ABOVE Rachel Ambrose (fifth from left) and her Home Remedies team — pictured with shop dogs Prince Harry and Sage — are ready to help customers choose textiles, furniture, floor coverings, and accessories.
For many teens, a retail job is a means to an end. But for Rachel Ambrose, a high-school stint behind the counter at a New Jersey jewelry and gift store turned out to be a calling. “I liked how tangible and straightforward it was,” she says. “You buy it for this amount, you sell it for that amount, and that’s how things change hands.”
Later in life, Ambrose combined that zest for retail with a love of textiles and design. After running her own furniture store in San Francisco’s Mission District, she moved to Maine, where her family has summered for generations, in 2004. Working at Portland-area home-furnishings stores, she realized there was a hole in the market: No one was selling home-décor fabric. “To find a decent selection, you really had to go to Boston,” she says.
So, in 2010, she opened Home Remedies in a spacious setting (with plenty of parking) in the 1870 Portland Star Match Factory building. “I wanted to show all the things you can do with fabric,” Ambrose says. “We also sell furniture and things we’ve made in our workroom. We’re really trying to make it easier for people to furnish their homes with items they love.” Here’s how:
A Workroom for Custom Home Textiles
Window treatments, throw pillows, duvet covers, upholstery, even dog beds — name a fabric item for the home and chances are Home Remedies has made it. Customers can choose from the shop’s vast array of home-décor fabrics, ask the staff to suggest options that work with existing furnishings based on room photos or by visiting a home, and expect honest advice. When it comes to reupholstery projects, for example, Ambrose notes that they’re not money-saving endeavors. “If you love a piece of furniture, it’s supremely comfortable, and you have the perfect place for it, it’s worth redoing,” she says. “Otherwise, there’s no shame in getting a new couch.”
“We are thrifty Yankees who appreciate utility and beauty,” Ambrose says. “We don’t sell disposable furniture; we’ve got an eye on everyone’s pocketbook and the earth.” That’s why she carries timeless, American-made pieces with clean lines, and, often, stain-resistant, durable man-made fabrics like polyester — “It’s not your grandmother’s polyester,” she notes — or machine-washable slipcovers. She advocates investing in a sofa in an interesting neutral, such as gray velvet or tweedy beige, “so you won’t hate it in three years,” and using pillows and throws to create an of-the-moment look.
Diverse Floor Coverings
You’ll find neutral area rugs in natural fibers — hooked and tufted wool, jute, even sheepskin — reproduction Orientals executed so faithfully they include faux crease lines, and colorful printed-vinyl floor cloths well suited to kitchens and mudrooms. The staff is happy to chat about the offerings, including how they wear, how to clean them, and how to size them for your room. It’s expertise they’ve gleaned from their own lives — a long-time old-house dweller, Ambrose once bought a condo so she could see what it’s like to live in a new building — and from the homes they’ve worked in.
All the Finishing Touches
The shop’s artfully designed displays are home to coffee-table books, tea towels, barware, baskets, and kids’ goods. Overhead is a constellation of pendants, ranging from barn-style lights to sculptural lamps comprising layers of recycled cardboard. Throughout the shop, the Home Remedies team aims to inspire customers — to pull furniture away from walls, layer patterns and textures, and combine new and vintage items. “We’re not trying to create showpieces,” she says. “We want to help people create rooms they can really live in.”
Design Services for Every Budget
Never a fan of big-city design centers that require visitors to have a resale license or be accompanied by an interior designer, Ambrose conceived Home Remedies to be “a design center for everybody.” If you’ve got quandaries that would benefit from personal consultation, you can pay $195 for a one-hour home visit (and get $50 in store credit). Or you can simply wander in, browse the fabrics, ponder Ambrose’s selections and styling, and ask a staffer for advice. “Design centers cultivate this air of exclusivity that I think is stupid and unnecessary, especially in the age of the internet,” Ambrose says. “People should be able to get what they want — quality stuff that’s going to last for a long time — without a lot of attitude.”
83 West Commercial St., Portland. 207-899-0135. homeremediesmaine.com