Home for the holidays

Twenty years ago, a pair of sisters within the throes of motherhood decided to start a small floral decor business — something they could do with ease out of their homes and that offered flexibility and a creative outlet, as their children played together nearby.

However, a year later in 2000, it was evident that what began as a humble home operation had outgrown the confines of their porches, which had been serving as storage spaces for bouquets of inventory.

“Our husbands gave us an ultimatum when the time came to move,” Raechelle Ahmed said, with a laugh. “They weren’t going to relocate all of the floral supplies and arrangements that had begun taking over the house.”

And so, Ahmed and sister Lisa Parr took a leap of faith, opening a storefront they dubbed Floral Chic, along the bustling Main Street of Galena, Ill.

The move proved successful — and then some. Just two years later, its popularity prompted the opening of a second location, Vignettes of Galena, which broadened its offerings through a variety of home decor.

Not long after that, a third sister, Alana Rapp, was invited to join the growing family business. And the shop’s eye-catching ambiance soon saw the sisters venturing outside of Vignettes and into area homes and businesses to offer their design eye.

In 2013, the sisters took another leap — over the river — opening a third location, Vignettes of Dubuque. In 2016, the shop expanded yet again with a 6,000 square foot addition tacked on to the Cedar Cross Road location.

Today, Ahmed, 49; Parr, 52; and Rapp, 51, look back on the past two decades and its continued growth from fancy floral arrangements to brick-and-mortar shops in two states and complete interior design consultations with only a tinge of disbelief and an abundance of knowledge they’ve collected along the way.

“I think what we offer is unique and personalized from client to client,” Ahmed said. “What you find here, you’re not going to find anywhere else. And I think that resonates with people when it comes to their personal space and what they want to be surrounded by. They want something that’s one-of-a-kind, that you’re not going to see in your friends’ homes. And they want to have things that they love around them.”

That philosophy is what the trio has credited to their success throughout the years — that and wading against the mainstream.

“I think we fill a need,” Parr said. “We went from designing floral arrangements and building upon what we offered in home decor to people asking us to come into their homes to help them create a certain look. Over the years, we just learned how to do this business. We learned to not necessarily try to appeal to the mainstream and instead, to go with what was truly unique. That has let us have fun and be creative and really customize our business approach to each client. No spaces we design ever look alike. Because of that, we’ve kept growing and growing in the last 20 years.”

Classic and timeless appeal

Whether you’re visiting the Dubuque or Galena location, upon setting foot in the shops, you’re greeted by overflowing displays of everything from furniture to window treatments, lamps and lighting fixtures, rugs, flooring, throw blankets and pillows, clocks, mirrors, art, accessories and more.

“A lot of what we offer is something we can customize based on the taste of the client,” Parr said. “There is really no set design style. But there are ways to pair a mix of eclectic items in a way that make the overall look feel high-end, classic and timeless. Blending styles and colors make a home look as if it has a look that has evolved over time, rather than one that is forced. It gives a space its energy.”

The holidays in particular bring the shops to life, kicked off with an annual Holiday Open House that takes place early in November, unveiling a treasure trove of seasonal decor.

This time of year, customers can find ornaments and other whimsical holiday trinkets for tabletops, as well as pillows bedecked with seasons greetings and other cozy throws rounded out by glittery silver and gold reflections.

“It’s a fun time of year,” Ahmed said. “We love all of the items we decide to carry, but our customers really have a good time. They can come in, sit down, find the perfect item and visualize what something might look like in their home.”

The family that decorates together

While working alongside family certainly adds to a unique business dynamic, the sisters called it a true success story — and one that also has been told through the support of their parents, other siblings and children throughout the years.

Design and decorating also is something Rapp said is in their DNA.

“Our dad was an antique dealer for a shop in Galena years ago,” she said. “So, when we were younger, we all always enjoyed decorating. After the business started out small and we added interior decorating, that just opened up a whole new world to us.”

While there can be pros and cons to working closely among siblings, it also has enabled them to continue to broaden the shops’ offerings, as well as maintain the pace of their busy schedules.

“Of course we have arguments, and we get mad at each other. But we say what we think, we let it pass, and we move on,” Rapp said. “It’s part of how we’ve been able to stay in business this long.”

Though the three frequently design with one another, each come with completely different tastes as well.

According to Rapp, that’s another perk.

“It’s what makes the shops unique,” she said. “We all bring different things to the table. It’s better for the business.”

“Our different styles and personalities add to the mix,” Ahmed added.

Each of the sisters also fulfill different roles within the business. Rapp, who lives in Dubuque, primarily oversees the day-to-day operations at the Galena store. Ahmed and Parr, who both live in Galena, take care of most matters at the Dubuque store, with every one filling in at both locations when needed and consulting with clients.

“The decorating is the fun part and to see changes come and go,” Rapp said. “Unfortunately, that also means making changes to out own homes. Every time we go to market, we see something new and exciting.”

For the future, the trio is looking at continued expansion, including cabinetry and more. But more than anything, they hope to continue helping those in the area create the homes of their dreams for the holidays and beyond.

“I just want to see us continue doing what we do best,” Parr said. “In 20 years, we’ve learned so much from experience. As you get older, you get better. And we’re at a time in our lives where, even though it’s busy between the stores, I think we’re feeling great and really proud about what we’re doing, about where we’re at, and we’re not taking the support from the community for granted. We were just women with a little floral business. The community built us up into something beautiful and helped us get to where we are. And we’re grateful.”

Megan Gloss writes for the Telegraph Herald.

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