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Women Who Inspire Us – A Letter from Caroline Verschoor of Ekster Antiques

Since we celebrated International Women’s Day, last month I have constantly been reminded of the sheer number of incredible women who surround me. As a woman business owner (as well as a wife, mother to five children, daughter, sister, aunt, friend, creator, teacher…we all wear many hats), I know I couldn’t do what I do without all of the women in my life. They’ve greatly shaped who I am and what I’ve been able to accomplish.

The Women Who Inspire Us blog series was born out of the desire to share stories and advice from women who have inspired me on my journey in the hopes that their stories might light up in you some desire to push that little idea in your head or big dream to the next level.  They are words from creative women who have re-invented themselves, started businesses, followed their dreams, pursued a creative line of work and so on, all of which filled empty or half full places in their souls.

This topic is near and dear to my heart given my own personal re-invention which I have shared with you in the past. I was first an Elementary Education teacher and then a stay at home mom, who loved bringing the classroom into her days of mothering with theme days, celebrations for every day events and home parties. At the same time, I felt like my own identity was suffering. While I cherished my days at home raising our growing family, I felt that my own identity was in crisis mode as life happened, illnesses and challenges arose and my value became solely entwined in my family, leaving me with little value of my own, as a stand alone woman. I know, it seems totally irrational, but I feel that this is a crisis that many mothers face.  If you have chosen to have a family, we, as women, often face the duality of being both a wonderful mom and a wonderful employee or some other combination of “greatness.” We put our needs on the back burner while catering to the needs of others. You can read more on that internal struggle and the founding of Life’s Patina,  here.

When I was in that place over eleven years ago now, I looked to women whose stories were like my own or women who I had admired for years. You see, I had always admired women in my own family and my emulation of those women is what prepared me for my early days as a mother. My mom, my grandmother Nan, my great Aunt, my great grandmother and countless others. The time period that these women resided in carried different expectations than that of our world today. They weren’t better or worse… just different. So along with the women in my own family who inspired me, I dug a little deeper into the stories of how women I had been inspired by from afar took their interests and passions and created something that enriched their lives, that was outside of their family. I was looking for a reinvention that allowed me not to step aside from my role as a mother, my most valuable one, but rather allowed me to combine that role with something that fueled an identity of my own.

A couple of years ago,  I had the thrill of meeting Martha Stewart, a woman I had long admired and followed for both her ideas and for creating a hugely successful business all based on elevating the everyday. As we all know, the environment of a stay at home mom is the everyday which includes an awful lot of the mundane … ie. breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, the kitchen, the home, cleaning, laundry… Needless to say, she hit on all of the above and more and made them appear more interesting, more artistic… more fun. Martha would have to be the first woman outside of my family who inspired me on my own journey. Aside from her, there are a few other women who have moved the needle for me on my path to doing what I do today. Some I have grown to know deeply and consider dear friends and some I still continue to admire from afar. We should all have women in our life that are like that. In this blog series, I would like to introduce you to a couple of mine.

My first interviewee is a long time friend of mine, Caroline Verschoor of Ekster Antiques. I’ve known Caroline for over 10 years. She has truly been an inspirational role model over those years in both her family life and as a business owner. When I came up with the cockamamie idea to sell things out of our barn a decade ago, I looked up “Barn sales” and Caroline’s came up in an article from The Washington Post. I cannot remember the exact title but it was about a Barn Crawl and Caroline’s barn was listed. I thought to myself, “someone else is doing this, so it just might work!” After reading that article, I reached out to her to see if I could visit her and buy from her for one of our very first barn sales. I had been collecting and finding treasures in my own neck of the woods, but the visit to Caroline was the first outside of my own little state. Upon entering her barn with the music pumping, the waft of old books, the chippy surfaces of European antiques and treasures, I was smitten. Visit after visit through the years, I knew that we not only shared the love of the objects in her barn that she had amassed but were sharers of the love of history, nature, hard work, great style and our families. My visits grew into not only buying from this woman whose taste I admired deeply but of sharing our life experiences and business challenges that felt like they bonded us even more so. My husband has joined me often on these trips, not only as a set of hands to help load but to feel the environment that is Ekster Antiques and visit with both Caroline and her husband John Paul.

Caroline’s style is a seemingly effortless melding of the elegant with straight lined European pieces that wow. Always tossing in a statement piece and using linens, tons of ironstone, silver, art, natural objects of beauty and curiosities, Caroline’s “rooms” that she puts together make one want to stay and linger and linger and linger a little more. Comfort and quality all wrapped up in one great big ball of beauty!

You can catch Caroline at The Lucketts Spring Market and The Cottage at Lucketts.

With that said, happy reading!

Dear Meg,

Thank you for your request to write about how I got to where I am and possibly to inspire others in their journeys. When you first asked me to jot down some answers to your questions for me, I immediately thought of answering you in a Letter format, just because you yourself are so very eloquent, and never say “because” but “for” and I always think of you as a British Country lady born in the wrong era. Perhaps we were besties in a different époque? It wouldn’t surprise me! That said, let me try and answer some of your questions in story format.

Like you, the idea to sell from my Barns was born out of necessity, mostly from deducting that my barns were raw space, rent-free and an amazing blank canvas for the artist inside of me, bursting at the seams to express myself in ways a rented space would not allow.  Mind you, I did start in a multi-dealer space…but now I am running ahead of myself.  I need to step back a bit and tell you about myself first, and in doing so, probably identify why you and I relate on more than just the ‘hunting for antiques’ level.

A look inside one of Caroline’s barns, chock full of European antiques and vintage treasures

The reason I started my business is a very sad one. I have always been very creative. I disliked my daytime jobs and was always dreaming of ways to break out and do beautiful things, and to not work in an office and take orders and live for the weekends. I am from the Netherlands and my parents traveled for work. Thus, I grew up overseas in Liberia, Nigeria, Oman, Yemen and other exotic places.  I collected ‘stuff’ and (mostly) beads from these places and started making jewelry, necklaces made with silver and gold and colorful antique beads from around the world. And working in places like the Dutch Foreign Service, World Bank and IMF, I sold my necklaces to the ladies I worked with!! I organized many shows and exhibited my works at Saks Fifth Avenue, etc. But somehow, it never seemed “safe” enough to quit my regular job, give up the bennies and go out on my own. So I worked the day job, got married (to my wonderful husband, JP) and we had our first child, a boy named Ewan. We lived in a loft in DC, so cool, both working day jobs, and making jewelry at night! On the weekends, we would go out and look for antiques and cool stuff for our loft. We ventured upon a small town in Virginia called Waterford and I instantly knew that I wanted our kids to grow up this way, in the country, with wholesome air and an old historic home. We sold the loft and moved to a tiny stone home. We continued to make the daily commute to DC but I also continued to search for ways to be able to stay home with our sweet boy.

Some peeks into Caroline’s beautiful home…

Well, here comes the sad part: our boy got sick and it turned out he had a brain tumor. Our world was turned upside down and when Ewan succumbed to the disease in September of 1999, I finally said to  myself “If I can face this and live, I can certainly face starting a new life and trying to find a way forward.” So I did.  I found a popular place in the area, the Old Lucketts store, and the owner (whom I consider a dear friend) gave me a space. My husband and I had two girls after Ewan’s passing and worked on building our little company. As our girls grew, we were able to travel to Europe and import containers.  We did shows together and opened our own shop, but ultimately moved our business to our barns.

I love that I am friends with all the many women who have succeeded in this business. It’s sometimes challenging to be friends with people who basically do versions of the same job: hunt for beautiful unique items that are hard to find and portray them in unique settings that make people want to buy them. But somehow I feel that I have succeeded at this.  And I think you have too!

There are a few ‘tricks’ to this and  from my perspective the main lessons I have learned are:   

Always stay true to your own look. You CANNOT succeed in this business if your inspiration comes from a source other than your own brain and always give credit to the person you derived the inspiration from, if you do borrow ideas. 

You, Meg, have always been incredibly generous with your information and I love that about you!  We have come such a long way together and I LOVE that you come to my barn and find beautiful pieces to sell or to place in your home or barn or new endeavor, the Mercantile & Cafe.  I already know just how beautiful this home will be.  I see what you buy, and clearly you pick the best and I love it!

Women in business can be the best of friends.

You’ve taught me this because I have come to know you and I realize that your life too is filled with a lot of good but a lot of heartache as well.  You have shared your stories and family with me and when you come to shop, it is something I really look forward to. It’s so nice to be with someone who truly understands what it takes to run a business and a family alongside of it and succeed at both.  I think we both have, and become the best of friends, so thank you! OH and PS it doesn’t hurt that your husband always brings a bottle of the best red and at least one of your sons is with you to help load!

Much love,
Caroline

When I received Caroline’s beautiful and heartfelt response to my questions, her answers deeply affected and resonated with me, for an unexpected blessing and perk from partaking on this path so many years ago has been the relationships that I have been able to form due to this business. I have met people that may never have come into my life, had I not chosen to dive in at a time that I had found extremely challenging. Facing challenges head on, even while we may want to just sit in bed a little longer and pull the covers over our head is often the impetus that we need to produce the greatest results. Caroline certainly has and has followed her heart to show her strength… and that is a beautiful thing. Thank you, Caroline, for inspiring me and others with your actions and words!

There is no greater inspiration in this world that we live in right now that moves you to tears than the women of the Ukraine. Watching the footage of women with one hand holding onto their lone bag of what they could bring with them from their past life and the other hand grasping the hand of their child or children who are often clutching their stuffed animal as they leave the world that they know to escape what they are experiencing in their homeland is truly heart wrenching. It is a vision that we all secretly or overtly hope and pray that we never experience and wonder would we be able to walk their walk, should we be called to do so? It is in solidarity, support and strength that we are supporting CARE’s Ukraine Crisis Fund during our upcoming Spring Sale. Care.org aims to reach 4 million in Ukraine with immediate aid and recovery, food, water, hygiene kits, psychosocial support and cash assistance, prioritizing women, girls, families and the elderly. A portion of every preview party ticket sold and every purchase made during our Spring Barn Sale will be donated to the fund.

As always, thank you for reading and if you have women in your life who inspire you, who you would like to let the world know about, please tell us about them in the comments section.

~With inspiration and love always~
Meg

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  1. Maggie Wagensomer says:

    Loved this article. It takes a strong personality and a love for what you do to succeed. I really admire that . Good luck with the show I hope I can make it there… and I’m really looking forward to seeing the mercantile!

    • Meg Veno says:

      Thank you so much for reading Maggie! I am really glad that you enjoyed it and yes, I feel that a strength of personality and love for what you do to succeed. One is easier than the other!We would love to have you come and visit! IF you are able to, please introduce yourself!
      XX
      Meg

  2. Kirsten Leckszas says:

    Thank you! I love Caroline and Ekster; thoughts of her beautiful nature inspire me regularly.

    Another woman who inspires me is Petula Dvorak, washington post columnist, who somehow manages to do it all (including home plumbing) You can tell her I recommended her- we’re great friends.

    • Meg Veno says:

      Ahhh… I am so happy that you know of Caroline already! Yes, she has a way of displaying natural objects in the most beautiful of ways! I will certainly have to look into Petula Dvorak… I love a woman who can do her own plumbing… now that is impressive… truly.
      I shall say hello!
      Thanks for following along!

      xx
      Meg

  3. Maureen Markley says:

    Loved all of this Meg…you and Caroline are both such an inspiration on so.many.levels!
    xo

    • Meg Veno says:

      Thank you Maureen for reading the first edition of women who inspire! Don’t we all in same way shape or form?
      As always, I appreciate your support and I’m sure that I shall see you soon!
      XX
      Meg

  4. Michelle Gerdes says:

    You are both so inspiring, in so many ways! Thank you for sharing your story and those of others with us!

    • Meg Veno says:

      Michelle, thank you for both reading this little blog and for your lovely words! I feel that we all can learn a great deal from each other so I am glad that you have enjoyed this first edition!
      I am sure that I shall see you soon!
      XX
      Meg