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Finding Four Finches, a fledgling flower and gift shop housed in a converted warehouse in Suite 105, 1320 Sherman Ave., is like discovering a secret garden.
Locating the “fun space” that fired the imagination of owner Sarah Wright and took her off the beaten path can challenge the first-time visitor as well. Ms. Wright sums up the rather convoluted directions to her bird-themed flower store with a metaphor: “Follow the crumbs.”
There are two entrances, both off the main drag. The “front door” is at the end of a passageway between buildings that face Sherman Avenue (north of The Mexican Shop, where Sherman runs along the west side of the el tracks between Dempster and Greenwood streets). The “back door” is off an alley leading north from The Copy Room on Dempster Street.
Four Finches signs point the way, and however perplexing the path, the destination is a welcome refuge on a wintry day.
While outdoors, daffodils still lie curled beneath a patchwork of mud and dirty snow, inside the shop, spring is in full bloom. Flowering branches – redbud, forsythia and nascent dogwood – herald the season, as do hand painted tin eggs filled with lily-of-the-valley soaps.
There are real birds, too, with real eggs newly hatched into babies. Their nest is tucked into an aviary fashioned from an antique hutch. These “more than four finches” are Society, or Bengalese, finches – fluffy, multicolored birds whose like have never known the wild.
Birds are a family tradition – Ms. Wright’s sister keeps them, too – and another breath of spring in a shop whose theme, Ms. Wright says, is “nesting for humans.”
Home, as envisioned by Four Finches, is a fine feathered nest indeed. Among the shop’s signature items is a line of 100-percent down pillows, handcrafted “one at a time” and in every size, Ms. Wright says, by a Czech family business. Ms. Wright’s old dog, Ringer, is hunkered down in his own luxurious nest, catching a nap on a firmer, feather-and-down, doggy version of the people pillows.
No bed pillow leaves the shop without a lovely vintage pillowcase, fine old linens being another of Ms. Wright’s passions. With cocooning on their minds, customers may find it hard to resist the Four Finches cotton pajamas. Ms. Wright participated in their thoughtful design. Available in lively prints for spring, they have a wide elastic band at the waist (no drawstrings to fiddle with, she notes); legs wide enough to spell comfort for someone sitting cross-legged on the couch; a hidden pocket just right for stashing a tissue; and a coordinating rib-knit tank top modest enough, she says, for breakfast with the in-laws.
The store derives much of its texture and ambience from antiques. The Four Finches logo came from an image on a 1905 postcard Ms. Wright found in the box of 300 she bought for $24. Her weekend finds are sprinkled throughout the store. Some smaller pieces are for sale; larger pieces serve as display cases.
Old dining tables showcase merchandise arranged by Ms. Wright in artful, eclectic groupings that always feature a plant or flowers. A pair of wooden doors affixed to the wall holds greeting cards; four more doors, painted white, can be moved around the store to frame a space or stage the vignettes the owner loves to create. Pajamas look cozy hanging on an old fireplace mantle.
While antiques and other props give the boxy warehouse space intimacy and character, flowers are the source of its vitality and warmth. Ms. Wright has long kept company with plants, beginning with her first flower shop in downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in the late 1980s. She moved from there to Minneapolis, where she worked for a flower wholesaler, and then to Boulder, Colo. There she found a way to combine flowers with a career as associate director of a music school, she says. She established a commercial design studio where she exercised her floral artistry on weekends.
Another move, this time to Milwaukee, saw Ms. Wright (who plays the flute) installed as vice president of the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. She then accepted a position at Chicago’s Merit School of Music after tiring of the commute between Milwaukee and Chicago, where her husband, Steve Funk, works for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The couple settled in Evanston several years ago.
But it was her love of flowers that moved Ms. Wright to found Four Finches. She says she realized a 21st-century flower shop would require a different model from her first shop in Cedar Rapids. Nowadays people pick up bouquets at the grocery store, she says, and tend to order from a florist for “occasions.” She devotes most of her time to arranging flowers for those occasions, large or small, and says she considers flowers and plants to be “the primary focus of our business.”
But Ms. Wright gives customers plenty of other reasons to indulge their nesting instinct at Four Finches. The shop offers a tempting array of fine furniture, bath fixtures, jewelry and photographs, some from local artisans.
And especially for dreamers, Four Finches carries a distinctive line of CDs. Among them is one called Orient-Express, featuring music recorded along the Paris-Constantinople route of the luxury train of film and novel fame – nest-algic music for spring listening.