Lovely Little Surprises
Leandra Fremont-Smith contemplates pop-ups and cultivates showstopping window boxes at her downtown Yarmouth design studio.
Leandra Fremont-Smith needed a change of scenery. For years, she had loved running her successful design business from the barn attached to the back of her home in Yarmouth. As she recalls, “I could have my kids get off the bus and be right there. I could do a load of laundry.” But it had finally become “almost too comfy and perfect,” she says. “I said to myself, ‘If I see one more FedEx truck come down here, I don’t know what I’m going to do!’ It was a soft nudge.” After a year in which so many of us worked from home offices, the scenario is probably familiar; what might not be as typical is the ease with which Fremont-Smith found an ideal new location that brims with possibilities, and it was just down the road.
Fremont-Smith grew up in Essex, Massachusetts, a town renowned for its many antique shops. She feels her design training really started in childhood, as she spent hours exploring these treasure troves alongside her parents, who are specialists in Colonial and French antiques. She even helped her parents as they renovated historic buildings in Boston’s financial district. After graduating from Harvard University and spending time at the American University of Paris and the Boston Architectural Center, she turned her passion for interior design into a thriving business with clients up and down the East Coast.
Finding a new home for the design business came about serendipitously. “I have a friend who owns this adorable store called Gingham, which is at the other end of town,” Fremont-Smith recalls. It turned out that the storefront next door to Gingham was for rent. “It had been vacant for a couple of months, so I called that morning and got a tour the next day.” She and her husband went to see the space, and both were immediately thrilled. “My husband said, ‘This is perfect.’ And I was like, wow, because normally he says, ‘Let’s think about it,’” she remembers. The decision was easy, as were negotiations: “They gave me the key right there. I have the nicest landlords ever.”
This “perfect” new space has pride of place in Yarmouth’s Lower Village, in the building that until 2015 was the home of Goff’s Hardware, a local institution. Built in 1875, the aging structure presented a few challenges when setting up the design studio. “It’s a really old building and we did our best. Everything’s a little bit shimmed on either side. But we love it so much,” says Fremont-Smith. Given her childhood immersion in antiques and old buildings, she understands and appreciates the patina of an older space. The original floors, polished smooth by generations of feet, might put off another tenant, but Fremont-Smith adores them: “It’s a kind of French-looking herringbone floor that looked already worn. And I love it.” She continues, “It was really easy to move in. I thought it would be overwhelming, but it wasn’t.”
With the change in venue for the business came new opportunities for connection. Called Leandra Design, the space serves primarily as the studio for her design business, Leandra Fremont-Smith Interiors. Here she and her team can brainstorm, meet with clients, and spread out their samples of fabric and finishes. As a design studio, it’s by appointment only; Fremont-Smith emphasizes that they’re not open for casual browsing in a conventional way at the moment. But she is definitely dreaming of future possibilities for the space. She has long admired the creative spirit of artists and artisans in Maine, as well as the local emphasis on small-scale production: “We have so many creative minds here, and everyone does it on a small scale instead of a big, overly materialized way,” she says. She sees retail opportunities arising from the connections she already has in the community. “I’ve always been interested in jewelry design, and I love fashion. I have a lot of friends in the industry. I’ll end up doing pop-up shops,” she muses. “I’m excited to do that. We just need to be a little bit further through COVID and then get that up and running. Everyone needs to stay tuned.”
In the meantime, those traveling along Yarmouth’s Main Street can spend some time enjoying the clever, seasonally themed window boxes that Fremont-Smith and her team, with help from the Constant Gardener, have installed outside their front windows. Fremont-Smith explains, “We just want people to be really happy and bubbly when they drive by and just feel inspired—they don’t need to feel that they have to come in and buy a couch or anything like that.” She sees the window boxes as an important aspect of being part of a community, brightening her neighbors’ days. As she says, “We like to do it because it’s so fun.” Stay tuned for more fun in this reimagined space.
Thinking Outside the (Window) Box
“I’m really into window boxes. I haven’t been able to do a ton with the storefront design, but the boxes are fun. When people go by, it’s like Willy Wonka and his chocolate factory, but kind of high on fabrics and wallpapers and bright patterns,” Fremont-Smith jokes. Her company’s Instagram feed is an excellent inspiration for sprucing up boring window boxes; here are some tips we gleaned.
•Don’t forget to add visual interest at all levels. This fall’s boxes featured groups of tiny pumpkins suspended by green twine that cascaded over the sides of the boxes, balancing out the larger gourds and magenta mums nestled above.
•Too early for real blooms? Use paper or fabric scraps to make some colorful flowers, then go ahead and stick them into the frozen window box soil: they’ll brighten up the dull hues of a late winter’s day. Bonus points if they echo design elements on the inside of the window!
•Love the light you have: there are shade plants that will almost glow in low light, especially if you paint your window boxes a deep gray like Fremont-Smith did. (For more on the power of gray, see this issue’s Living Color, page 58.) Foliage and brightly colored begonias can brighten up any dark corner.
•Experienced gardeners know this, but budding green thumbs, take note: change up your annuals frequently to reflect the changes in season. Pansies can take center stage in spring, but by Labor Day last year, the window boxes at Leandra Fremont-Smith Interiors were bursting with the bright pinks of late summer.