Homeowners keeping Rustic Country Barn as busy as ever

NEW MILFORD — Rustic Country Barn co-owner Karen Soetbeer and her business partner, Scott Fitch, say they’re as busy as ever, in spite of the ongoing pandemic — and maybe even because of it.

“People are buying new furniture, and decorating their homes,” said Soetbeer, who runs her accounting business out of the circa-1726 house on the property that doubles as a showroom for bedroom, living room and family room furniture. “They’re just so sick of what they’ve got, and they’re home so much more, that they want to change things up, decorate, do something new.”

According to a Hearst Connecticut Media story, the second half of 2020 showed a surge in the median price of single-family homes in Connecticut. Hearst also reported in February that in 2020, 16,501 people moved into the state, compared to 7,520 in 2019, according to United States Postal Service data.

Carol Christiansen, president of the Connecticut Association of Realtors, said 2020 was the best real estate market in a decade, and that as spring approached, the demand showed no sign of slowing down. “We have more buyers now than we have homes that are available,” she said at the time. “We’re down to about a two-month supply in terms of inventory. Selling a home right now usually produces multiple offers.”

The Rustic Country Barn partners also acknowledged that new homeowners are responsible for much of the sales surge. “We have people from New York that have moved to New Milford, Brookfield, Bridgewater, Roxbury …. lots of families,” Soetbeer said.

What’s special about Rustic Country Barn is that the owners and their team of craftsmen make many of the pieces of furniture on display — kitchen cabinets, vanities, tables, chairs, wardrobes and countertops.

They specialize in reclaimed barn wood for a collection of impressive tables, hutches, benches and cabinets in a variety of woods, such as maple, cherry and oak. The pieces can be painted or sanded and stained, bringing out the antique wood’s beauty.

Soetbeer and Fitch also procure furniture from a group of Amish craftsmen in Pennsylvania, which is popular for people interested in a rustic, country look.

But Rustic Country Barn can do anything.

“We do modern, country, we do it all,” Soetbeer said. “Refined to rustic, it’s all about what the customer wants. If a person orders a table and it’s got a knot in it that they don’t like, we’ll sand it and fill it.

“The word ‘custom’ is sort of deceiving for some places, because some furniture sellers will say, ‘it’s got custom hardware’ or ‘custom paint,’” she said. “But to me, custom means individually made, based on what the person wants.”

Much of the stock is American made, including lampshades, framed prints, barn stars and a significant collection of wrought-iron and black-painted hardware, from door hinges and pull handles to door knockers and weather vanes.

Trends for home decor aren’t really clear, Soetbeer said. “People love the look of the reclaimed wood, and they want it in their kitchens, but as far as trends go, there really isn’t a specific one. When a customer comes in and sees furniture they like, they pick it out and tell us how they want it to look — darker finishes, colors, the hardware, everything.”

She has great admiration for the furniture procured from the Amish, too. “They are phenomenal to work with,” she said. “They do amazing work, and we’re very lucky to work with them.”

Using reclaimed wood is a mindful way of getting new furniture, the partners said. “It’s just a beautiful way of using the wood,” Soetbeer said.

Behind the house and showroom and the barn filled with furniture and a gift shop is a large wood shop where the furniture is made , and carpentry machinery of every type. Above the millworking area populated with a massive quantity of tools and machines, finisher Casey Wilbur was spraying a pair of chairs before assembly. Fitch also works in the shop, along with Soetbeer’s son, Cory.

The kitchen cabinets and hutches are popular for many homeowners, because of the variety the barn can provide. “If you see something in a catalog and you like the style, bring it to us,” Soetbeer said. “We can make it for you. We do vanities, Corian counters. … We don’t do granite, but we’ve added the Corian and it’s popular.”

As summer approaches, the barn is setting up displays of outdoor furniture for patios and decks, along with lawn decorations, flags and other collectibles for the garden and yard. They also offer a line of pergolas and gazebos.

In the gift shop, the shelves are stocked with candles, men’s gifts (like beard soap), a selection of curtains and woven rugs, baskets, birdhouses and a whimsical collection of decorated gourds by Meadowbrook. In the old house, Rustic Country Barn has chairs and sofas by luxury furniture maker Zimmerman, and country classic pieces by Dunroven House.

The barn tries to sell as many American-made products as possible. “These days that’s more important than ever,” Soetbeer said. “Some things you can’t get in the U.S. anymore, but for the most part everything we sell is local or American-made.”

The Rustic Country Barn is located at 101 Park Lane, and is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily except major holidays. Call 860-354-4145 or visit www.rusticcountrybarn.com.