One of the newest stores on the Kalamazoo Mall, Hite House Couture, comes with a history
that goes back to a coal mining town in the early 1900s.
In rural West Virginia, Edna Lilly wanted her house to be beautiful. She was married, raising eight children with her coal miner husband, and taking in laundry to keep food on the table.
With unfailing resourcefulness she stained her walls with crushed red berries for a blush of color. With her pedal driven Singer sewing machine she took old seed sacks and made charming curtains for her windows. She altered clothes and old linens donated from church into something new. For Edna, financial circumstances became her creative inspiration.
Edna passed that creativity and industrious nature on to her youngest daughter, Ellie. She not only learned to sew by age 12, she took tailoring classes paid for by working odd jobs and began designing the high-end fashions she longed for and otherwise could not afford.
Ellie never stopped designing and creating through the years as she began her own family, cared for her aging parents and nursed her husband dying of pancreatic cancer. In 2006 she was able to turn her attention to her creative endeavors and was joined by her two daughters, Vicki and Julie. They made their designs for the home in Kalamazoo and opened a retail showroom in New Buffalo, primarily providing custom design services for homeowners in the Greater Chicago Areas and Southwest Michigan.
Now, in addition to custom design, they are making ready-made styles for the home in their workroom in Kalamazoo.
Through the years they have developed a loyal following among realtors in the Chicago area, as they work with them to stage homes for sale. Through word of mouth they also have built clientele among home owners decorating their second homes in communities along Lake Michigan. Customers often start out asking for designs for one room and "they come back asking for each room of the house to be decorated," says Julie Hite. A four-story town house on Navy Pier in Chicago is one example.
The decision to open a store on the Kalamazoo mall in early December came about as the three women decided logistics of making their creations in Kalamazoo and taking them to New Buffalo to sell was becoming more difficult. They also were looking for a spot less dependent on seasonal traffic. A feasibility study conducted for Hite House Couture by WMU and the culture of downtown Kalamazoo convinced them to move to the vacant storefront between V&A and Gazelle Sports, which used to be a favorite lunch spot.
"We’ve always love the culture of downtown, with the art hops and festivals. It’s a very nice fit," Julie Hite says. "We wanted to be in the middle of the hustle and bustel and now we are smack in the middle of it."
Pillows, draperies, table runners, bed linens, all the accoutrements of a well-dress house, are offered at Hite House Couture
. Items that are not made by the family but that are ordered through the store can be customized. For example, drapes can be hemmed.
The three women also are working to get their inventory online.
The 1,750-square-foot store, with workroom in back, offers room for expansion. The shop employs Ellie and Julie Hite. Vicky has a second job but also helps with the home design store.
The woman-owned business that features their own made-in-Michigan goods will participate in the Jan. 10 art hop.
The family's roots in Kalamazoo also are strong ones. Hite says she grew up visiting Jacobson's Store for the Home on the mall with her mother. Now from her shop, Hite can look across the mall and see the same doors that opened onto the store that sparked her future.
Writer: Kathy Jennings, Second Wave Media
Source: Julie Hite, Hite House Couture