Red Feathered Nest
Vintage Rentals And Collections With Character In Newport News
Co-owners Betsy Fowler (left) and Jenna Hamel (right) with store associate Lucie Bellouvet (center).
“Do you ever go down on the prices?” a customer asks Betsy Fowler, co-owner of Red Feathered Nest, a vintage store in Newport News. She indelicately picks up a crewel-stitch floral rug that was handmade in Delphi. “They have ’em at TJ Maxx that look real similar for half this price.”
“Well, I brought that one back from Greece,” Fowler replies. “But if it’s still here in a couple weeks, then yes, I’ll mark it down.”
With a degree in art history and plenty of collecting experience, Fowler knows her stuff when it comes to choosing one-of-a-kind items for the store that she opened in the historic Hilton Village last November with co-owner Jenna Hamel. The two ladies were Fort Monroe neighbors who would take turns hosting Sunday dinners and realized they shared a passion for collecting after admiring one another’s dishware.
“We try to get things that are well made and that have integrity,” Fowler says. “Customers want a substantial piece that has a history and character,” Hamel adds. “And not mass-produced,” Betsy chimes in. “I think we all buy mass-produced, but it’s fun to not have everything that’s new.”
Fowler and Hamel create engaging vignettes throughout the store that give a surprisingly modern appeal to a space filled with items from decades—and centuries—ago. “We want the store to be visually interesting and we want to spark people,” Fowler says.
They carry furniture in assorted styles, vintage clothing—including wedding gowns, hats and purses—cups and saucers, glassware, vintage postcards, books, lamps, art and even artisan coffee roasted in Richmond.
The items aren’t arranged by decade or purpose. “I think a discordant element sometimes gives it that modern spin,” Fowler says. “I just like mixing things up—the creative explosion of different decades and different items and matching them and putting things together.”
Fowler and Hamel spend time collecting items from all over to add to the shop, visiting other stores, estate sales and sometimes side-of-the-road sales. “[The store] is always changing, always evolving, always adapting from whatever inspiration we get,” Hamel says. “Some days we find ourselves at a building that’s about to be torn down crowbarring letters off of it,” she laughs. “That type of challenge is so much fun because you don’t know where you’re going to find these things.”
Rather than simply finding items and hauling them back to the store to sell as-is, they take measures to bring out the beauty of each piece, which sometimes includes painting or refinishing furniture to freshen it up.
With the time, effort and hard work that goes into finding, refurbishing and displaying each piece, one might expect the items to be overpriced, but they are tagged (arguably) fair. “We want to be a place where people can come in and find something, not just a museum where you look at everything and think, ‘Oh it would be nice,’” Fowler explains.
Hamel agrees, saying, “You shouldn’t have to take out a small loan to get a good piece of furniture.” She adds that the two have “decorating ADD” and that the low prices help the pieces to move quickly.
And their system has worked. So far they’ve sold more than 200 pieces of furniture.
Of these, roughly 10 pieces were haggled.
Red Feathered Nest of Newport News rents items such as old luggage, telephones, crates, mismatched china and chairs for events, including weddings, tea parties and prop rentals for photo shoots. To find out more visit www.RedFeatheredNest.com.