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Willow & Birch – Unique, Natural and Artisan Made

Light-filled. Airy. Warm. Inviting. Those are the words that I would use to describe Willow & Birch, a super cool new home accessory store that opened on Wall Street in Madison last spring.

When Nancy Karas leased a storefront on Wall Street in Madison last spring, she had a vision of creating a warm, inviting space that would provide people with a place to catch their breath, step away from chaos and perhaps find something special. And it was through this desire that the contemporary boutique and café Willow & Birch was born.

Nancy has lived in Madison for 20 years where she and her husband have been a part of the community and raised their three children.  She is also a Pediatric Nurse who continues to work in her passion and profession at Yale New Haven Hospital and as adjunct faculty at the Yale School of Nursing. She says that nursing has always been in her blood, but as her children have grown older she felt that this was the time to pursue her long-standing dream of opening a little place where you can find a “candle and a cupcake and a gift for someone and leave happier than when you walked in in the door”.

Nancy grew her retail knowledge while volunteering for 6 years to help run Serendipity, a local consignment shop for St. Andrew’s Church.

You could say that Willow & Birch features a collection of items spanning home décor, jewelry, handwoven baby gifts, accessories, botanical, stationery and artwork, but it is so much more than that.

There is a story behind almost all of what has found its way into her shop.  Relationships are central to Nancy’s business model. And so is community.

“To me the shop is not about stuff,” says Nancy. “It’s something about the relationship between the person and the object. I’ve tried to find things that are very unique, made from natural materials, and artisan made.”

Nancy admits it is usually not logic that helps her choose what she puts in the store, but rather “it’s all about how it makes you feel.”

Nancy works on instinct and goes from there. Take for instance her relationship with Angela Salvatore, the owner of Gateau Marche (French for Cake Walk).  An executive pastry chef, recently relocated from San Francisco, Angela makes beautiful hand decorated cookies as well as other savory treats for the shop.

“Her cookies are works of art,” says Nancy.

Willow & Birch was recently voted the best new business on the shoreline in the Shoreline Readers poll. I imagine it’s because of the good energy that the store generates. It just feels really good to be there.

Many of the pieces found in Nancy’s store are inspired by nature and also by traveling with her family.

“I’m very lucky, we’ve traveled a lot, that’s what we’ve done as a family, and it’s all about the experience, that inspires me,” says Nancy. “I have a baby line that’s been hand knit in Peru. I have jewelry from France, beautiful leather goods from Utah.”

Nancy always listens carefully to customer’s suggestions. Which is why she carries Wary Meyer’s vegetable based paraben-free soaps, made in Maine. Many items in her store are sustainably made by artisans all over the U.S.

The people that she works with seem to come to her almost serendipitously.

She met Paul Barron, or Chef Paul as he is better known, when he opened his commercial kitchen space around the corner at the same time.  After he prepared some scrumptious appetizers for Willow & Birch’s grand opening celebration in June, the two have been working together ever since.

The Café at Willow & Birch serves organic fair-trade coffees and teas and delicious sandwiches and salads such as Roasted Beet Salad, Chinese Chicken Salad or Roasted Turkey with Cranberry Sandwiches, all prepared fresh daily by Chef Paul and delivered through the back door.

Now that the weather has turned cool, you will likely find two homemade soups as well.  Make sure to save some room for a fresh baked sweet treat too!  And don’t forget to place your order for gourmet, made from scratch holiday baked goods as well.

Glass may be Nancy’s favorite medium and when she came across a glass studio on the Hudson producing hand cast glass, she procured their beautiful soap dishes to share space with the soaps.  She also sells their colorful beach glass by the pound which they tumble in their studio, once an old ice factory, in upstate New York.

She also works with Branford glassblower Ray Matthews and sells his hand-blown glass putters, tree-of-life orbs and glassware.  You will find blown glass pumpkins and Christmas ornaments made especially for the shop as well.

Nancy really enjoys supporting women who are rising stars in business.

In her upcoming trunk show, Nancy is featuring two of her favorite designers, Uno de 50, with their beautiful hand-crafted jewelry from Spain and gorgeous waxed canvas and leather accessories made in Virginia designed by Laura Stewart, owner of Andover Trask.

“We are not meant to do things alone” she says and is quick to thank her family, friends and colleagues whom she states she could not have done any of this without.

This is more than a store, it’s a destination. It’s truly a peaceful space where I can unplug and just be.

Visit Willow & Birch at 36 Wall St Madison CT, 06443.

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