It all started with an early morning email.
Well, it was early for us. For the sender however, it was the middle of the day.
The email was from the head of Marketing at Annie Sloan Interiors which is located in Oxford, England. Amy had a simple question: would we be willing to coordinate the Chalk Paint® by Annie Sloan retail booth at the Country Living Fair in Rhinebeck, NY at the end of May?
Without hesitation, I replied ‘Yes, we’d love to!’
And so it began.
Although, not really. This was January and there would be no more communication on this topic again for several weeks. It wasn’t until we were in Oxford in mid-March that we finally had a chance to sit down with Annie, her head of Marketing, and her Event Coordinator that we really had an opportunity to grasp what we had committed to back in January.
In that meeting we learned that what we had to start with was a 400 sq. ft. empty tent. They showed us photos of event booths they’d done in the UK, some ideas for displaying paint samples, books, brushes, and the paint itself. We were taken to the warehouse were they showed us shelving and a check out counter.
Now, I can’t quite remember how this next part went down – whether it was a question we asked out loud to which we received a verbal answer, or (more likely) whether it was a question Paul and I had in our heads to which an answer revealed itself during the conversation.
In any case, our question was this:
So, all of this shelving and display will be shipped to the US?
And the answer was this:
No, it's an empty tent and you’ll have to find, create, and paint everything.
We’d better get busy.
The way Paul and I work together is this…when we’re beginning a new project we toss ideas and thoughts out to each other rapid-fire. It’s stream of consciousness, no organization, just brainstorming while it’s all fresh.
Then we won’t talk about it.
At this point, we’re both in our own heads. Thinking through all the options, imagining what it will look like, feel like, and how it will function.
Then at some point, one of us will bring the topic up again and that’s when the real planning begins.
Most of those initial stream of consciousness ideas are simply the seeds of future plans. But occasionally one of our first blush concepts sticks until the very end.
For The Country Living Fair, one of those was the idea that everything in the booth needed to represent as many colors and techniques as possible.
Paul and I thought about our everyday interactions with customers in our shop and the questions our customers ask. What does a waxed finish feel like? Can I paint glass? What does black wax look like on Scandinavian Pink? Can I dye fabric? What’s the new lacquer like?
In our shop, we answer questions with information and with examples.
Visitors to the Annie Sloan booth at The Country Living Fair need to be able to see, feel, and touch everything. They need to be able to see in person everything they’ve seen or read about online. They need to see examples of modern finishes, rustic finishes, layered finishes, and artistic finishes. They need to see pieces painted in as many colors as we can possibly use.
This concept became our north star. The thing against which every other idea and plan was
gut-checked to ensure that it was the right decision. If something didn’t support this concept, it wouldn’t be included.
Now, before I go any further in my story it’s important to note that Paul and I are not without experience in event production. In our past corporate lives we did this sort of work on a grand scale and in our current lives, we continued on a smaller scale. This event fell somewhere in the middle.
After the concept was full baked, the planning began in earnest. We were told that the booth would be 20’ x 20’ – that’s 400 sq. feet of space to fill. Paul and I went back and forth on specific ideas: we needed shelves for paint and wax, display tables, bins to hold brushes and smaller items. We also wanted to display Annie’s fabric line, her books, and of course all the colors with all the waxes. We wanted a vignette displaying items that customers typically want to paint – a chair, side table, etc., we needed a check-out counter and lighting and a partially painted piece to illustrate a before and after.
About a week after we returned home from Oxford, we were ready to share our plan with Annie and her team. We sent an email outlining our concept as well as specific ideas regarding the fixtures and displays. We included a rendering of the booth layout and a budget outlining what it would cost to purchase and finish everything we would need in the booth.
Two days later we received the green light to move forward.
The Real Work Begins
There was a lot that needed to be done and we decided to start with the larger fixtures.
First were the display tables. We planned on 4 of them to be painted and finished showing different techniques and colors. After looking at a variety of options, we settled on tables from IKEA. IKEA has so many simple, unfinished pieces at reasonable prices that we thought it would be fun to show the same IKEA table finished four different ways: Classically elegant, Modern Farmhouse, Cottage, and Boho.
Next was the wall of shelves that would hold the paint. Since Chalk Paint® by Annie Sloan paint cans are heavy, we needed some heavy duty shelving to hold them. We found steel frames with raw MDF shelves. There were twenty-five 18” x 36” shelves that Paul painted in 25 different Annie Sloan colors. We chose to feature Annie Sloan’s newly released Lacquer on these – so we finished half in the Glossy finish and half in the Matte finish.
For the checkout counter we found a folding bar that Johanna hand painted in the style of the Bloomsbury Group at Charleston Farmhouse and clear waxed.
The Annie Sloan Fabric Collection display and paint display wall were a little more challenging. We couldn’t find anything that really suited our needs so we called on a neighboring business owner – Chuck Lamb of Lamb’s Corks & Boards to help out. We provided the sketches and Chuck executed them perfectly. The fabric display was painted in Chateau Grey with a textured finish and finished with Clear and Dark Wax.
The paint display wall was painted with Graphite. It's an 8 foot high wall and when we stood back and looked at it, we realized that it needed a little something more. Once again it was Chuck Lamb to the rescue with a large scale Annie Sloan signature logo stencil. The entire wall was finished with Annie’s Matte Lacquer.
Our store manager Sandy single handedly painted all 42 paint sample boards, finishing each one with Annie’s Clear, Black, Dark, and White Waxes. In the final whirlwind weeks and days before Rhinebeck she painted everything we gave her. Sandy completely understood our concept of using as many colors, finishes, and techniques as possible. So, we would drop off accessories for her and Sandy would create amazing display pieces.
The Country Living Fair
Throughout the entire process – from planning to the fair itself, Paul and I felt a huge responsibility to represent Annie Sloan in a way that was in line not just with her brand but more importantly, in a way that would make her proud.
The day before the Country Living Fair opened we were wrapping up booth setup while Annie was across the fairgrounds leading a Stockist workshop.
Late in the afternoon, stockists began showing up in the tent excited to see what it looked like. The workshop had obviously ended which meant only one thing – Annie Sloan would soon arrive.
Annie turned the corner and stopped in front of the booth. She was looking around. I scanned her face for a sign and she began to smile. Her eyes were moving around the booth, her finger pointed as different things caught her eye.
Paul and I walked Annie around the booth explaining what we had done.
…this table finish is one that you showed in ‘Creating the French Look’
…those glass bottles are painted and lacquered
…we dyed this fabric and we painted that fabric
…the half painted piece is a recreation of the piece in ‘The Colourist’ issue 2
…we used the stencil from ‘The Colourist’ issue 1 on this table
When we were finished, Annie looked at us and smiled and said “It’s brilliant.”
Start to finish, The Country Living Fair in Rhinebeck was an absolutely outstanding experience for us in so many ways. Not only was it great to stretch our event production muscles again but working with Annie Sloan and her exceptional team was a delight from the very start and creating so many new pieces for display was an exercise in creative thinking.
If you missed Annie Sloan at The Country Living Fair in Rhinebeck, don't worry! You'll have another chance to meet her, take a workshop, and do some great shopping in Columbus, OH in September. And when you get there, be sure to stop by the Chalk Paint® by Annie Sloan tent and say 'hi'!
Johanna & Paul
Johanna Kelly and Paul Duffy are the owners of Soldier58. Since 2015 they've been stockists of Chalk Paint® by Annie Sloan. Interested in Chalk Paint®? Stop by their Bordentown, NJ shop or order online at Soldier58.com.
We're Paul and Johanna and we write about our life in the furniture business. The things we love, the places we go, and the treasures we find along the way.