Connie Rutledge loves to research the history of the finds she offers at Birds Nest Design, so it is fitting that her store, located at 538 S. Main Street in Columbia, is in an historic building.
Birds Nest Design is part of the Eichmueller-Rau Building. The business features unique home decor Rutledge finds in the area and around the country. It doesn’t matter where the items come from, as long as they have a natural aesthetic that can add to a customer’s home.
While she does make some items, Rutledge says she really loves the “found” items, of which Birds Nest Design carries a wide variety.
The store currently holds, among other things, a stack of vintage travel suitcases, old snow sleds with metal runners, an Amish cannonball style bed, desks, a pink tabletop Christmas tree and other artifacts that are waiting for the right home.
Rutledge does not necessarily rehab the older furniture, though. She said she believes in letting “the piece tell you what to do.”
In many cases, that means letting the age show with only minor changes to improve functionality or to bring out the natural details that may have softened over the years.
That is also the case with the building that houses her business.
“Everything was ready” to begin the business at the South Main location, she said. “We just had to build the counter.”
She remembered that the other properties she looked at would not have been a good fit due to higher rent and other issues. When her current location became available, she said she felt it was “meant to be.”
She says the space is “really charming” and lends itself to her business, from exposed brick walls to the ramp on the side door that allows her to easily move large furniture items into the showroom.
Furthermore, she said she would have needed to stay open seven days a week to make ends meet and she is glad that lower rent allows her to have some days off.
Rutledge feels as though the opening of her store in Columbia has been the culmination of her life experiences. “Every step I’ve taken has led me here.”
She grew up in Cahokia and lived in the Columbia area before moving briefly to Hoyleton, then moving back after one of her grandchildren was born. Rutledge was thrilled when her husband finally found “a home where they can age in place” in Columbia in 2016.
Rutledge has been involved in various aspects of interior design for around 30 years. She believes that whole of her experiences have led her to opening Birds Nest Design, explaining that in hindsight she can see how different events in the past show her she is “meant to be doing this.”
Even the name of the store came from a gift she was given nearly a decade ago.
On the back wall hangs the gift: a bird nest. Rutledge said the nest symbolizes her philosophy of interior design.
“You take pieces from here and there and make a home. I love helping others do that,” she said.
She also loves the family atmosphere the building offers. Her grandchildren are able to visit the store and there is an area in the back to play if a customer stops by.
In the short time she has been in the store, she says it “feels like a neighborhood” and that she already has nearby residents and shop owners who will stop by to drink a cup of coffee or just to chat and catch up.
A lover of history, she also likes when customers share memories of the building.
“People come in and tell me that they used to come here when they were kids and shop for groceries with their parents,” Rutledge said, referring to the time in the 1960s when her current shop was home to Laverne’s Superette.
Rutledge opened her brick-and-mortar store Nov. 11 after occupying the Columbia Pop-Up Shop in September, using funds from that time to help finance the opening of her Main Street location.
Rutledge was unsure of how her business would do when she opened, but five of her larger items were sold within the first week.
She credits her early success to the current community emphasis on a “shop small mentality,” adding supporting local businesses “is a great way to approach the Christmas season.”
She also created a Facebook Marketplace account for her business that quickly gained 300 followers, and not all of them local. She said there is a large community that has become interested in unique design ideas and described her Facebook presence as a great way to display what is currently in the store.
In addition to managing the store, Rutledge plans on hosting furniture painting classes and offering in-home interior design consultation services once the COVID-19 pandemic lessens.
“I plan to expand my business while offering people services to help them have their homes reflect their taste the way we all desire our homes to tell the story of who we are,” she said.
Rutledge said people connect personally with items at Birds Nest Design because “a home should be a reflection of the life you’ve lived,” and she loves that her services help people realize that vision.
The Main Street location is open Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. To see current store offerings or to contact Rutledge, find Birds Nest Design on Facebook.