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Posted by on Mar 29, 2012 | 0 comments

Bellies and Babies: A Welcome Home on the Avenue

Bellies and Babies: A Welcome Home on the Avenue

Two years ago, this 1920s farmhouse on the corner of Mt Vernon Ave. and Howell St. got a much-needed makeover. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of local couple Dawn and Tim, a former decorative hardware store magically transformed into a greenish yellow storefront, bustling with toys, kids, and strollers, another warm and welcoming haven in the heart of Del Ray. Here’s the story of how Bellies and Babies came to life.

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When Dawn and Tim moved in, the house had already been converted to a retail property, but they wanted to decorate in a style their own. They met with a decorator and contractors to have shelving, a sales counter, and wardrobe closets designed and built.

They walked away with the realization that, although they loved the ideas, the plans were out of their budget. So they got to work on designing the space and doing the work themselves.

The bathrooms had already been renovated with ceramic floors, tile walls, and new plumbing and pipes. To make the store baby-friendly, Dawn put a curtain in front of the shower and added a changing table. When you’re shopping with an infant or a toddler, it’s nice to know a clean, well-stocked restroom is available if needed.

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The first tasks Tim accomplished were to paint the interior, build wardrobe closets and shelving, and hang slatwall. He recruited a friend, an electrical engineer, to help him install new lighting in each room.

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They found their sales counter at Upscale Resale, a D.C. furniture consignment shop, and fell in love with the piece. They thought it represented a boutique feel that was sophisticated yet “reminiscent” of a baby room. As a “buffet table,” they weren’t sure if it could function as a counter, but Tim removed the back and secured a sales drawer. It works perfectly.

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They moved around the sales counter and racks and shelves until they thought the layout was conducive and efficient for getting around the store easily with kids. They separated the boy, girl, and maternity clothes in the bedrooms on the second floor.

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With the rooms that you can still imagine a family living in, and a bit of creakiness in the steps going upstairs, the house doesn’t feel at all like a store, but more like a home. I love that you can come in and disappear upstairs to shop quietly in either the girls or boys or maternity rooms.

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You can still see the original fireplace in this room downstairs, which also lends the room a feeling of intimacy and gives it more character than a commercial space might have.

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Wanting to support local businesses, Dawn and Tim bought area rugs from Red Barn Mercantile in Old Town and Contessa’s Garden across the street.

Tim installed IKEA shelving in the front rooms to showcase the hand-made items. Here, Dawn promotes the business ventures of local SAHMs like Rachel, the soap-maker we featured in a studio tour.

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Dawn also wanted a gender-neutral wall mural. She found a picture of a tree mural that she loved and asked her artist friend to paint it on the wall of the play area. It’s something you would see in a kids’ room, making you feel right at home.

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Finally, outside, Tim “wired shut” the outside gate so that children playing in the yard couldn’t run out.

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The store seems such a good fit in the neighborhood that it’s hard to remember what was there before. In fact, I had to do some asking around to remember that the house was used as a storefront for a decorative hardware business. Dawn told me that, in the first few weeks after opening, people would still come in holding elaborate brass door handles, looking very lost.

They now come to Bellies & Babies for more than clothing consignment and gifts. Shoppers return to the store because it’s a homey place to hang out and chat with other parents, especially Dawn, who has small children of her own and recently gave birth to her third.

She says how much she appreciates hearing the personal stories of motherhood and the joys and trials of their pregnancies.  Over the past couple of years, Dawn certainly has had the opportunity to carry on conversations. She’s set up  more than  7,000 accounts with consigners.

She likes to think of the clothing sales in terms of recycling as well: 31,000 pieces of inventory have gone to new families. When consigned clothing doesn’t sell after a set period of time, Dawn donates it to United Community Ministries, a local coat drive, and she has donated outfits to a local teacher who fosters three children.

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You can find a list of upcoming events like this weekend’s egg roll, as well as information on holding small private events at the store after hours, on the Bellies & Babies events page.

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