Autumn 2013

Cotuit shop sells antiques, vegetables, and much more

Cape Cod Home  /  Autumn 2013 / , , , ,

Writer: Amanda Wastrom / Photographer: Jennifer Dow 

A Cotuit couple’s shop is a celebration of their many passions.

A Cotuit couple’s shop is a celebration of their many passions.

Photography by Jennifer Dow

“Being involved in the basics is not a bad thing,” declares Anne Barrett. She would know. Anne and her husband Joe Barrett own Etc., a colorful craft, fresh-grown produce, and antique shop on Route 28 in Cotuit.  “You know how to do all of this stuff,” Anne says. “You know that there’s a way to iron clothes. You know how to cook and grow food. There’s a way to sew. All these things you can do—or not do. But when you do it, you probably have some confidence in doing it; chances are you enjoy doing it.”

Etc. is the kind of intriguing place you’ve probably driven past for years, always intending to stop in, but never seeming to find the right moment or the right state of mind to break out of your routine—and pull off the main road.  Places like this—you know, the ones with the hand-scrawled sign for “strawberries” in spring and “tomatoes” a few months later—are the treasures of the Cape. There’s just something special about a timeworn, rusty red Colonial house on the corner, overgrown with perennials and daffodils. Adding to Etc.’s allure are a few scattered antiques propped under a Black Walnut tree on the front lawn, a dirt driveway, the sun filtering in from the fields behind, a rototiller. There’s an old sailboat, too, tucked away in back.  There are stories here.     

For those who do venture off the main drag and out of the constant parade of summer traffic filing along Route 28, opening Etc.’s heavy front door to reveal the dim light of the hallway inside is akin to stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia. Leave those precious to-do lists and smartphones outside. Within, the shop—which also houses the couple’s Buckle Works business—offers the simple, modest beauty that comes with handmade items. Whether it is a piece of antique linen or a finely crafted wooden chair, there’s a satisfied coziness found in objects made by human hands, like that first warming taste of hot cocoa on a dreary winter day.

A stop here, after all, is not really about shopping—though you can certainly walk away with an armful of gifts sure to charm even the most discerning recipient; from a hand finished brass belt buckle with an accompanying handmade leather belt to a pair of hand sewn sheepskin slippers. No, the pleasure of this place is the experience, simple and sensual.   

Anne and Joe—79 and 84, respectively—are artists.  Their story winds and wanders, as artists’ tend to.  They are searchers and seekers.  Curious folk.  “Life is an exploration of how things work,” says Anne. “We both have always been curious people, probably from having been brought up by parents who were curious people.  My father, who was a painter, was always reading, doing something.”

A Cotuit couple’s shop is a celebration of their many passions.

Photography by Jennifer Dow

The couple met while working at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) during the 1950s. It’s no surprise they connected, having led, to that point, curiously parallel lives. Their childhoods were spent in New York—his in Chappaqua, hers in the Catskills. Both flunked out of Ivy League schools: she from Cornell, he from Princeton. Growing up, they both visited Cape Cod with their families. “We’re good friends and always have been,” Anne says. “We both read the same books. We’d quote Kipling to each other even before we were going out and we’d laugh like fools.  Both of our parents were educated people—people who had hobbies and had interests outside of their houses, their children, and their partners.”

For both Anne and Joe, exposure to nature in their youth—through farming and through active family lives spent outdoors—served as a strong influence. Anne was raised on a farm.  Joe’s family spent a few weeks every summer in a cottage on Chappaquiddick—a peaceful, quiet place with no electricity and days filled with reading, sitting, and sailing. Anne is the collector. Joe is the doer. They both delight in the basic actions that fill up a day: baking bread, farming the land behind their home, creating beautiful objects by hand, chatting with friends who stop by for a cup of coffee and some homemade jelly or jam.

Anne credits her taste for antiques to her father, James Hopkins, who, having grown up in a wealthy New York household of family heirlooms, chauffeurs, and gardeners, taught her much of what she knows today about furniture.  “You learn the difference between Sheraton, Heppelwhite, and Chippendale, Queen Anne and Victorian,” she says. “You don’t consider anything antique after 1840, when everything all of a sudden became made by machine. Before that, everything was done by hand. The quality of it was huge, not because it’s prettier or glitzier, but because it will probably be around for longer. So there is a quality difference in old antiques that is significant. Pottery was hand thrown. Fabric was hand woven. The old glass was hand blown. Furniture was hand made. I’ve got some wonderful sheets made in French convents out of hand spun, hand grown, hand woven flax.  It is lovely, soft, drapes well, and it’s durable.”

A Cotuit couple’s shop is a celebration of their many passions.

Photography by Jennifer Dow

Like so much of the couple’s life story, the evolution of their shop came about organically. In the 1960s and early 1970s, Joe’s position at WHOI had him working at sea much of the year. At that time, Anne got to know fellow artists like Mary Mavor, and Shirley and Bill Dunkle, and they started the Craft Studio, a small nonprofit group that ran a little shop on the corner of the Queen’s Buyway in Falmouth. “The people who were in it were just doing it for fun,” Joe recalls, “but a lot of people in that group were really talented, and it gave them a springboard into other things.”

One day, Joe came home from his full-time job and reported that his work had ceased to be fun. Changes in the times, he recalls, were bringing about changes at his job. “We gave ourselves a year and a half to find ourselves something to do,” Anne says.  Through the Craft Studio, Anne had connected with another local artisan, Bernie Kelly, a silver and goldsmith. Soon thereafter, he bought the house across the street from them.

“We used to wander over [to his house], and he taught me how to forge and solder a bit,” says Anne. At the time, Kelly owned Buckle Works, a specialty buckle business, and was complaining about it. “At that point, everybody had long hair, no bras, bell bottom pants, and BIG buckles,” says Anne.  “He was busy and had to hire someone to do the buckles.”  So, one day, Anne and Joe offered to purchase the business. After some reluctance, Bernie agreed.  “He gave us all the equipment and gave Joe his one-day’s training, and we went into the buckle business.”

A Cotuit couple’s shop is a celebration of their many passions.

Photography by Jennifer Dow

Many thought they were crazy.  “The oceanographic people I worked with were horrified,” laughs Joe. “They said, ‘What? You’re leaving to make belt buckles?’ Cause no one ever left WHOI, you see.”

Over the years, the Barretts’ business has expanded and contracted, and in 1990, they got into the antique trade with fervor. They attended craft shows and antique fairs and traveled around the country. Today, they are members of the Society of Cape Cod Craftsmen and the Artisans Guild of Cape Cod. They design and sell their buckles wholesale. Throughout the growing season, they also sell produce out of the shop, including asparagus, strawberries, tomatoes, raspberries, butternut squash, and, according to Anne, “anything we have extras of.”  Joe also has a small side business doing custom rototilling.

Living and working with integrity has always been an important aspect of Anne and Joe’s lives, as has an almost dogged determination to pursue what they love. They are not wealthy by traditional measures but through their various pursuits of creating, collecting, and farming, they’ve been able to provide for themselves, raise their three boys—Joe, Jamie, and Sam—share their treasures with others, and in the end, live the life they want. Some might argue that is the ultimate luxury.

The couple’s work, as Anne explains in her straightforward way, is really just an extension of the life they have shared together and is more about the simple pleasures of living. “I just collect things that please me,” she says. “I think people should surround themselves with things that please them. It makes people happier. It gives them a home.” After a pause, she adds with a smile: “And it doesn’t matter if anyone else approves of it or not. . . except maybe one’s spouse.”

Amanda Wastrom

Amanda Wastrom is a writer based in East Sandwich, where she lives with her husband and kids, a flock of chickens, an overgrown garden, and some feisty honeybees. With a background in education, art, and history, she also works as a curator and designer for museums and galleries throughout the region. She has interviewed many local artists in recent years for Cape Cod LIFE’s annual Cape Cod ART issue, and in 2016 she penned an article on a prestigious exhibit of Japanese artwork on display at Falmouth’s Highfield Hall & Gardens.