When Gail Kreunen, Christy Larson, and Anne Fairley Smith decided to establish an antique store in Oxford, they wanted to create something different. They intentionally chose a location off The Square, then filled it with treasures big and small in a variety of price ranges. The space is warm, inviting, and meticulously curated.
The store found its inspiration in the renowned Blue Willow china pattern, which Gail has collected for years. As the story goes, a wealthy lord in China arranged for his daughter to wed a man of her own elite social class, but the daughter had fallen in love with the family accountant. The couple fled across a bridge, passing a blue willow on the way, then took a boat to a remote island. The pattern depicts the soldiers her father sent in pursuit, who found and killed the lovers.
“The story doesn’t end there, though!” explains Anne Fairley, who learned the pattern’s history from Gail. “The gods took pity on the couple and turned them into birds,” which grace the sky at the top of the platter she is showing me.
Guests will find other china patterns as well, such as Asiatic Pheasant, which uses a softer periwinkle pattern, Majolica, and other collectibles from Italy and Germany. Most coveted is the Flow Blue pattern, which began in 1820s England with a mistake in the firing process. This china is the most difficult to replicate, so collectors often seek them out. The owners also keep an index of Blue Willow china to confirm the authenticity of the pieces they sell.
Don’t be fooled by the store’s moniker, however. The cozy shop brims with antique furniture pieces—midcentury bamboo is a current favorite—which display candles and perfumes, tea towels and cheese knives, place cards and journals. I inquire about several small wooden boxes similar to ones I’d seen in the home of dear friend I lost a few years back to breast cancer. Anne Fairley explains that her own grandmother used to travel with the university and always brought these Florentine boxes back from her trips.
“Those are my favorite moments—when someone sees something that reminds them of someone they love. Those times are always very sweet.”
The trio has also cultivated relationships with over a dozen artists, mostly from the South, whose works line the walls. They revel in sharing each artist’s story and how their paths initially crossed.
Anne Fairley also recounts various road trips they have made to estate sales and trunk shows. “I’ve been in barns and basements in the mountains of Tennessee and antique markets in Dallas.” Once the three made a trip to Atlanta and back in 24 hours.
“We try to go somewhere different each time, so our customers get to find something different every time they come in. And the hunt is so much fun!”
And that’s the true charm of Blue Willow: the owners’ enthusiasm for their pieces and for establishing meaningful relationships with dealers and customers alike. Rather than adding customers to a mailing list, for example, they keep a guest book by the register where visitors can write a little note about their experience in the store. To Gail, Christy, and Anne Fairley, the names in that guest book are as precious as anything that carries a price tag.
“We love when people return to see what new items we have. And we love when they send other folks our way. So far, our business has grown purely from word-of-mouth.”
Blue Willow is located at 1503A White Oak Lane. They are open 10 am–5 pm Monday through Friday and 11 am–4 pm on Saturdays, and will open until 2pm on Christmas Eve. Follow Blue Willow on Instagram @bluewillowoxford.