A blending of talent

Could there be anything more pleasant than walking into a room graced by a touch of La Dolce Vita? A little brick shop in Millville, opposite the Masonic Lodge on Route 26, offers just the pick-me-up.
Coastal Point • SAM HARVEY: From left, Jane Tribbit, Nancy Rhodes, and Laura Hickman inside La Dolce Vida, in Millville.Coastal Point • SAM HARVEY:
From left, Jane Tribbit, Nancy Rhodes, and Laura Hickman inside La Dolce Vida, in Millville.

Three Bethany Beach natives — Laura Hickman, Nancy Rhodes and Jane Tribbitt — run La Dolce Vita. According to Tribbitt, “The idea was, for people coming in to feel they’d been transported to another place, like Italy or France.”

Hickman said she’d been working as a professional artist for 15 years or so, Tribbitt (her younger sister) — in real estate for more than 20 years, and Rhodes (the youngest sister) — a kindergarten teacher for more than 10, all had different experiences when they moved into the joint venture.

“And here we are, working together,” Tribbitt said.

“Nancy and Jane had a little extra time on their hands, as their kids were getting older, and wanted to do something that could tie in with what I do as an artist,” Hickman recalled. “So, we decided we could open this together and we could have gifts and home décor — and I could have a place to hang my art.”

“It all started when Laura went to Italy, and came back with the Italian ceramics,” Rhodes pointed out.

“That was a big initial purchase,” Tribbitt agreed. “We’ve changed somewhat since we opened — we have more lighting now, rugs, bedding, clocks — we try to change a little bit every year.”

Hickman has generated a goodly body of work, displayed here and there around the shop, and Tribbitt said many customers came in specifically to take a look at the paintings and prints.

“What it comes down to is a creative effort for the three of us,” Hickman said. “We look for what we want to fill the store, and then find a way to bring it all together.”

Tribbitt said they’d jumped at the location when the space opened up. “We thought it would be the perfect location — and the perfect look,” she remembered. They redecorated, stuccoed the brick interior, knocked another passage through the center wall and installed some French doors and Old World windows and shutters, for a more Mediterranean feel.

The bright sunlight and vibrancy finds its way into many of Hickman’s pieces.

Tribbitt said their parents had taken them to Europe when they were children, and all three sisters have returned since then. Hickman goes back quite often, in search of inspiration, taking photographs to work from when she returns to Delaware.

And, she still brings back items for La Dolce Vita, on occasion. “We like to buy things,” Hickman pointed out. “We like to shop.”

Stateside, they take to the road together for trade shows and stock procurement, New York, Atlanta, typically in the very off-season of January-February.

So, what do they recommend? Of all the items in the store, there seemed to be a consensus that the antique Romanian furniture was their favorite — but they didn’t seem overly enthusiastic about selling any of it.

Hickman pointing out one china cabinet/hutch in particular, joked, “If we ever sell the place, we’re going to have to cut it into three pieces.”

Of course, the ceramics that started it all are still a feature, and offerings range from little housewarming, or “hostess” gifts, as Rhodes described them, to more elegant choices, appropriate for weddings, birthdays or graduations.

She said they did a fair “settlement gift” trade with real estate agents, too.

None of them could settle on a single favorite — they said they simply buy things they would like to have in their own homes (if they only had room for everything).

It’s just the sisters at La Dolce Vita. Tribbitt said they try to give Hickman some extra creative time, but Rhodes said everyone manage a couple days off, and they work around one another’s schedules.

With a third busy season just around the corner, they will be opening seven days a week from here on in (starting Memorial Day weekend). Shop hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call 541-4135.