The merchandise at isn’t inexpensive…but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good deal. Indeed, Roderick Carmichael takes exception to the notion his store’s goods are too expensive.
“We pride ourselves on always being the best priced, when you account for quality,” says Carmichael, who owns and operates the business with his wife, Francesca. The handcrafted linens, ceramics, cookware, flatware and paper goods they sell are not only beautiful, they are made to last.
That dish towel, apron or oven mitt you buy today will still look – and function – like new several years and dozens of washings from now, he says. “They (the artisans) expect tablecloths to last for generations,” he explains. It’s an “old-world perspective.
People don’t always appreciate the skill it takes,” says Carmichael, comparing the craftspeople he and Francesca work with to professional musicians or athletes. “It’s that kind of skill,” he adds. “The human is still there in the item.”
The Carmichaels carefully select the artisans who produce their wares, and work directly with them to stock the store. Carmichael says he and Francesca are “anti-branding,” choosing quality over name recognition. “We don’t want customers paying for our advertising,” he adds.
While the artisans they work with have been practicing their crafts for generations, Carmichael and his wife are fairly new to the retail business. They moved to Woodinville about eight years ago from South Korea, where he worked in the risk management industry. How did they choose Woodinville? “We covered our eyes and stuck our fingers on a map,” laughs Carmichael.
They started their business – originally called Italian Country Antiques – soon after they arrived.
The Carmichaels – he is from Scotland and she from Cremona, Italy – have also lived in Japan and in Tunisia, where they met as Middle Eastern Study majors. According to Carmichael, it was other Italian expatriates they met overseas who introduced them to many of the items they now sell in their store.
Italian handcrafted products tend to be very regional in nature, he explains. Someone living in one area may not be familiar with items made in another are unless they traveled there. But, “when you’re overseas, people want to show off the best of Italy,” he says.
Francesca did a lot of research in the beginning, says Carmichael, searching for artisans to provide the wares. They wanted to work with small family businesses, but had to find ones that were large enough to supply them with goods on an ongoing basis. Francesca still travels to Italy about three times a year, he says.
With flags from Siena’s Palio flying out in front, merchandise displayed on classic Italian country antiques and opera playing in the background, Italian Country Home and Kitchen feels like a little bit of Europe right here in the Woodinville Wine Country. The store is filled with beautiful treasures that look and feel like they will indeed last a lifetime.
Linens – everything from dishtowels and aprons to tablecloths and napkins – are the shop’s best sellers. They carry traditional jacquards, in a range of colors and patterns, from a small family business in Tuscany. The store’s specialty, however, is its line of wood-block print linens made by the Bertozzi family of the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy.
The Bertozzis have been using hand-carved wood blocks to print linens “for centuries,” says Carmichael. The designs were originally made with rust, which stained the fabric, he explains. Today, the Bertozzis use high-quality cotton and linen fabrics, and vegetable and mineral dyes that are steam set to make them permanent.
The goods are so popular that the Carmichaels also sell them online, and at home shows throughout the country.
According to Carmichael, flatware is the store’s second-best seller. A Milanese jeweler, who has a niche selling to five-star restaurants and hotels, designs the patterns they offer. Their flatware is in the same league as Tiffany’s, explains Carmichael, but because it isn’t branded, it comes at a very good price.
Italian Country Home and Kitchen has found it’s own niche in the Pacific Northwest. “We have a very loyal customer base,” says Carmichael. Shoppers come from as far away as Vancouver and Portland, he adds.
Carmichael says he enjoys working with both the artisans who make the wares the store carries, and with customers who have an interest in the handcrafted items.
“Francesca brings an artistic sensibility from living on four continents," says Carmichael. "We succeed at retail because we offer a unique product.”