A holiday BuzzFeed post brought lots of attention to Kate Hougen’s one-year-old custom textile company this past year.
And keeping with the momentum, the Arlington-based designer is bringing her wares to more local stores with hopes to go national. –Lynn Norusis
“It [started as] a New Year’s resolution in 2013. I spent 2013 getting a collection of designs together and doing the groundwork. MiraJean Designs officially launched in 2014. It was an idea I had for a long time, and I finally decided I had to stop thinking about it, talking about it and just do it.” / Photo courtesy of Camera Karma Photography.
Favorite design right now? Ginko Love. There is a huge, beautiful ginkgo tree round the corner from us. It’s one of my favorite trees. One day in fall there was a huge gust of wind, and in one day all of the ginkgo leaves fell off the tree. It was like the yellow brick road; the road was covered in yellow ginkgo leaves, and it was so beautiful. That tree continues to inspire me. / Photo courtesy of Camera Karma Photography.
A lot of work and research went into finding a manufacturer because Hougen’s main mission was to keep the line and everything about it—from fabrics and inks to marketing and shipping materials—eco-friendly. Inks are all environmentally friendly, they involve no-harm chemicals, and they also do not involve a lot of water. Fabrics are natural, and several are organic: “There is an organic cotton knit that I work with for the throw blankets, which is really soft. I call it eco-luxurious; you just want to wrap yourself up in it.” Even the marketing materials are printed on recycled paper using soy or environmentally friendly inks, and the mailers are compostable. / Photo courtesy of Camera Karma Photography.
The idea for custom art started with Mira, now 10. “[She] would come home with paintings, and we would hang them on the fridge. How could I turn it into something functional? Taking her artwork, photographing it turning it into custom textiles.” / Photo courtesy of Camera Karma Photography.
For her own designs, Hougen looks to children’s artwork, nature and coastal towns for her inspiration. And just like a child’s piece of art, all of Hougen’s designs start as a painting. / Photo courtesy of Camera Karma Photography.
The name MiraJean Designs was inspired by Mira, Hougen’s daughter, and Jean, her mother, “the two people in my life that have inspired me. My mother encourages me to pursue a career that you love and is meaningful. My daughter is just very creative, very artistic and loves art.”
Available in local stores: Covet and La Maison Home and Gifts in Arlington; Reunions in Alexandria; and this spring: Red Barn Merchantile in Alexandria, Hardwood Artisans in Shirlington and Two the Moon in Arlington
Price range: custom yard of fabric starts at $95; pillows and throws $125; poufs $225, tea towels $28 in set designs
Posted by Editorial / Friday, March 20th, 2015
Destination: Located on Mount Vernon Avenue in the quirky Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Bellies & Babies has been the one-stop shop for maternity and children’s clothing for the past four years.
Atmosphere: “We are really a community store. You will see a lot of local families,” says Dawn Luepke, owner of Bellies & Babies. While it has a boutique atmosphere with displays of higher-end merchandise, there isn’t a feeling of exclusivity within the store; it is as kid-friendly as it gets.
Bread and Butter: From Lilly Pulitzer to Ralph Lauren, Bellies & Babies tries to carry the quality items at consignment prices. They also offer a variety of handmade products.
Sweet Surprises: The real gem of this store is their selection of rentable designer dresses for expectant mothers. “I have to give credit to my husband on that idea,” Luepke says. With so many black-tie events to attend in the area, no expectant mother wants to shell out $300 or more on a gown that might not fit several months later. A two-day rental is only $45.
Fiercest Fan: Mothers, period. Luepke has three children, two of whom were born just 16 months apart in separate seasons. Working in a corporate job and having to pay for a maternity wardrobe for winter and spring was just a bit too much. She decided to help other local moms in the same situation.
Blows to Budget: Not many considering you can earn back what you spend—consigners receive a 45 percent commission on every sale. The store does sell some assorted new boutique items, which can run up to about $160 depending on what you want. –Cate Jensen
Destination: 1913 Mt. Vernon Ave., Alexandria
Posted by Editorial / Tuesday, March 17th, 2015
Need a new spot to nosh? Here is a list of new restaurants now open or opening soon.
Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »
By Jennifer Shapira
Growing up in Richmond, Elizabeth Lucchesi was the last in line of her four siblings. That meant she watched as her mother reimagined and redecorated every other sibling’s bedroom at age 10 before Lucchesi had her turn. Lucchesi, an Alexandria-based real estate agent, passed on that same tradition to her two children, Jim, 12, and Harper, 11.
In honor of their 10th birthdays, she enlisted the help of designer June Shea, who had previously completed a number of other projects in the family’s Del Ray home. “Miss Shea the house fairy,” as the children had playfully dubbed her, had already waved her magic wand from room to room. But this time, Lucchesi let her son and daughter lay it all on the line. She gave them the opportunity to have their likes and loves translated into and onto their own four walls, just as her mother had done for her.
For hands-off Jim, that simply meant all things outdoors. For hands-on Harper, that meant sitting down to a working lunch with Shea.
Until age 10, “they were truly living in little kid’s rooms,” Lucchesi says. “And I’d just noticed that as they’ve gotten older we needed to use their personalities to personalize their spaces. My mom did it for all five of us, and I thought it would be a fabulous tradition to pay forward.”
The inspiration for Jim’s room was the picturesque setting of a family fishing and camping trip to Ontario. Shea had a wall-size photo mural made that is a perfect likeness of that spot in nature, complete with a lake surrounded by tall pine trees. She scored a carpet that evokes a stone riverbed as well as an Adirondack chair and matching side table for Jim’s reading nook. Shea hung drapes from thrift-store fishing rods and found a canoe-shaped bookcase. “The whole idea was to make it seem like he was out fishing,” says Shea. “And she nailed it,” says Lucchesi.
Harper had big ideas of her own. Their lunchtime design consultation proved fruitful: Harper’s bold color choice emerged, and together the design duo browsed websites and pinned paints and patterns. Working with a palette of orange, blue, pink and green, Shea scouted an old farm table, spray-painted it orange and repurposed it as Harper’s desk. Shea tracked down a turquoise mock-1970s swivel chair, painted the ceiling orange and added two bedside tables so Harper could keep her knitting and crochet hidden from the family’s three dogs.
Lucchesi says her opinionated and meticulous daughter had a few other requirements. Harper needed maximum hangout space on the floor, so much so that she wanted a space-saving wall-mounted headboard, and decided the closet was the fitting place to house her dresser.
“She drove it,” says Shea of the room’s transformation. “I just added a few embellishments and pulled it all together.”
That said, Shea was careful to choose furniture that would age with the siblings. “My rule was to give them a room that represented age 10 but would also carry them off to college. It needed to be a look that wasn’t going to look juvenile when they got to be seniors in high school. And both of those rooms fit that bill.”
Years from now, the furniture that skews younger will get swapped out, and the paint colors can be neutralized for a guest room or a study.
But for now, what do the kids think of the finished products? Jim is the envy of all his friends, and Harper, Lucchesi says, “Oh, she just loved it.”
Photo by Tommy Lynch.
Photo by Tommy Lynch.
Photo by Tommy Lynch.
Photo by Tommy Lynch.
Photo by Tommy Lynch.
Photo by Tommy Lynch.
Photo by Tommy Lynch.
Posted by Editorial / Thursday, March 12th, 2015
By Victoria Gaffney
There’s no doubt that Northern Virginia is filled with a strong sense of the past, often influencing a lot of its activities. The area boasts countless events for the history buff, not least of which is a trip to a local used bookstore.
With Kindles and e-books on the rise, many of these quaint shops are closing, but this area is still home to some unique spaces to explore timeworn tomes. Engaging with passionate owners and managers who enjoy discussing these works is one of the perks of these more intimate literary settings. Here are some local places to indulge your interests, each with a strong focus on history, but unexpectedly unique features as well.
Located appropriately in Old Town Manassas, Prospero’s Books is a must for the history aficionado. Housed in a 104-year-old building originally designed for men’s clothing, the store features large display windows and boasts 93,000 titles at any given time, says manager Bob Chase. The shop was named for the Shakespeare character Prospero from “The Tempest.” Chase explains that when Prospero was made Duke of Milan, he was given a library; “I prize (it) above my dukedom,” Prospero says of his library in the play.
The store specializes in rare and out-of-print books, as well as maps and prints. Set on the very landscape where the first and second battles of the Civil War took place, Chase explains that their location likely drives their focus on military history. The shop also has extensive children’s and Afro-American history sections. Their “discover local authors” area features 18 Virginia writers at any given time, and they often host talks and signings.
Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, noon-6 p.m.
Wednesday and Thursday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
9129 Center St.
Husband and wife Diane Wilson and Ken Mahnken run their 9-year-old shop,“Already Read Used Books” in Alexandria. With over 25,000 volumes, this cozy store doesn’t just house great literature; here visitors will get to meet and spend time with cats Sweetie Pie and Gwenie Bee as well. When they select works for their collection, Wilson explains that they try to look for the lesser-read classics by well-known authors.
What makes this place especially distinctive is their bookbinding business located in the next room. Unlike other services like this, Wilson’s and Mahnken’s “Alexandria Book Binding” offers affordable repairs for simple fixes, mostly for cookbooks and bibles, and occasionally texts run over by a car. “We’re more book doctors than conservators,” Wilson explains.
The store receives all kinds of visitors; “many people that come in still love the smell of books,” says Wilson. She also feels that the use of Kindles doesn’t necessarily mean the end of physical volumes, particularly since there are plenty of works not available on them. Wilson feels there’s still something to be said for coming in and exploring the shelves; Amazon doesn’t allow for that same sense of exploration.
Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Saturday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Sunday and holidays, noon-6 p.m.
One place that’s not to be missed for history enthusiasts and bibliophiles alike is “Bookhouse” in Arlington—an actual house for books. Owner Natalie Hughes has been with the business at this100-year-old building since she started it 45 years ago. Carrying titles published as far back as 1850, the shop has a wide array of old volumes, some with and without dust jackets. Specializing in American history, half of the store features this subject. Everything else—from world history to art to architecture and religion—is contained on the second floor.
Boasting valuable antiquarian titles, this place still has something for everyone with books ranging from $2 to over $5,000. Hughes, 84, will be closing Bookhouse in a few years. Before it closes, her goal is to make sure everything in their collection is sold; as a result, many of the works are affordable.
Tuesday-Sunday, 1-6 p.m.
Located in an idyllic location, the “Claude Moore Colonial Farm Bookstore” in McLean is a cozy spot to sit back and leaf through a broad collection of old volumes. Tucked away on a winding road, the shop is literally off the beaten path. The titles are inexpensive and Phil Hanson, manager, explains that people can leave with a box (or more) filled with books. Featuring a kitchen, the store offers a space to enjoy coffee and cookies next to a collection of cookbooks and gardening texts. There is also a place to sit outside where the nonfiction is located.
Hanson explains that the store features a theme with a related display that changes every two weeks. Given the time of year, it’s currently focused on Irish history. Oftentimes events will correspond with the theme; they once had a Japanese tea while displaying volumes related to Japanese history and culture. For fun they also have a typewriter set up where people can test out this now-antiquated machine. Hanson explains that it’s entertaining to read what various people write. The reactions of children, unsurprisingly, can also be funny. He once heard a child say “Hey, mom look, the keyboard’s attached to the printer.”
Wednesday-Saturday, noon-7 p.m.
6310 Georgetown Pike
1111 Bell Pre Way, Alexandria
Opened: March 2
Owner: Anne Mahlum, owner of five other area locations (Ballston location opened in December)
What to expect: A low-impact exercise regime that keeps Michelle Obama’s arms toned (she frequents the Adams Morgan club); offers 50-minute sessions that take participants through muscle-fatiguing moves; no class is the same with hundreds of moves possible on the machines; 11 machines, a boutique and Goûter tonics also on the premises.
19382 Diamond Lake Drive, Lansdowne
Opened: October 4
Owner: Sisters Cathy Fry and Mary Battaglia
What to expect: A coffee and tea bar along with a store that carries home-brewing supplies; local craft brews available for carryout and growler fills; a rotating calendar of in-store events such as brewing lessons and brew and cider tastings.
LoCo Art Studios
312-D E. Market St., Leesburg;
Opened: February 11
Owner: Lisa Strout
What to Expect: Seven studios house the local artists ranging in mediums of sculpture to printmaking; patrons can talk to the artists and see them at work.
Executive Director of Alexandria’s Child & Family Network Centers
Lissette Bishins is a child of hardworking immigrants. Born in the United States, she stayed home with her abuela while her parents went to work. It wasn’t until kindergarten that she learned to speak English. But it wasn’t this lot in life that led her down the career path of the nonprofit world, looking for ways to bring much-needed services to at-risk children; it was her family’s “intrinsic value of giving back.” We spoke with the new director of Alexandria’s Child & Family Network Centers, a nonprofit that provides free preschool and social services to children in need, about her new position and how she and the organization are “actively working at prevention and really changing the trajectory of someone’s life.”
You’ve only been in the job for nine days, but what goals do you have for 2015?
Sustainability. We’ve been around for 30 years, which is amazing when we see the amount of faces and families we’ve touched. We’re in this beautiful new headquarters building with two classrooms; the other classrooms are all in the community. Right around where our families are is where we want to be. … Some preschools are in garden apartments where the kids come downstairs from their apartment to their classroom. We are that localized. … I always say “no margin, no mission,” so our biggest goal is sustainability to pay off our building, making sure we have money in the bank so we can take the 140 kids we have on the waitlist, and the thousands more we see that need our services, and be able to serve them. In order to grow, and in order to serve, you’ve got to grow smartly.
How many do you serve now?
We have 175 children and 140 on a waitlist. And so many more—truly thousands—that we have identified as needing services.
Coming from Carpenter’s Shelter, what do you see as the similarities and differences?
The level of poverty is the most prevalent. When I started at Carpenter’s Shelter, the families had more in common. Today, because homeless services have really evolved, you’re seeing a different population coming into the shelter—mental illness, substance abuse, real emergency services. The thing that rings true is a cycle of poverty, a cycle of low-wage jobs, a cycle of a lack of education getting into a better job, all living in a very expensive area. While most of our families [at CFNC] are not homeless, all of the families we serve are at risk just because of where they live and where they’re at on the poverty scale.
Are the majority immigrants?
It’s a very large piece of our population but not 100 percent. It’s the working poor with a language barrier living in an expensive area. You also see in the children that they haven’t been to preschool. Most of these working parents can’t afford to send them, so our preschool is free. They haven’t been exposed to a classroom. If they reach school and haven’t attended CFNC, they’re behind the curve. They haven’t gained their English skills. They haven’t learned their ABCs, their colors and their number skills that so many students start kindergarten with.
What was your personal drive for getting into this career path?
It was intrinsic in my family life to give back. I grew up serving at a homeless shelter for Thanksgiving because my father was grateful for this country to take him in. He was a political prisoner and made his way to the states on a boat with 13 men. He always wanted to give back to this country. It immediately fed this value that I grew up with, that you give back.
What legacy do you want to leave?
That we’re solvent. That we’ve got money in the bank and we’re responding to the needs in each and every community. We’re an example of not just [providing] education for the students but [bringing] the services to the mom and dad so they are involved in their child’s education. My hope is we create that example and help other areas in need replicate it.
Living in an affluent area, is it harder to get the residents to understand that there are still those in need?
No, actually. When I span from the last eight years I’ve been in Alexandria City, as a general rule, Alexandria is [one of] the most involved, most giving communities I’ve worked in. There is a lot of affluence here, but the level of involvement and giving back and volunteerism … we had 1,000 volunteers at the shelter. It was insane. —Lynn Norusis
Posted by Editorial / Friday, March 6th, 2015
By Susannah Black
Dish: Pork Belly Tarte, $16
Where: BRABO Tasting Room, 1600 King St., Alexandria
The garlic’s pungent kick collaborates with the pork belly’s spice-dominant rub of cayenne, paprika and esplette peppers for a complex mix of savory flavors. The chewy, woodfired flatbread serves as a bed for béchamel and melted, earthy Gruyere cheese. Spicy and sweet-ish, pickled Cubanelle peppers top the tarte for a tangy and salty surprise. Described as personal sized, this tarte more than fills this eater, but if the size doesn’t satisfy you, the blast of flavors certainly will.
MORE | Cravings