High-End 'Homesteaders' Want Pricey, Stylish Tools; The $1,300 Chicken Coop
By ANNE MARIE CHAKER
Can chicken feed, canning jars and garden hoses feel chic?
Absolutely, say retailers cashing in on the "modern homesteader" craze. As more urban and suburban homeowners take up backyard farming, items like chicken coops, beehives, gardening tools and pickling and canning supplies are getting more stylish and pricey.
Seeing Inspiration in Homesteading
A $58 garden hose, anyone? Or a $258 bronze-and-lime-wood spade? Such are the offerings at Terrain, Urban Outfitters Inc.'s URBN -1.82%fledgling retail concept that caters to the older, higher-income consumers adopting a well-appointed homesteader lifestyle. Last April, Williams-Sonoma WSM +0.61%launched its Agrarian line, which features a $1,300 chicken coop and a $500 beehive.
"We've definitely seen the shift," says Rob Ludlow, owner of BackYardChickens.com, an online community of about 170,000 chicken enthusiasts. "People wanting to be self-sufficient and eating locally grown food is synonymous with people who are affluent."
Homesteaders say their back-to-the-land activities go beyond mere hobbies and provide emotional nourishment and a certain inner peace. Eliza Zimmerman, 55, and her husband, Peter, a 57-year-old architect, tend vegetable and herb gardens and three beehives on their 10-acre property with an 1890s farmhouse in Chester Springs, Pa., outside Philadelphia. On the agenda for spring: chickens.
"It's what I did with my grandmother—the chickens, the gardening, the canning, the bees," Ms. Zimmerman says. "It is my Zen—a memory of what made me feel safe and good and warm." And jars of homemade honey make great gifts, she adds.
Modern homesteading style shares some of the spirit of the shabby chic interiors of the 1990s, when chipped-paint furniture and tea-stained fabrics conveyed a desirable aged patina. The homestead aesthetic is more than visual, though, encompassing a range of do-it-yourself activity, like brewing beer, pickling vegetables and making cheese.
Beekeeping clubs are getting lots of buzz and new members. Hundreds of local restrictions on backyard chickens have been lifted in the past five years as a result of public pressure, says Barak Orbach, a law professor at the University of Arizona, who has studied the phenomenon. More people aren't just growing their own vegetables, but canning and preserving them, too.
Broadly defined, it is a consumer segment with an estimated $200 billion in retail sales, which also includes annual spending on organic-labeled food and environmentally-friendly household products, says Charlie Hall, horticultural economist at Texas A&M University in College Station. This consumer is typically a 30- or 40-something homeowner motivated largely by the desire to live more simply and healthily, he says.
These people "have a willingness and ability to pay," Dr. Hall says, whether it's $70 for Williams-Sonoma's "vintage" watering can ("scuffs, scratches and other signs of use add to the character," the retailer says) or $40 for a bag of soy-free chicken feed at Fifth Season Gardening Co., a regional chain based in Carrboro, N.C.
The Agrarian line from Williams-Sonoma—part do-it-yourself supply cabinet, part collection of rustic accent pieces—zeroes in on an artfully weather-beaten look. A pine-and-metal "vintage Biergarten table" sells for $600; a "found" enamel pail for $50. (The company says these items aren't copies but rather actual pieces it found by scouring European villages. Items may not be identical and may be available in limited quantities, the company says.)
The Agrarian line is meant for people "who want to embrace the homegrown and the homemade into their everyday lives," says Allison O'Connor, vice president of merchandising. There is an intentional mix of price points, she says, such as an $11.95 herb-garden kit. The company says it plans to double the number of products in its Agrarian line and publish a stand-alone catalog.
Fifth Season's five stores in the Carolinas and Virginia sell gardening supplies and chicken feed, as well as kits for making sake wine and chevre cheese and cultures for yogurt, kefir, sour cream and buttermilk. The shopping floor is appointed with terra cotta planters and stone statuary; classes have ranged from home-brewing to bonsai.
Elizabeth Galindo Roberts, a film costume designer in her 50s, moved to a new home in Carmichael, Calif., about a year ago. She and her husband installed a vegetable and edible-flower garden, including nasturtiums and violas. She keeps five chickens in two custom-built coops.
The couple hired interior designer Kerrie Kelly, from nearby Sacramento, to design the interior of the four-bedroom ranch. The look "feels perfect, but it's so imperfect," Ms. Kelly says. Dining-room chairs are upholstered with mismatched fabrics; wall art hangs in frames of assorted styles. Furniture leathers are distressed, and windows are framed with open-weave linens.
"Ten years ago, people were opening up Architectural Digest and saying, 'We want that.' " Ms. Kelly says. "Now there is such an authenticity to everything we are designing."
Urban Outfitters says its Terrain garden centers target women ranging from their mid-40s to mid-60s. "One of the things we'd been discussing is the boomer lifestyle," says Richard Hayne, chief executive of the Philadelphia-based company, whose Urban Outfitters chain caters to college-age hipsters and Anthropologie stores targets fashionable young homeowners.
"We realized there's another leg to this story," Mr. Hayne says, referring to the spending potential of well-heeled women whose children are grown. "Their demand and desire for apparel wanes," he says. It's "a lifestyle concept.
Terrain inventory ranges from a $228 metal-roof birdhouse and a $148 woolen throw to a $269 tailored gardening jacket. A section of the store is devoted to beauty and bath products, including a $38 scrub presented as a "hot toddy for the body."
Terrain's store in Glen Mills, Pa., features a restaurant, in an antique greenhouse brimming with ferns, that specializes in locally-sourced food. It has a following with groups of women who meet for lunch and shop. Mr. Hayne says he is looking to add a spa.
The store provides workshops on things like terrarium gardening and Japanese "kokedama," hanging plants that appear to float, free of containers, from the ceiling. "We'll open more stores," Mr. Hayne says. "We're taking our time growing the concept and learning it."
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