The Lucketts Ladies

Meet the down-to-earth curators of Virginia’s vintage look.

Suze Eblen and Amy Whyte haul treasures home to Lucketts.

Photos courtesy of the Old Lucketts Store

“Sorry for the mess,” Suzanne “Suze” Eblen says as I step across the threshold into the Design House at The Old Lucketts Store north of Leesburg. “We’re in the throes of redecorating.”

I chuckle, imagining her saying the same phrase any day of the week about the house she and her business partner, Amy Whyte, have overhauled 140 times so far, selling everything within its walls at weekend events 10 times a year. 

I’m visiting the home of the “vintage hip” look Eblen and Whyte have been refining for 22 years out of the formerly sleepy, one-stoplight town of Lucketts. Their main shop at the corner of U.S. Route 15 and Lucketts Road transformed a derelict 1879 mansion—once the town’s post office and general store—into a clearinghouse for Instagram-worthy design vendors. Salvaged doors and windows lean against the lime cordial-colored exterior and overflow onto a back porch alongside potted plants, rust-tinged signs, and wrought-iron benches—all beckoning passersby to peek inside.

If they make it that far. During regular flea markets and special events, the gravel lot behind the house can be so crammed with treasures, it’s easy to fill a truck bed (or two) without stepping foot inside the antique buildings. The Design House is all but hidden behind outdoor pavilions at a far end, but visitors can follow the long lines on the weekends it’s open.

If the grounds seem quiet on a weekday morning, wait until the annual Spring Market sale. It was moved to the fairgrounds in nearby Clarke County after its 10,000 attendees overwhelmed the hamlet of Lucketts (population 3,000). Heavy rain this May didn’t keep the Hunter rain boot-clad crowds away, either. “Everybody’s attitude was at a level ten,” says Eblen, 58, who steered a golf cart through the mud that day to cheer customers darting between tents.

It’s a day before the Design House opens for a fall weekend, and Eblen is sinking comfortably into a gunmetal gray couch that already had fans clamoring for its picture online. Industrial pipe shelves on one wall display botanical prints and orange glass bottles, and somehow mesh with a set of faux-fur ombre pillows strewn across the seats. But for the paper price tags, the room feels utterly homey—and that’s the point. “We show people that they can buy things they love and then pair them all together,” says Whyte, 49, who majored in “something completely unrelated” and learned design by doing.

The pair met when Whyte became a regular at My Wit’s End, a small shop Eblen used to run up the road in Lucketts. What started as retail therapy from her 9-to-5 cubicle job at a law office in Washington, D.C., turned into a budding business relationship when Whyte designed a small corner of the store. “I’ll never forget that morning,” Eblen says of seeing how Whyte had arranged her space. “It was 100 times better than anything we had ever done. We’ve been friends ever since.”

Eblen talks fast and laughs often, and Whyte—who’d prefer to be alone, decorating—says it’s rubbed off on her. In fact, after working together for nearly a quarter-century, they don’t finish each other’s sentences so much as say the same sentence, often at the same time. 

They used to hate going shopping for Christmas décor in January after weeks of working around wreaths during one of their busiest times of year. But now, “we like it,” they chirp together. “It’s so popular and everybody loves it so much that we’re on this high,” Eblen begins, and then Whyte finishes: “And it’s really fresh in our minds what sold well, so then it’s easy to go buying.”

Eblen’s design career started in California as an assistant to Harry Siegel, a Los Angeles designer who dared to reupholster antiques in avant garde fabrics and sold them to stars like Madonna. When Eblen moved to Virginia with her husband, she was floored to find 1950s dinettes selling for $1 at auctions—so she started selling them out of the barns on their Lovettsville property.

She took Whyte to her first auction back when HGTV was just getting its start. At the time, it was easy to fill a truck with $10 dining sets and $1 boxes of trinkets. Now, there’s more competition and higher prices at those markets, but connections to vendors across the country keep their stock in a ceaseless state of turnover.

The constant scouring, buying, and selling that defines this business seems exhausting. But, to these two, it’s exhilarating. “It’s kind of an addiction,” says Eblen, whose round tortoise-shell glasses and blonde bob lend her an appropriately artistic air. “It’s all about what turns us on at the time, what sparks motivation.”

When Eblen, then pregnant with her third child, got a hankering to look at the abandoned building that would become Old Lucketts Store, it was Whyte who helped shove her through a window. “We can both see the good bones and potential,” says Whyte, who had her son two years after the store opened, raising him alongside Eblen’s. 

“My goal was a cool place on the side of the road that exceeded your expectations,” says Eblen. “Like a giant hug.”

This article originally appeared in our December 2018 issue.

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