By Nichole Dupont
The Hillsdale renaissance has a new patron. Like Kevin Draves and Ken Davis
, who gave the town center a beautiful boost when they opened the Passiflora
"lifestyle boutique" and the Village Scoop
ice cream shop, Carrie Chen delivers a double shot of retail and victuals. She recently opened Casana T House
, an airy tea and coffee shop, as well as Casana Designs
, an arty space for baby-fine cashmere items. Chen, a designer who hails from New York City, has cultivated a mini empire just a stone’s throw (actually a two-second walk) from the town center, next door to the Home Chef, where Chen has already taught a sold-out cooking class on dumpling making.
“Food is one of my passions,” Chen says, holding a scarf the color of orange sherbet. She is showing me and my mother — an interior designer and a self-proclaimed "fabric snob" — around the shop, draping the hand-dyed scarves ($300-$500 each) over our shoulders, pointing out the fine details in a painstaking Ikat weave, describing, with a sweep of her hand down her throat, the fine hair that is used from mountain goats (who dwell at 20,000 feet or higher in Nepal) to be able to make the scarves, socks, hats, and other wearable luxuries.
“We have a new sweater line coming in shortly,” Chen says. “I think it will be very popular. You just have to feel it to know…”
She’s right. The store is a feast for textilephile eyes. I was loathe to remove a moss green wrap ($500) that she handed to me, wondering if I would wear it for an elegant night out, or a rainy Sunday nap. Chen’s enthusiasm is quiet, and incredibly magnetic. She is as passionate about the handpicked tea — "one bud at a time" — served at the cafe as she is about the kitty-fur soft scarves, hats, gloves and other textiles that grace the store. Her style sense is woven into both of the Casana spaces. There is a bright precision to the cleanly displayed wares — tea service sets, books, coffee from around the world — that still manages to be inviting.
Patrons to the tea shop are treated to a swath of bright morning light against lightly stained wood. Visitors there can enjoy gluten-free (or not) baked goods (scones and muffins, $3.50; sandwiches and quiches, about $9) with their individual tea service ($5) and/or a cup of specialty coffee (espresso, macchiato, Americano, about $3). The teas are fragrant and abundant, with more than 20 varieties, including Pu-Erh, Matcha, Rose Flower, and Buckwheat. My mum orders the chamomile, which comes to her with a variety of ceramic accessories for a perfect, sunny-yellow cup. I stick with my mainstay, Americano, and am treated to a strong, balanced and bitter brew which, in this environment, does not require the frivolity of cream. The entire experience is ceremonial.
And it’s no surprise that Casana T House offers up tea ceremonies — "The Japanese ceremony is very solitary, while the Chinese is very social," says Chen — as well as other events, including book readings and author discussions. All in an effort to engage a community that has long thirsted for a vibrant town center.
“I could just take a nap here,” my mother says, smoothing the cushion of the long window bench in the tea house.
“I don’t think anyone would mind,” I say.
Casana T House and Casana Designs
2633 State Route 23, Hillsdale, NY
Friday through Tuesday, 8 a.m. -4 p.m.