Farmaesthetics' Stylish Apothecary

Workspace Tour

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Name: Farmaesthetics Skincare Apothecary & Treatment Boutique
Location: Bellevue Ave., Newport, Rhode Island
Size: Front shop : 299 square feet, Treatment Room: 130 square feet, Back room with courtyard access (under renovation): 364 square feet
Years worked in: 6 years; rented

Brenda Brock, founder of the natural skincare line Farmaesthetics, remembers being a little girl, curiously standing on her tippy toes, and straining to see the top of her grandmother’s dressing table. There were toiletries in milky blue glass bottles with labels she couldn’t read, white linen hankies, crisp and folded, and sweetly scented powdery things. It was private, personal and intimate. “I was drawn to that place. I think I knew that women were different at their dressing tables somehow, that this is where they went to soften themselves after hard work. It was mysterious to know that they had this place to be that had nothing to do with us.”

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All of the nostalgia and beauty wrapped up in this childhood memory is embodied in Farmaesthetics’ flagship Newport apothecary and treatment boutique. Entering the space feels like being transported back to a calmer, simpler time, not unlike the world where Brenda, the daughter of an 8th-generation Texas farming family, was raised. It was a world where everything was real and natural: tables were wood, pitchers were porcelain, bottles were glass. “It was glorious. That kind of texture was so grounding,” Brenda wistfully recalls. “Now it is considered a luxury, but back then, it was just a wholesome way of life.”

White tin ceiling tiles, antique rocking chairs and glass bottles labeled in cursive with descriptions like “Nourishing Lavender Milk” and “Cool Aloe Mist” pay homage to these bygone days and give Farmaesthetics an old-time charm that still feels fresh and refined. The space reflects the wholesome purity of the products, which are made with organic herbs, flowers, oils and grains from American family farms.

The “rural kitchen culture” of Brenda’s youth is the inspiration behind her growing skincare brand. The women who gathered around the kitchen table to share natural, farm-based recipes for health and beauty set the stage for her lifelong love of herbal concocting. “So much self care information is held in verbal traditions. There was an intimacy of truth exchanged between us little girls and our elders.”

Following in the footsteps of her ancestors, Brenda began creating handmade skincare preparations for family and friends using herbs and flowers she grew herself. She started selling her beauty products at a friend’s roadside organic farm stand during the summer of 1999. From there, the demand for her natural products has continued to grow. Today her full line of skincare products for the face and body are used in spas like the Four Seasons and sold by retailers including Urban Outfitters and Terrain.

The antiques that fill Brenda’s Bellevue Avenue store keep her deeply connected to her past as her thriving brand looks towards the future. “I need them around me for reference in my work environment. All it takes is a glimpse or a quick touch to realign myself with my story and intentions for Farmaesthetics, and that is very important during the hubbub of a demanding day at a fast growing business.”

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Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Modern Ruralism (I think I may have made that up).

Inspiration: Rural kitchen culture.

Favorite Element: Time travel! Our shop is created to make visitors feel like they’ve been transported back in time. The space was originally a mid 19th century hotel lobby. We worked hard to uncover the original tin ceilings, plaster, wainscoting, and southern pine flooring. We use the original hotel safe for storage in our treatment room. Our shop is a technology free zone. We have a hardwired 1939 bakelite telephone and use a manual cash box (vs. a register or computer point of purchase system). I even flinched when the fire Marshall made us put a big red emergency alarm box on our wall because I like to avoid anything that dispels the experience of being in a 1930s apothecary.

Biggest Challenge: The large back room of our shop is at present an empty space that looks a little like bombed-out Berlin. We are just starting renovation to open up the back area for additional workshop space, and expanding to include the courtyard out back. Construction begins next week, and the rewards for that endeavor will be well worth the challenge!

What Friends Say: One of my friends called my husband Paul after the completion of the shop interior and asked if he would design her bath and dressing room to look and feel just like Farmaesthetics. She said she wanted her personal space to feel like she feels every time she walks into Farmaesthetics Skincare Apothecary. Pretty wonderful…

Biggest Embarrassment: The dreaded back room as it is now.

Proudest DIY: Paul and I worked together to design and build the shop. Paul is particularly proud of the design and build out of the apothecary shelving for the products. My proudest contribution was designing the faux fireplace.

Biggest Indulgence: The landscape painting by artist Chris Wyllie hanging over the mantel. And braving a black high-gloss floor paint on a high traffic area.

Best Advice: The best advice I can give for someone interested in a beauty-related retail business is to keep your shop focused on what you do really well. Identify what that is for yourself and your team and then carefully curate accordingly. Stay true to your shop’s unique culture and avoid the temptation and advice that urges you to be all things to all customers.

Dream Sources: Architectural salvage, estate sales, old family farmhouse attics and basements.

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Resources of Note:

PAINT & COLORS

  • Walls: Benjamin Moore: Easter Lilly
  • Floors: Benjamin Moore: Black high gloss enamel
  • Trim: Benjamin Moore: White high gloss enamel

FRONT SHOP

  • Bottle collection: I’ve collected old bottles all my life. They come from garage sales, barn sales, antique shops and dealer booths all over the country. Some are hand me downs from my own family and some are gifts from friends.
  • Polyurethane finish for custom cabinetry and hardware: Home Depot
  • Enamel pitchers used as vases on the mantel: Terrain in Glen Mills, PA
  • Glass cloches: Terrain in Glen Mills
  • Bowl holding Kinfolk magazines: Antique purchased at street flea market in Austin, TX
  • Antique rockers: Inherited from family
  • Two vintage Wheatonware sales suitcases: They were originally used to hold Wheatonware glass for door to door sales. They are treasured gifts from one of my past employees, the sweet and talented Erin Toppa.
  • Old 1920s war time copper nurse’s stand with glass ball feet and porcelain basin: Acushnet River Antiques, New Bedford, MA
  • Antique green wicker straight back chair: Barn sale in Belfast, Maine
  • Vintage Bakelite telephone: Gift from neighbors in Tiverton, RI
  • Library clock on the wall: Gift from my father and mother
  • Mercury glass vases: TJ Maxx
  • Antique fans: I have collected them over the years, so I am not sure where they came from. They are likely from a barn sale or garage sale in Texas (lots of old fans in Texas)


TREATMENT ROOM

  • Antique hanging iron street light: Found at Mello’s Farm Stand in Portsmouth. They were getting rid of it and I bought it for 75.00.
  • Antique Mosler Safe: Came with the building. It is so solid and heavy; it will stay with the building.

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Thanks, Brenda!

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(Image credits: Jacqueline Marque)