A Gustavian-style chair and table from the Eleish Van Breems furniture collection.

Linus Englund

The Transporting Magic of Eleish Van Breems

How a spellbinding friendship led to an atmospheric design destination.

November 11, 2022

Is it possible to bottle up your childhood sense of wonder and then deploy it like a magical elixir for years to come? If you’re part of the duo behind the burgeoning home furnishings empire Eleish Van Breems, it is. Rhonda Eleish and Edie Van Breems first met at age 11, when Eleish moved from Vienna to Connecticut, and quickly became the best of friends. “She was like something out of a Jean-Luc Godard film,” says Van Breems, whose mother was a New York City Ballet dancer. “I thought it was the most exciting thing that had happened in Connecticut!” The fascination was mutual; the pair bonded over the art of the dollhouse, and spent their time making miniature furniture.

Lifelong friends-turned-business-partners Edie Van Breems (left) and Rhonda Eleish.

Stephane Kossmann

Years later, the two reunited in New York City, where Van Breems was a photographer and Eleish worked in fashion while promoting rock bands on the side. They ran around to museums and shows and auction houses, planned charity events together, and helped friends decorate their apartments. “We were always obsessed with the decorative arts, we loved working together, and we realized we were really good at creating a mood, a setting, something for people to get excited about,” says Van Breems.

  • In the Westport showroom, a pair of Paola Chairs flanks the Basa Table, both by Verellen. A rare 18th-century Swedish Rococo Mirror reflects sunshine on the porcelain serving pieces by Gustavsberg and mid-century modern Kastrup glassware.

    Neil Landino
  • EVB Collection furniture features authentic historic detailing, with each piece being painted and waxed at the brand’s studio in Connecticut. Shown here are the Gripsholm Armchair, upholstered in Rox & Fix fabric by Josef Frank for Svenskt Tenn, and the Nora Chest.

    Neil Landino

So the pair began to dream: They envisioned creating a fine antiques gallery that would tell the story of Sweden, a place to which they both had deep familial ties. (Eleish’s great-uncle Karl W. Gullers was a well-known photographer in Stockholm, while her great-aunt, Ingvor Gullers, was a textile specialist and served as an advisor for the Queen’s dollhouse collection.) In 1997, they found a historic 1760s house in Woodbury, Connecticut, and uncorked their magical elixir in earnest, conjuring up a transporting scene that took visitors through a garden gate and into a Scandinavian nobleman’s palace. Together, they went on to write three authoritative books about Swedish interiors.

Flash forward to today, and Eleish Van Breems looks very different—but the elixir is as potent as ever. They’ve used it yet again to reimagine their brand, with their flagship retail location in Westport, Connecticut, serving as a platform for an exciting expansion. Their business now includes two new to-the-trade showrooms, a vibrant second shop just opened in Nantucket, and their own line of custom furniture.

The duo deftly layers fine mid-century pieces—a 1970s Charles Hollis Jones brass-and-lucite coffee table, a 1960s adjustable easel floor lamp by Angelo Lelli for Arredoluce that displays a 1940s photograph by Alan Fontaine—with Gustavian antiques, like a late 18th-century mirror with hand-painted gouache scenes of the goddess Aphrodite.

Neil Landino

The duo’s strength as interior designers is on full display across all four spaces, including their flagship, which has evolved into a contemporary showcase that mixes bold with old, incorporating exquisite 18th-century Gustavian side tables, mid-century chairs, modern American furniture, and cheerful handcrafts into a harmonious whole. Also on view: their EVB Furniture Collection, a life-sized (and gorgeous) manifestation of their childhood obsession with miniatures. The collection deftly leverages their expertise and their links to Sweden: Handmade in small workshops by craftsmen using age-old techniques and native woods, the Gustavian-inspired furniture is imbued with authentic historical details and finished with 16 traditional colors (heather mists, stormy grays).

The modern lines of a Verellen coffee table, Avant Garden floor lamp and a swivel chair by Lee—upholstered in Josef Frank’s iconic Citrus Garden fabric for Schumacher—pair with a rare carved oval Gustavian mirror, found in Stockholm.

Neil Landino

Their new to-the-trade showrooms are just as seductive, drawing visitors into fully styled environments that display the range of Lee and Verellen furniture. “It’s a great place for designers to come and shop with their clients because we’ve illustrated how to incorporate rare pieces into livable interiors,” says Van Breems. Not only that, but designers can also find pieces to fit every budget, among them curvy Danish chairs and buffets that come ingeniously flat-packed.

“We’re passionate about sharing the work of artists from Scandinavia and helping people discover it here in America,” says Van Breems. That passion bubbles over as she describes the workmanship of the textile artists, leatherworkers, wood carvers, and metalsmiths represented in the stores. It’s as if she’s distilled a few drops of that magic elixir—an elixir that she and Eleish continue to happily share.

Showing off its nautical colors: the new Nantucket outpost of Eleish Van Breems, which carries a mix of furniture, whimsical accessories, and hostess gifts.

Neil Landino

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This STORY was produced in partnership with Eleish Van Breems.