Andrew Keller maneuvers through a showroom at his Wilmington consignment shop and stops next to a replica of a beach cottage, about 40 inches tall, pink with blue trim and a wood-shingle roof. “These are pretty popular now,” he says. “I call it a cottage of the cottage. A lot of dollhouses are built the same way as cottages, so if somebody finds one that’s similar to their beach cottage, they’ll customize it to look like a miniature version of the house.”
Keller is the owner of The Ivy Cottage, a four-building, 25,000-square-foot complex along busy Market Street. It’s a wonderland of reclaimed and antique furniture, china and crystal, ceiling tiles and Persian rugs, and all manner of art and knickknacks perfect for decorating a beach house. Bearded and dressed in a short-sleeve button-down shirt speckled with sea icons — tiny sharks, octopuses, and scuba divers — Keller, 43, is not the first person you’d point to if asked, “Where’s the owner?” He worked at The Ivy Cottage while studying biology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, then purchased the place eight years ago when the original owner retired. “Sometimes,” he says, “life just takes you where you’re supposed to go.”
Right now, he’s going over to another building at the Ivy complex, the one that his website describes as “shabby chic, Asian, and beach.” Inside, atop a blue, wood-stained console table with nautical-themed pottery, are two stuffed pink flamingos wearing gold crowns and fluffy pink boas wrapped around their necks. Keller picks one up and deadpans, “Everybody needs one of these.”
In Wilmington, pails full of seashells suitable for display can be found miles from the beach at this consignment shop. photograph by SOPHIE SHOULTS/ISTOCK/GETTY IMAGES PLUS
The buildings that make up The Ivy Cottage include a main showroom, a second showroom focusing on mid-century and modern, and this building. This is where the quirky stuff lives, where coastal cottage owners find their decorative diamonds in the rough — vintage wicker beach chairs, old model sailboats, and mirrors set in frames made from shells, starfish, and driftwood. “People put shells in everything,” Keller says. “The hot thing now is Mason jars — when a hurricane comes through, they’ll put whatever shells they find from that storm into a jar and label it.” On the cashier’s table at the front sits an old lighthouse lantern. “And it’s real,” he says, picking it up and rubbing its rough metal sides. “I see a lot of fake ones, but this one’s real.”
One thing that becomes very real as Keller wends through this enormous maze of one-of-a-kind items: There’s no such thing as the past, the future, or even the present inside The Ivy Cottage’s buildings and courtyards. This is a place that exists outside of time, a place where people who’ve bought old cottages will come in and exchange the brown wood antiques that decorated their spaces in another era, and maybe leave with a jar full of shells from Hurricane Florence, a bird wearing a pink boa, or a replica of a house that looks just like their own little beach home. “It’s all about reclaiming and reusing,” Keller says. “We’re just a big washing machine of recycling.”
To commemorate our 90th anniversary, we’ve compiled a time line that highlights the stories, contributors, and themes that have shaped this magazine — and your view of the Old North State — using nine decades of our own words.