Proven├žal Perfection

05 May 2022

Lavender Hill Designs Boutique and Gift Store melds European chic and Southern style

By Cece Nunn

Photos by Jenny Peterson

When Tracey Wonnacott planted Lavender Hill Designs Boutique and Gift Store in 2016, her passion for France was already deeply rooted.

“I visited it as a child and I loved it,” said Wonnacott, who first traveled to France while visiting relatives in England, where her mother was born.

She didn’t end up going back to la République française until her own children were in their tweens and teens.

“I just fell in love with it all over again. I love the culture, I love their food, their wine, the people,” Wonnacott said. “I think that there isn't really anything I don't love about it. Every corner of that country is different…the more I visited the more I wanted to visit.”

That love inspires the offerings at Lavender Hill Designs, Wonnacott’s boutique in Mt. Pleasant that combines Southern style, clothing and entertaining with the latest European decor and accessories.

The mix keeps customers coming back, with some notable favorites, Wonnacott said.

“The linen cocktail napkins and tea towels are huge. We sell loads of tea towels from France, England and from Italy,” she said. “We also carry some from the U.S. and they're more Southern; they have palm trees and pineapples and seashells. I have a variety of customers; some just totally love European things, and some like the things that appeal more to Southerners.”

To further curate her inventory, Wonnacott moved the store from Belle Hall Shopping Center to a space in the I’On neighborhood of Mt. Pleasant, at 10 Resolute Lane, opening the new location in February this year. 

Anne Blouin, a Mt. Pleasant resident, said she has been shopping at Lavender Hill Designs for four years and recommends it to anyone looking for unique gifts. 

“You're not going find these things at Macy's or anywhere else that you're shopping, because she buys very unique things from Europe. So whether it's from France, or Poland, or London, it's beautiful,” Blouin said. “She has beautiful table linens, beautiful glassware. And then she has soaps from France. It’s a real mixture.”

For Wonnacott and her husband, James, traveling to Europe—and France specifically—is both a treasure hunt and a vacation. 

“Usually after we do a buying trip in the fall, we travel down to the south of France. We do a little extra exploring for things for the shop,” Wonnacott said. “We go around and look for artists that make pottery or glass or linens or art. Sometimes I bring home vintage pieces from the markets; it just depends—whatever strikes my fancy that I think our customers might enjoy.”

In addition to selling gifts from places like Antibes in southeastern France, Lavender Hill Designs hosts a book club for Francophiles.

It started by chatting with some customers about books we had read about France,” Wonnacott said. “I like them all, whether it’s a historical novel, whether it’s fact-based or fiction…or even books that are written by a French or European author.”

Nearly a dozen readers meet at the boutique to participate in the club.

“We’ve been going strong for a little over two years now,” Wonnacott said. “And we’ve learned that we have about 80 people who don’t attend the meetings but follow along with our LHD Book Club blog.”

The club recently read “Finding Paris,” by Joanne Kimes, the story of two women who meet in a French class and end up traveling to Paris together.

As the allure of the City of Lights has endured, so has Lavender Hill Designs, navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and its lockdowns with the help of plans that were already in place.

Wonnacott said the business had been heading toward an online presence with a website guided by her daughter, Caralina Wigfield, when COVID first struck the Charleston area.  

“It was a stroke of luck that we were going online about the same time the physical store was closing (temporarily because of the pandemic.)”

These days, the site is “doing really well, especially the last few months…things seem to really be catching fire.”

Wonnacott had owned a gift shop in Massachusetts when her son, Collin, was an infant, but she sold the business after her daughter, Caralina, was born, to devote her time to the kids. Once her children were grown and starting families of their own, Wonnacott said she wanted something new to fill her time. 

“My husband said, ‘Just make sure it's something you love to do,’” she said. “I love to travel and I love to shop so that worked out really well for me.”

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