Written by Janet Davies
The original plan for KOKITO was a weekend market stall in a converted aluminum Travelux trailer, but when Shelley Durnin and Jennifer Hardenne began seriously buying stock they knew that wouldn’t fly. “We needed a real bricks and mortar shop for all the fantastic items we were finding,” says Jenn. They opened their unique store in the tiny sunroom of the Stark House, a heritage building in Bloomfield that is part of the Main St. “boutique strip.”
It was June 2013. They had met the winter before and discovered a shared passion for art, design and, frankly, good shopping. Jenn had been making and selling Amarais Artisan Skincare, Shelley had many years of retail experience, and they both saw an unfulfilled niche in the County shopping experience. “Canada is full of makers, and artisans of all sorts, and you don’t have to look further than the County to prove that! We focused on goods with a smart cottagy edge, hand-made objects and local art. 99% of KOKITO’s stock is designed and/or made in Canada. To us it’s all about the aesthetic and quality.”
“Our motto is Canadian Design and Lakeside Living,” says Jenn. “You can find a lot of Canadiana-type stores in the cities, but they tend to be expensive, high design or novelty kitsch stuff. We didn’t want to be either. We figured we could be something new: rustic but good quality with a relaxed living kind of feel.”
The catchy name is actually Shelley’s postal code at her Consecon Lake cottage (K0K 1T0) and “it’s occasionally misheard as Cookie Dough,” laughs Jenn. “But it gets attention. In many ways Shelley’s cottage was our springboard, because it’s a wonderful mix of rustic, cozy but sophisticated – which kind of describes Prince Edward County in general.”
As well as the cottage, Shelley and her husband purchased Wellington’s historic Tara Hall in 2011. “Owning it brings a lot of responsibility,” she says. “It’s been there since 1839, so many people feel a connection, even ownership, because it’s been part of their landscape for generations. We’re restoring it and adding our own chapter to its history.” Like others who take on the daunting, often costly, task of preserving and restoring, they are bringing their own modern sensibility to a County icon.
Jennifer has been in the County since 2002. She’s from Saskatoon, by way of Toronto, and worked at the Globe and Mail before heading out to the country. Her husband Frederic Picard, the winemaker at Huff Estates, is from even further away. “Fred’s from France,” she says. “When we came to PEC we never intended to stay so long. We had a five-year plan, but Prince Edward County just kept pulling us in. It’s a seductive place to live and work.”
Shelley had learned about the County through her friend Vanessa Pandos who moved here 15 years ago and, after driving back and forth from Toronto to Ottawa past the PEC exit for years, came for a visit one day. “I loved it, and I worked on my husband for two years to buy a cottage, here,” she says. “When we realized we could actually live here and still work, there was no looking back.”
From its start in that tiny sunroom, KOKITO grew into a larger space renovating Bloomfield’s original post office just across the street. Its success has been shared by its suppliers as well – many have expanded and grown thanks to their exposure in the store. “We really enjoy the shop,” says Jenn, who sells some of her own ceramics in store along with Shelley’s knits. “Now we have another shop, back across the street in the first floor of the old Stark House – we just opened it this summer – it’s called Sand & Sumac.” This new store is something a little different.
“We were thinking of going in a different direction, but the catalyst was this really nice space becoming available so close to KOKITO,” says Shelley. “We went to see it, saw the potential, and the next day it was a done deal. In fact we opened 17 days later. It was a little crazy, but fun crazy.” Jenn agrees. “It happened organically. It wasn’t forced – it just sort of happened. We felt that our customers who love KOKITO and its Canadian focus might also appreciate something with a more international flavour. After all, in shopping for KOKITO Shelley and I often find ourselves falling in love with products from afar.”
They opened Sand & Sumac right in the middle of the hectic summer season. The space is like an apartment – bright and homey with polished wood floors. All they had to do was fill it with beautiful things. “Now we get to shop all over again,” laughs Jennifer. “We’re pulling in Moroccan carpets and Japanese linens, as well as lots more great items from Canada.”
They will stick with their preference for small producers and individual artists. “Everything is hand picked,” says Shelley. “We don’t go to gift shows or buy from catalogues. We like close contact. We like supporting small enterprises and many of our products are results of collaborations with creators – that’s why we have a store, so we can explore what’s out there and share what we love.” “It often feels like we’re selling the work of good friends (not just ‘suppliers’)” adds Jenn.
Why did they choose Bloomfield? “Hah! It was one of our first battles,” laughs Shelley. “I wanted to be in Wellington, because at the time Wellington really needed a boutique. Jenn wanted Bloomfield because there was already an established shopping neighbourhood. Alex Fida helped us make up our minds. He just said “You HAVE to stay in Bloomfield! I think we made the right choice.”
Jenn recalls the transformation of Bloomfield. “People tell me that there used to be everything from a butcher and a pharmacy in Bloomfield, but when the local canning industry died down apparently so did a lot of the traffic. Things started to change in the early 2000s with the growth of the local wine industry, which started to attract wine lovers and foodies. These days it feels like everyone wants to come to PEC to find out what all the fuss is about. And we’re happy to be a part of that rebirth through KOKITO and now Sand & Sumac.”
Here are a few of the local artists, crafters, knitters, potters, carpenters and more that you can see on display in KOKITO.
Andrea Piller Ceramics
Bruce Milan Blacksmith
Kate Golding Textile/Wallpaper
Gold & Ginger Art + Textiles
Honey Pie Hives and Herbals Honey + Herbals
Bazza Photography (cards)
Mark Bartkiw Photography
Lakehouse Linens Linens
Koren Bellman Art
Little Wolf Wood + Ceramics
Emerson Pringle Wood
Vanessa Pandos Stained Glass
Bethel Forest Garden Studio (Ceramic coffee mugs)
Spark Box Studio Hand Printed Art
Urban Flora Co Wood
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