so-fleeting moment of childhood.”
Jenni started making bears and other animals in 2006. “I’m a self-taught toymaker,” she says. “I’ve always had a love for sculpture and animals, so for me it was a natural fit. Also, there is nothing quite like seeing a piece of fabric suddenly come to life with little more than thread and wool stuffing.”
Making Wonder and Kind animals is a labor of love. Jenni often builds a clay model of a toy once it has been sketched out. When everything has been measured and a pattern chosen, a prototype is built, where she can work out any kinks before she starts using more expensive materials. From there it’s a matter of picking the right fabric (she prefers naturals, like organic fleece, cotton sherpa, wool felt or mohair) and then beginning to sew. The stuffing of the animal takes the most time. “You wouldn’t believe how much wool goes into one tiny little animal,” she says. “It’s amazing!”
Amazing indeed. Even the smallest receiver will appreciate the details added that make animals seem more lifelike. Petal ($80), the yellow mohair teddy bear, has rosy cheeks and comes complete with removable owl PJs and stocking cap, both made from 100 percent cotton. Beau ($70), the stuffed mouse, wears tanned bloomers and a colorful checked shirt and has embroidered eyelashes and wool paws. For the young equestrian, Seamus ($65), the pony, will become a frequent guest at all riding lessons. Made from organic fleece and 100 percent hand-dyed wool yarn, he wears a gray-and-white handkerchief. Five percent of all proceeds go toward a Hudson Valley–based charity.
Jenni is currently expanding her line to include dolls, gnomes and other animals. To stay posted on her latest creations, follow her Instagram at the handle wonderandkind. To shop her line, visit https://www.etsy.com/shop/wonderandkind