Thrifty Chic: New England Girl
“It all started with an end table, then an armoire, and it just blew up. I’m so lucky, I can’t keep my head on straight,” Nicole Goncalves, aka the New England Girl, marvels as she surveys her design studio in an 1800’s barn just outside of Falls Village, Connecticut, where her year-old re-finishing/re-purposing business has taken off. Like many Katie Brown types before her, Goncalves has a crafty calling, but what separates her from the herd is her talent for re-creation. “I was always artsy, but I never knew I could do this,” Goncalves says, referring to her love and adept skill at re-finishing and wood working.
Her atelier’s recent move from her micro-space in an Collinsville axe factory has an added bonus: The barn she shares with landscape designer Steven Fitch, close enough to hear the hum of Limerock Race Track when the wind shifts, is chock-full of the one-of-a-kind finds she is always searching for. “I could go no further and just crawl around here and find things to re-purpose,” says Goncalves, and it’s those finds that keep her prices low. That, and a handshake deal with nearby Herrrington’s paint department to buy their mis-tints and custom blend them as projects dictate, as well as some Farrow and Ball paint cans that have found their way to her.
Goncalves has coined her business and herself “The New England Girl,” and models herself after the Pioneer Woman. Her site TheNewEnglandGirl.com is full of informational anecdotes, with how-to’s (like making paper flowers) and recipes. A classic “picker” at heart (a form of treasure hunting) she and her husband of three months, Vinnie, travel from Lakeville to the Maine coast looking for finds. Giving true meaning to the term “trash to treasure,” nothing gets by her budget-friendly eye: From old barn-board wood, she fashioned a refined coffee table ($450), almost unrecognizable as to its former form, and a discarded road side dresser (sold) becomes a painted piece of fine furniture that could easily grace a high-end retail space. Goncalves takes no short cuts, sanding everything down to bare wood. The beginnings of a quilt frame from salvaged barn flooring take up a large portion of her barn workspace, a recent client commission. “My clients range from someone who wants me to build something from scratch to a mom who wants me to take her child’s room from toddler to tween,” she says.
Goncalves has woodworking in her bones — she just didn’t realize it until she saw that end table, even though she says working with her hands comes naturally to her given her family’s hardscrabble roots. She helped her family keep up a small Vermont cabin her grandparents built from mostly reclaimed materials, and her earliest memories involve watching her father and grandfather “building my cousin and me all types of wood rocking horses and other types of toys.” Everything has a real homespun Etsy vibe, like an Anthropologie-style coat hanger peg board ($45) with hooks and wood she salvaged from a barn she recently stopped at. “I’m all about finding pieces with good energy,” Goncalves says, “and I’m not opposed to knocking on any door if something catches my eye.”
Goncalves has always been thrifty-chic. “It’s not about spending your money. I’m inherently thrifty. I can work with the furniture my clients already have. For me it is all about being creative no matter what your budget. At the end of the day, no one is going to care if your coffee table was $5,000 or $5. If it looks amazing, it is amazing.” —Dale Stewart