The tuba leaning against the tree in the front yard is the first hint. Then there’s the clawfoot bathtub outside the carriage house, the drum asphalt roller leaning against a tree and the horse-head hitching posts scattered around the grounds.
Almost nothing is conventional about the Lloyd Harbor compound of Elizabeth Benson-DuMaurier, creator of TheBarn, a former farm machinery building that now displays items she sells to online customers and other designers. Enter through its 19th century metal-framed door, and you will find diverse offerings such as a shadowbox containing a stuffed toy dog named Digby, a framed, hand-painted set of vintage European pennants and a 1930s brass chandelier suspended by a rope tied with elegant carelessness to a side wall.
What do they have in common? Lasting style.
“See those embroidered cushions?” the 50-year-old interior designer says, pointing to a couture set of mahogany-colored linen pillows nestled on three chairs parked in the center of the space. The intricately stitched patterns are set with smooth pieces of polished bone in a contrast of hard white surfaces and soft chocolate background.
“They go with anything,” she says. “It’s an example of timeless quality. Thirty years from now, they will look just as stylish as they do now.”
Raised on a Texas farm, where she plucked chickens and watched cattle being slaughtered (“I think people should know where their food comes from,” she says), Benson-DuMaurier came to New York in 1988 with a degree in international relations and became fascinated with the fashion world. After working a variety of jobs in the industry, she met her husband, Noel DuMaurier, also a fashion lover, who made his living through real estate management and renovating lofts.
Through the years, they tried various fashion adventures, including a Manhattan store that sold imported alpaca wool and premier cotton to well-known department stores and boutiques. The birth of four children curtailed Benson-DuMaurier’s activities, and the couple moved to Lloyd Harbor in 1999 to live on a 2-acre property that had been part of an estate in the 1700s. The gatehouse was turned into their residence, and the carriage house became a storage area for objects acquired at antique shops, flea markets and estate sales.
Benson-DuMaurier edged back into the business when she and her husband opened a store, Costermonger t.t. TheBarn, in Northport, where they sold textiles and home furnishings along with specialty foods. Because of the time demands that came with their children entering high school, they closed it after 10 years, but she remained convinced Long Island was underserved when it came to home fashions. Thus was born TheBarn (thebarnus.com) in 2005, both a sales concept and a physical reality that serves as a showroom and staging area for her finds. It also is the focal point when the DuMauriers host charity events to raise funds for things like cancer research or to promote education programming.
Although she is occasionally hired to “refresh” homes with decorative pieces, most of Benson-DuMaurier’s work focuses on selling her finds online or to decorators. Her taste is wide-ranging in style and price.
Benson-DuMaurier’s inventory includes everything from leather flasks to topography maps from the 1800s to hand-tooled boots from Mexico to idiosyncratic cookbooks. The emphasis is on things that are handcrafted or homegrown — anything with intrinsic beauty based on the labor and love that went into their creation.
NOT ABOUT LABELS
“It’s not about a well-known label,” Benson-DuMaurier says. “It’s about fabric and construction and the true value of the piece not predicated on the price. It’s what I call ‘invisible fashion’ that can be found anywhere.”
Kathleen Hay, a Nantucket-based designer, often drops by when looking for something special to accessorize one of her residential or commercial interior projects. Benson-DuMaurier also searches for unique works by individual artists globally, such as hand-thrown ceramics and woven textiles.
“Elizabeth curates things beautifully and finds artisans that are unique,” she says. “I have a very sophisticated clientele who travel the world, and Elizabeth always seems to have items that fit the bill.”
Benson-DuMaurier also has participated in vendor shows and is most excited about her latest venture — pop-up shops. These small, temporary retail areas are assembled in an empty space, kept open for a brief period and taken down quickly. She has created two so far, both in Brooklyn, and is hoping to find a setting in Huntington village soon. One had a homey Christmas theme with a faux fireplace where ornate Hungarian stockings were hung by the chimney with care.
“People passing by would peek in and say, ‘Is this your living room?’ And I would say, no, no, come in.”
In the end, the buying, the collecting, the appreciation of things that are functional or beautiful, the family gatherings and charity events all boil down to something simple. A lifestyle.
“This has always been a place for people to come together,” she says. “All of it is just an extension of us and what we enjoy doing.”