What Laura Johnson didn’t know when she retired after 35 years of teaching was that the next chapter of her life would also involve a fair amount of teaching, but in a very different capacity. As her career teaching students with disabilities – working at High Point schools like Southwest Middle School and Southwest High School – wound to a close, Laura tried her hand at new hobbies to occupy her time after retirement.
“A friend and I got our hands wet with painting furniture,” Laura explains. The two women, who enjoyed finding antiques and vintage pieces to restore and repurpose, soon found they loved learning techniques to re-paint and re-sell furniture. For Laura, the post-retirement hobby began to grow into something bigger. After renting booth space at Vintage Thrift and Antique and The Market in High Point, Laura opened her own studio on Hamilton Street.
A Unique Boutique and Gift Shop
“Then my husband just suggested, ‘You may want to do something retail,’” Laura says, “’or you may want to get out of this.’” The studio and refurnishing process was taking up a large portion of Laura’s time, but she found that what began as a hobby had quickly developed into a passion.
“I love to create, and I love to shop,” Laura explains, so the idea of turning her hobby into something that could be enjoyed by the whole community was very appealing.
“The shop just sort of fell into my lap,” she recalls of her location at 1213 Johnson Street. “It was just around the corner.”
“The original name was ‘Timeless Vin-tiques,’ which was derived from the idea that everything can be brought back and repurposed,” Laura says. "I even have a clock face in my shop that doesn't have hands on it to remind of that!”
But as the shop grew, so did Laura’s interests. While she still found and refinished antiques, her friend and owner of The Gilded Lily, Patra Wansley, began to give Laura a peek into the boutique and retail world.
“Patra indoctrinated me into clothing!” Laura teases. She soon joined Patra and another boutique owner from Archdale in traveling to an Atlanta-based boutique trade show where boutique owners can find new pieces to add to their seasonal collections. From there, Laura expanded into home décor, gifts, and even local foods. So Laura renamed the store The Cottage, a place where creativity would cover every aspect of the shop.
“I wanted something that would be like an umbrella name that I could grow with,” Laura explains. “It could have fresh flowers in the spring, vegetables in the summer... or I could change up a room and make it like a person's home.”
And with 2,000 square feet of space in Laura’s little “cottage” on Johnson Street, each room in the shop has its own purpose. From a blue-and-white Christmas room to a kitchen with plenty of locally sourced snacks, to a boutique room of clothes, to a painting room in the back where Laura teaches classes on painting historical furniture.
“I think my teaching thrill and teaching experience lent to the instruction and creativity I share with my new friends here in High Point,” Laura says. But her instruction isn’t limited to painting. Along with her painting classes, Laura partners with other small High Point businesses, like Alexandria’s Bistro to offer other fun educational experiences, like charcuterie board how-to's.
Laura is also passionate about how people learn to be resourceful and creative at the same time. She creates displays all over her store – like turning an antique Hoosier cabinet into a beautiful display – and wants to inspire her customers to pick up unlikely objects to be part of their home’s story.
“I love when people find something, and they don’t know what to do with it,” Laura says, noting this is where the educational aspect comes in. She invites all of her customers to treat her shop like a DIY experience, where they can purchase a piece or even bring in their own piece and brainstorm with Laura about how florals, greenery, or other accessories might come together to create a one-of-a-kind piece.
“I love learning about the pieces I find, and I love a story,” Laura says. “I offer for people to come in and bring their own pieces and work in my back room. I guide them through whatever they're trying to achieve.”
Laura also loves supporting locally, and making The Cottage a place where local products can be discovered.
“We see too much repetition from the same look,” Laura says of mass-produced products, pointing out that local pieces often offer something unique from any other piece.
Along with stocking foods and snacks from North Carolina-based vendors – like Piedmont Pennies cheese biscuits, Queen City Crunch (started by a High Point native), Bruce Julian Bloody Mary Mix, Poppy’s Popcorn, and more – Laura also tries to stock and elevate the work and products of other High Point-based entrepreneurs.
“We did a reception for Kathryn Cushwa Gerace, owner of Ethel B Cards for Mother’s Day just to get people to know about her,” Laura explains. Her philosophy has always been that entrepreneurs should find ways to collaborate creatively, rather than compete. She also mentions collaborations and respect between others in the boutique and antique industry in High Point – Boxwood Antiques, Cindy Lou’s Boutique, Wynnie’s, and The Market.
“I really enjoy that we're building a community of places for people to go, have fun, look around, and find something that they may want to take home if they're from out of town,” she adds.
For Laura, opening her shop in High Point also opened her eyes to all the good taking place in the city.
“I’ve learned a lot about High Point in the last three years I’ve been in the shop,” Laura says. “And I'm always trying to search out for the best possible things to bring to my customers here.”
Laura’s goal is to bring a shop to High Point where no customer ever gets the same experience twice. At The Cottage, she is constantly changing the themes of rooms, adding new products, creating new displays, and finding new ways to demonstrate creativity – just around the corner.
“It’s not just a store,” Laura explains, “it’s something exciting.”
Discover our High Points,
The HPD Team