A recent article in The News Journal (Delaware) featured William Smith alum Karen Helme ’78 P ’11 and the furnishings business she co-owns, which has moved into a new location. Both women worked in other fields before pursuing their passion in design.
The article notes Helme spent 15 years working in IT for the insurance industry.
It quotes her, “I was sitting with programmers and asking them, ‘Is your code done?’ It was like asking my sons, ‘Is your homework done?’ ” She earned a design degree from the Delaware College of Art and Design.
“You have to feed your soul,” she is quoted.
Helme earned her B.A. in History and Art History from William Smith.
The full article about Helme’s business, Found Antiques and Decorative Furnishings, follows.
The News Journal
Delaware businesses: Finders keepers
Discover fabulous antiques and furnishings at Found
Pam George • Special to The News Journal • March 25, 2010
On a family trip to England, Karen Helme’s two brothers were initially happy to carry her suitcases up and down the stairs. Until, that is, one suitcase grew increasingly heavy. Helme, who had purposely packed light, was gradually stuffing it with treasures she’d purchased in antiques stores.
“I have a bad back,” one brother finally protested when faced with the prospect of heaving it up yet another set of stairs. “Get someone else to lug it around.”
Meanwhile, Meredith Graves was making detours while taking her son on a tour of New England colleges. “Wherever we looked — Providence, Bristol — he sat in the car while I shopped,” she said.
Every trip is a business trip for Helme and Graves, two interior designers whose finds are for sale in their shop, Found Antiques and Decorative Furnishings. Formerly located above the Centreville Café, the shop on March 12 moved to new digs in Frederick’s Country Center.
All the items are second-hand or antique. Indeed, the partners can tell you exactly where a piece was found. Blue-and-white candlestick holders with broad bases came from an estate sale. “They’re not old, but they’re highly decorative,” Graves said. The pieces sit next to a hammered silver biscuit box, one of Helme’s English finds.
Helme came upon a plantation desk with turned legs in Pennsylvania, but it was made in Maryland, she said. Graves purchased Wedgwood plates, trimmed in turquoise and boasting a decorative floral design, from an antiques dealer in Baltimore. “Mint condition,” reads the tag. “Color is fabulous.”
The price: $365. But you’re just as likely to find a mahogany side table for $165, a cheetah-patterned tray on a stand for $175, and a set of 12 silver-plate soup spoons for $75.
Most the furniture has received new upholstery. Take the diminutive chair, outfitted in moss-colored velvet, which would suit a straddling Marlene Dietrich in a sexy stage show. Leg kicked out behind her, Helme struck a pose to demonstrate. “Look at its little Mickey ears,” she said, patting the mouse-like appendages atop of the fun yet elegant $525 chair.
Everything is artfully arranged in tableaux.
“They have a real flair for decorating,” said shopper Joei Contompasis of Wilmington. “The items are unique, and they’re high quality.”
Even men like Chuck Ruderhausen, who stumbled upon the shop by accident, are impressed.
“The woman’s side of me is coming out,” said the Unionville resident, who took time to walk around. “I love the colors, and the stuff is well presented.”
The partners are thrilled with their new space, a suite of rooms painted in peach, Wedgewood blue and apple green.
“Our new store never had a time when it was not busy in the first three days we were open,” Graves said. “It exceeded our expectations.”
Looking at the owners’ happy faces, it is hard to imagine the stress they experienced pulling the shop together.
The partners met when Graves and some friends held trunk shows that designers like Helme frequented. “You could always find something unique and fabulous to finish the job,” Helme said.
Graves, with two other friends, started a shop above the Centreville Café in March 2008, and Helme joined in October 2008 to form Found. The shop lost its lease just before the holidays in 2009, and the partners reorganized. It was a tough time. Graves, who is also a floral designer for Winterthur, was in the thick of holiday decorating.
After the snow storms abated, Helme and Graves looked for new space. In two weeks, they landed the spot in Frederick’s Country Center. To help pull it together, a friend recommended the residents of Limen House in Wilmington, which serves men and women in recovery from alcoholism and drug dependency.
The facility sent a painter and movers to help transport items from storage.
“They were wonderful,” Graves recalled. “We sat on the floor, ate sandwiches and talked.”
Helme agreed. “We felt really good about working with them.”
They also feel good about doing what they love. Graves, who has a history degree from Trinity College in Hartfield, Conn., got her master’s in education and worked at a Quaker school while living in Long Island. But she always gravitated toward design work, and she got a flower certificate from Longwood Gardens.
“Even as a little girl, I was always finding things and fixing them up,” said Graves, whose mother sold antiques and was an avid gardener.
Helme, who has an art history degree from Hobart and William Smith Colleges in upstate New York, spent 15 years working in IT for the insurance industry.
“I was sitting with programmers and asking them, ‘Is your code done?’ It was like asking my sons, ‘Is your homework done?’ “
She earned a design degree from the Delaware College of Art and Design to follow her passion. “You have to feed your soul,” she said.
And her soul is hungry for interesting, eclectic finds, including a stuffed pheasant perched on a shelf. She once found two bullfrog statues in Rock Hall, Md. One played a drum; the other played the trumpet. She soon realized the statues were actually real — the product of a taxidermist.
“They were so funky; I love them,” she said. So did the customer who purchased them two days after she put them on a shelf.
More often, however, you’ll find what Graves calls “beautiful things”: lamps, jardinières, settees with fluffy pillows and fake topiaries with Dr. Seuss-like tufts on them.
Expect more of the same in the future.
“We are,” Helme concludes, “shoppers extraordinaire.”