I learned about Beyond the Barn Doors about a year ago from Facebook. Being an avid interior design wannabe, and constantly looking for things to grace our home, I was super intrigued by their sale events. Something about the limited engagements makes them feel really special. When the 2016 Fall show came and went without my attendance, I swore right then and there that I would not miss the Spring one. (I knew I would have to miss the Holiday show, so the Spring show was my only beacon of light.)
Beyond the Barn Doors is a barn show that is put on three times a year (Fall, Holiday, and Spring) in Oakton, VA. The owners, Shelly Eagen and Bonnie Townshend travel all around to collect items that they love. They go to market, and to auctions, to collect furniture, old and new, to provide an assortment of different things in hopes of appealing to the biggest audience.
Prior to opening those barn doors five years ago, Shelly had an Interior Design business and Bonnie was starting to entertain getting back into the workforce after 17 years as a stay-at-home mom. Bonnie admits that she was floundering. Her kids were growing up and she was ready and wanting to do something. She says, “I was fortunate enough to be in a position where I could go and find something that I just love to do.” Shelly, on the other hand, had been ten years in interior design. She says, “It was hard for me because I had four kids; trying to get them all situated. But a lot of that type of work, you have to be up and out and meeting contractors. It was my one child’s last few years of high school and I didn’t want to miss that time with them [the kids] in the summer. I needed to find something that was better suited to my timing.” They both agreed that they wanted something creative. They wanted an adventure.
They spent time determining what they could do, and what they were good at. The conclusion, says Shelly, “We’re good at shopping! Really good at it!” (LOL.) The question became, what could they do with a proficiency in shopping? Says Bonnie, “When we started brainstorming about doing this [business], we were talking about bringing an eclectic blend of what we find out in the country to suburbia. We’re not really doing anything that other individuals couldn’t do, we’re just making it easier because we’ve done it for them. And we’ve brought it to one beautiful venue.” The women enjoyed going to these events themselves. They liked the exclusive and festive feel that would prompt them to mark their calendars and round up their girlfriends to make a day of it. Being veteran shoppers, they quickly realized that there was nothing like this in our area, so they aimed to take advantage. (Cue The Barn.) Since Shelly and her family moved in, she and Bonnie would often day dream about, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could capitalize on this? Do something here [the barn]?” The property even has enough space for the masses to park! It’s really something. Bonnie adds, “In all honesty, we always had the barn in mind because she [Shelly] didn’t have horses. She didn’t have a desire to have horses.”
With anything new, there is always an element of fear. As they were preparing for their first show, Shelly explains, “We had a lot of stuff, but not a lot of stuff (as now we know). Are people going to come? And that Friday morning we were like, “Oh my God, there’s like 70 cars in the pasture! And they’re coming here!”” Needless-to-say, they were sold out of pretty much everything on day one. To their delight, the business has grown with every show, in sales and attendance. They have branched out from their first show where the customers were mostly their friends and family. Now every show brings new people.
Beyond the shows, it’s clear that the ladies truly love the process. They enjoy getting a piece that looks beaten down, and wondering where it has been, what kind of life and service had it provided, and how did it end up here? And they get a thrill from bringing that piece back to life. They love the human connections they’ve made with their vendors, but they especially love the way the business has evolved organically. They are best friends who happen to really compliment one another. They may not agree on every purchase, but admit that keeps them “fresh.”
Bonnie made it a point to share, “Shelly has taught me a lot. She will downplay that, but because of her design background, and because of her knowledge of interior design, for me it’s been a really great learning experience. I have so much more confidence now in design.” What Bonnie brings to the table is her business savvy and negotiating skills. She hits the auctions ready to work her magic.
During the winter months the women promote their design and color work services. They do charity events throughout the year, setting up vignettes of their wares to raise money for a variety of causes. Items are auctioned off and a percentage of the sale goes to the recipient charity. And a new venture that they are excited about is styling the store windows for one of Beyond the Barn Doors guest vendors, Undeniable Boutique, whose shops are located in Fairfax Corner and Mosaic District. The symbiotic cross promotion is quite inspiring.
So how do these two get inspired? Says Shelly, “We go to market and we’re overwhelmed and we just start buying. We don’t even really remember what we bought until the shipment comes. [And then] We’re like Gasp, oh yeah, we love that!” They admit that they pretty much know right away when they walk into a place, what big furniture pieces they will purchase.
A lot of preparation and hard work is demanded to get ready for one of their events. When styling for their show, they start with a blank slate of just the furniture, allowing the style of that piece to dictate the look or theme of the vignette. It takes a lot of piecing things together from all of their different haunts, and having a vision. They are very particular about each vignette that they present, but they are also dictated by their space (which they admit is the best part of their business). The barn provides such an unusual and unique atmosphere for their shows, but comes with it’s own problems. As Bonnie explains, “Not everything can be stored in the barn. If it is soft or has any kind of upholstery, it has to go to my house. So now we’ve purchased it, we’ve shipped it, we’ve unpacked it, we’ve tagged it. And now we’ve moved it to my house. Which means then it has to be moved back. And if we get set up too early and we have inclement weather, there are a couple of spots in the barn that get tricky with water or moisture. We’ve lost a handful of merchandise to the barn. We can’t just go to auction, bring the piece of furniture home, paint it and set it. We can’t. We have to wait on the weather to find a good day that we can paint. Then we have to cover and store the furniture until we’re ready to set it out. It takes a lot more time. If we had a retail space we would just bring it in, set it up, and put a frame on top and we’re done, but we can’t do that.” They have talked about the possibility of a retail store, but determined that would take the fun out of it, and agree that a retail space would make it feel like more of a job because of the commitment to the rent.
Their high standards of presentation trickle into the details. Bonnie explains, “We take a lot of time. We stamp the back of each tag with [our] bird, and we stamp the bags with [our] bird, and everything is wrapped in tissue when you leave, and you get a receipt. We take a lot of pride in the little things too.” They work hard to stay true to their roots and branding. They described a trip they made in July to Atlanta where they met a lovely woman who produced bags. She suggested that Beyond the Barn Doors needed to up their presence on their bag because if the bag was nice enough, people would continue to carry it, which would be additional exposure. Bonnie admits, “Shelly and I were like, no. We like that we stamp every one of them. Or my mom stamps every one of them. Or her mom stamps every one of them. I mean, that’s what we do!” They enjoy being more of a mom and pop business; it just feels right.
Beyond the Barn Doors is more than a partnership. It is a full on family affair. Between them they have seven children. Their entire families, including Bonnie’s and Shelly’s parents, have been such a big part of the business. Says Eagan, “That’s what makes it even more special. Not only on that weekend [of the show], but leading up to it, we’re moving furniture together as a family, we’re cooking out. It’s a big collaboration.” Instead of focusing on self-promotion, the ladies of Beyond the Barn Doors have simply followed their dream. It’s an inspirational story about a friendship and about family. They tease their daughters about one day taking over the business, making efforts to subtly educate them as they go. The journey has been a real family affair. They vacation together, their parents are close friends, and their girlfriends…. They both agreed, “We could not do this without our girlfriends. Our friends love to be a part of it, which then makes it so much fun and special.” They happily admit that they never factored in the family and camaraderie that the business has built. Adds Bonnie, “I think we just thought about, well this would be a cool thing to do.” But as they say, it takes a village to do most anything successfully. They love their jobs. How could they not?
The business has exceeded their expectations. They went into it hoping it would work, hoping people would come and like their concept and service. They have had great feedback and the people keep coming. They talked of how proud their children are of them; two women who have taken a leap of faith, invested in something, and succeeded. They are so proud to be showing their kids that they are doing something that they really love; that you don’t have to make tons of money if you’re pursuing your passion. Says Townshend, “We laugh about it a lot, but we never dread working. We’re working with our best friend.” Shelly adds, “It’s therapy every day.”
Address: 3006 Fox Mill Rd, Oakton, VA