You know you’re out of your league when you ask people if they’ve been to a place and they don’t know what you’re talking about.
“Have you been to Terrain in Westport?” I asked a friend who loves to shop and decorate. “No, I won’t drive all the way there because I don’t want to drive an hour home after a few glasses of wine.”
“It’s not a restaurant, it’s a cool store where you can eat and shop for plants and things for your house,” I said. “Oh, you mean te-ran,” she said. Huh? “Te-ran. French for earth. Yes, I’ve been there. I thought you said tureen.”
Boy, did I feel foolish. My friend Barbara had only texted me the name of the place, so I assumed it was pronounced Ter-rain. Usually, I’m pretty good with French. I once used the expression tete a tete and an uppity relative said, “Oh, you mean a tate a tate.” “No,” I thought. “I mean tet a tet. If you’re going to correct someone, make sure you’re right.”
Turns out the same thing happened with Terrain. When I told Barbara about my faux pas, she burst into hysterical laughter. “It’s terrain,” she said. As in all-terrain vehicle or rough terrain. “Are you sure?” I asked. “Yes, I am.” I felt relieved, even vindicated.
The Terrain Garden Cafe is a cross between a high end garden center and Home Goods, with a funky cafe with foods like avocado toast, sweet potato bisque and quinoa salad with roasted chickpeas. Shoppers pony up to the polished (cement?) bar at lunch for a bite and a glass of wine or beer. I suspect that as much as the food, they need to decompress.
Like your first trip to Ikea, walking around Terrain can be overwhelming – so many things, well, so much time. Customers spend an average of 2 1/2 hours in the store – browsing, eating, drinking and then browsing again. I learned this tidbit from one of Barbara’s friends, who works there.
This makes sense. If you rarely go to a store, you must reorient yourself every time. But if you go often, you know where the good stuff is. Back when I liked shopping, I could spot new merchandise at Loehmanns, Marshalls and the nearby JCrew outlet. I used to work a block from Bloomingdales in New York City, and strolled there every day at lunch. There’s something satisfying about knowing a store like the back of your hand. But I’m afraid those days are over.
Terrain is to garden style like Ikea is to industrial and modern. Rows of live plants, bulbs, terrariums and topiaries greet visitors. Trouble is I’ve got The Curmudgeon at home monitoring our Visa account. I loved a topiary, but it was $99. As I told Barbara, I had to weigh the topiary and my marriage. I picked the marriage, but it was a pretty close call.
The Curmudgeon’s penchant for penny pinching makes it hard to shop with conviction. But I decided to use it as an “artist’s date,” a chance to let my imagination run wild. Julia Cameron, author of “The Artist’s Way,” urges taking at least one hour a week for an artist’s date – going somewhere, preferably alone, where you explore new things. It’s supposed to stimulate your inner child, the source of creativity. She tells you not to question her, to just do it. I’m not one to make waves, so I do as I’m told.
With its Christmas trees and holiday displays, gorgeous flower arrangements and wide selection of home goods and gifts, Terrain is ideal for an artist’s date. It’s also fun to see how the other half lives. This is, after all, Westport, home to the rich and famous and the setting of the hysterical show “American Housewife.” I loved Katy Mixon on “Mike & Molly,” and she’s perfect as a mom who doesn’t fit in with other mothers in her rich community.
I think we all feel a little like Katy’s character when we’re thrown into that scene. I know I do. You suddenly feel a little fat and lacking in all sense of style. Walking around Terrain makes you wonder who can afford this stuff: $99 for a gold wheat wreath; $39 for a clay flower pot bread kit, and $29 for a cluster of five gold flowers.
Barbara reminded me that these places are more about inspiration than shopping. That’s easy to forget when your eyes are darting around, looking at all the magnificent things that you’d buy if you they were cheaper. I began to see possibilities for my own hovel, er, home.
I admire people like my sister Patty who loves to decorate her home, and does it year-round. She even developed a small business based on her love of it. I decorate under duress: I’m having 29 people for Thanksgiving and I haven’t done anything since last year. This place really looks tired. Even The Curmudgeon is on board: “Forget about the leaves in the yard, he decreed. “We need to make this hovel presentable.”
I decided to snap some beautiful, but expensive, things with my I-Phone and try to replicate them with cheaper materials. Barbara, who has years of garden club experience, agreed to help and supervise in her kitchen. She was utterly gracious, hopping to it as I asked for containers, jar lids, twigs and candles. I felt a little like her heart surgeon husband Rich giving orders in the O.R.
The first is a flower arrangement featuring plants and bulbs that sells for $139 at Terrain. We assembled similar arrangement with plants from a big box store and a $20 milk glass container from Flowers on the Green in Guilford, CT. Total cost:$50.
Special kudos to Christie Baker, owner of the flower shop. Once I told her what I was doing, she embraced the challenge with gusto, helping me find objects in the consignment section of her shop. Thanks also to Patti Todd, owner of Consign & Design in Branford, CT., where I bought a cement pedestal urn for $25.
The second was a potbelly vase with a few sprigs selling for $39 at Terrain. I bought an extra-large plastic Christmas ornament at Flowers on the Green for $9. I took out the loop and holder at the top and put in a sprig of dusty miller, fresh eucalyptus and some greens. We balanced it on a Bell jar ring. Total cost $12.
The third is a metal wheat wreath that sells for $99 at Terrain. Christie suggested I make a wheat wreath or a swag. Total cost $25 (wheat, ribbon and gold spray paint.) Thanksgiving hostess tip from Christie: place a spray-painted or natural piece of wheat on napkins for a festive look.