After two decades in New York and L.A., Sarah Storella and her husband, Nick, moved back to his hometown of Bethlehem, New Hampshire (population 972!) and took over the family antique store. Their two-bedroom cottage in the White Mountains is the backdrop of their laid-back life with their young daughter, Cleo. Here, Sarah takes us for a peek inside…
On living in the woods: Our house is on top of a mountain in the middle of a national forest. The environment completely overtakes you, especially in the winter. When we first moved in, I was hanging out on the sofa one evening. Suddenly, a massive bear walked through the yard and filled up the whole window! I had been sitting there thinking about how to fix the creaky floorboards, but right then I was like, “I don’t even care, a bear is on the other side of the glass. I live in a hand-built hippie house and I’m going to get over everything.”
On owning a store: We took over Nick’s mom’s antique store (she had been asking us for years) and have tried to make it more appealing to visitors from cities like New York, Boston and Québec. We’ve shipped in vintage clothing from California, and I make a line of apothecary. We sell vintage axes and knives. Music is always playing, like jazz and flamenco guitar and punk rock and old Dylan and rockabilly and Django Reinhardt. Now we’ll see families come in — the grandparents are buying things and so are the teenage granddaughters.
On slow living: Most of our days go at a relaxed pace. We don’t have a TV right now, but we use a projector to watch movies, and we listen to records 24/7. (Cleo and I are currently obsessed with Wes Anderson soundtracks.) Nick put a chair on the roof of the house, and we consider that our veranda. We like to sit up there, have beers and look at the incredible night stars.
On keeping warm: Pretty much everything in the house has a practical use. Our enamel wood stove is from Vermont Castings. It gives off an ton of heat, and you can see the glow of the fire. We also keep a teapot on top in the winter and fill it with water. The stove heats it up, and the steam keeps the air from getting too dry.
Sheepskin rug: vintage. Striped totes: from travels in Mexico, similar here.
On minimal decor: I’m not a huge fan of the dark wood that’s in a lot of old New England homes, so Nick and I painted most of the house white, which might be sacrilegious! I also gravitate toward minimalism because our store is so full of stuff. We have to be able to come home and see a little emptiness. Winter is a hard part of life here, particularly since I’m from Australia. Having bright walls was important because winter lasts for months and can feel very dark.
Straw bags: similar here.
On living frugally: Living in big cities had become too expensive for us. When I got pregnant, we moved here to have a low cost of living and spend as much time as possible with Cleo. If Nick wants to take a day off from the store to hang out with us, we can do that. But, everything equals time and money at the end of the day. We try not to buy a ton of stuff and I’m a bargain hunter. I’ll wait until there’s some crazy sale. If I order something I don’t necessarily need, that’s a day of Nick being at work instead of with us. It’s simple math, and I like that.
On the power of baskets: One of my mottos is “hide ugly stuff.” Whether it’s laundry or toys or makeup, I’ll put things in a nice basket and it instantly covers up something I don’t want to see. I love natural surfaces, so baskets also bring in that element. In the kitchen, one huge basket holds firewood and the other holds our linens.
On cooking seasonally: Whenever I cook, I have this crazy little person trashing my house, so I have to be quick! I’ll try to have things set up ahead of time. In the summer, we grill and make cold pastas. I like to roast our garden garlic and keep it in the fridge; we use it as a spread for bread or roasted vegetables. When we have zucchini, I’ll cut it into slices and bake it with panko, olive oil and parmesan and then serve it with a dollop of ricotta. In winter, we roast acorn squash in the oven and serve it with brown butter.
On raising a country kid: We compost our food scraps, and Cleo’s crumbs are saved for her to feed birds and small animals. She has some “pet” wild chipmunks that follow her around outside. She’s a total nature baby. She picks berries and wildflowers, and she eats mint and basil straight from the garden. When I put her down for her nap, she smells like sun and herbs.
On creating coziness: I remember going to an exhibit at LACMA a few years ago and touring a recreation of Charles and Ray Eames’ living room. You think of them as incredible modernists, but what surprised me about their space was how comfy it was. There were piles of pillows and blankets. It really stuck with me. In Cleo’s room, we do a lot of lying on the floor in the sunlight. The big rug is so cozy! It’s one of our favorite places.
On layering rugs: The mishmash of layered rugs piled in Cleo’s room are there out of necessity. It’s a hand-built house and the squeakiest house in the world. You have to do ninja moves to get out of the room when she’s asleep. There are a couple boards near the door that I could never get past without waking her up!
Fox illustrations: Etsy.
On baby treasures: Cleo’s most precious belongings are on her little shelves. We saved the first pinecone she ever picked, and the felted animals are from her grandmother. There’s a little antique music box from the Swiss Alps that she loves to listen to when she wakes up from a nap. She has a lot of little foxes, which people give to her as presents — her middle name is “Fox” after the fox families that we see near the house.
On windows as artwork: Our bedroom is very neutral, but it never feels stark because of the big windows. It feels like a treehouse, and we wanted to embrace that. If I ever get five minutes to myself, I sit on my bed with a glass of wine or chocolate while looking at Instagram or just enjoying the sound of the breeze in the trees.
On mood lighting: Our bedroom lamp was too bright and I didn’t love the shade, so I put a small linen tablecloth over it. It made it more visually interesting and textured. I also like the honey tones of woven baskets and how tactile they are. They make the room warmer.
On Cleo’s drawings: The paper taped above our bed is the first pencil drawing Cleo ever did, for Daddy for Father’s Day. She looked up and pointed at it and said “Cleo!” and she was so proud of herself. She was this tiny little person feeling pride.
On letting go of perfect: There are aspects to this home that in my former life would have bothered me. For example, we don’t have any closet doors, so we put curtains up to close them off. Those kinds of things can wait, though. It enables us to live how we want to right now.
On small town life: Having spent most of my life in cities, I’m used to a bit of anonymity, but you can’t really have that here. There are multi-generational families, and when we first arrived we would walk down the street and complete strangers would say hi to our baby by name and they just kind of knew everything. It was surprising but comes from a good place. The postmaster knows that someone’s mom was in the hospital and knows when your zucchinis are ready.
On a dream come true: We definitely miss having 20 ramen places down the street from us. But we don’t need that right now. We have a lot of other great things at our fingertips. I recently re-read a card that I wrote to Nick when we first got married, and this was totally the life I envisioned for us. It took us a long time — you have to work and save — but we did it. We always felt that something was missing before, and I think it was nature and it was Cleo.
Thank you, Sarah!
(Photos by Lena Corwin for Cup of Jo.)