I’ve learned a few things during this summer of renovations–mostly around how kitchen appliances have changed (don’t go looking for a gas stove with a broiler on the bottom anymore, they no longer exist) and how things I got away with in the past (countertop cabinets with hidden interior electric outlets, smoke detectors you could pull the batteries out of with ease) have since been outlawed. But even in a new-fangled world that makes our last renovation already seem dated and old-school, I’ve had some delightful visits to the way-back machine, to people who have been doing what they do for generations, just the way their grandparents did.
First up: Bon Ton Rug Cleansers, Inc. of Watertown MA. Why “Cleansers” and not “Cleaners” is a question that I don’t know the answer to, but I’m guessing it’s a Bostonian thing, like giving a tiny storefront groceria the grandiloquent title of “spa.” Either way, Bon Ton has been at the business of washing and repairing rugs and carpets since 1901. And, now as then, they take care of rugs with their century of skilled experience at the ready—gently cleaning, air drying, and seamlessly repairing.
One thing I love about Bon Ton is how un-hoity-toity they are—even though I suspect they have plenty of customers with floor coverings that could be bartered away to cover four years of private college tuition. They are just as kind to my Pottery Barn rag rugs, the ones that cost less than the pads underneath them, as they are to their Beacon Hill matrons’ heirloom Persians. They also have a lovely way of not making me feel like a bad parent to my moth-nibbled honeymoon rugs, or the runner that the cats have sharpened their claws on. They make no judgments, just describe the damage and explain what can be done and how long it will take and what the cost will be, and then they work their magic.
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Further afield is a place called Sunset Mattress Company. It’s in Ossipee NH, off Route 16 on a bucolic side road (okay, except for the fact that it’s nearest neighbor is the Carrol County Jail. But truly, houses of correction in northern New England often get some lovely real estate—this one, especially.) Sunset Mattress has been around for just over six decades. Like Bon Ton, it’s a family enterprise, founded 1953 by the grandfather of the current owner/operator. Sunset has been using the same materials and practices to produce fantastically firm mattresses since the baby-boom years. The only options they offer, in fact, are firm, extra firm or extra-extra firm. In addition to the standard mattress sizes, they take custom orders for everything from antique trundle beds to RV bunks. Needless to say, they have a long list of loyal and happy customers.
I say “they.” It’s really just one man, with some help from a nephew on the delivery end. One man, together with his grandfather’s tool kit and time-honored techniques and attention to the smallest of details, fabricating mattresses from scratch. The showroom is open on Mondays and Tuesdays and Fridays and Saturday morning. Wednesday and Thursday are for deliveries. If, like me, you’ve been led to believe that there’s something revolutionary in the whole concept of memory foam mattresses, think again. I tried out a couple of the foam options over the summer, an experience that left me unsure about which way to go. I started by looking on line to get a sense of the mattress price range (which began as low as $199, a price I considered frighteningly cheap, all the way up to–seriously? $7,000+ for a mattress? That has only one useable side?) Head spinning, I asked a friend what she liked for mattresses. “Oh, I always just go to Sunset Mattress,” she said. “They’re the best. Extra extra firm!” Oh, yeah. Sunset Mattress. The ones my mother-in-law has been singing the praises of for decades? Where, perhaps, I should have started? Yeah, that’s the ticket.
And so, on a crisp Saturday morning, my sweetie and I headed out to bust a move on the mattress deal. I was happy to note that the Sunset factory address showed up on GoogleMap. It wasn’t a figment of someone’s imagination, this bucolic sounding business. As we drew close, I first noticed a white farmhouse a bit higher on the hill, then saw the…factory? Which looked a whole lot like a barn. We pulled into a parking zone that might accommodate three cars, and read the sign on the door: “We’re here, but we may be out back. Honk your horn for service.”
Once inside, my eyes immediately fixed upon three sample beds set up in a narrow showroom, under the eaves—firm twin, extra firm double, extra-extra firm queen—in spool beds that, I’m guessing, date back to the company’s early days.
At the center of the open barn/factory space stood an ancestral work table, the floor well-worn around its perimeter. Beyond the table was a tidy collection of mattress ingredients: boxes of spring coils, rolls of gray striped cotton ticking, industrial spools of thread. A wall in the office corner was covered with hanging clipboards, one for each current account. I suspect the only dust in the space may have been found on the high shelf devoted to a long row of oversized softball trophies, each representing Sunset Mattress’s sponsorship as well as a long tradition of Carrol County league championships.
After a testing of the three mattress types (no Goldilocks here; we opted for extra extra firm) my beloved and I happily ordered our mattress sets, and then shook hands with the man who would personally deliver them to us on the next available time slot in his Wednesday/Thursday delivery schedule, the final date for which would depend on his nephew’s availability.
And as we drove away, it was hard not to look back at the scene and feel like we’d fallen into a little Brigadoon.