Monica Ryan always had a thing for high-end furniture.
She designed it. She built it. Most importantly — in this age of Ikea, Wayfair and Pottery Barn — she knew how to assemble it.
After high school in Rye and college in Arizona, it didn’t look like furniture would be in Monica’s future, however. She landed a job with Lehman Brothers, in New York.
It was not a good fit. “At heart, I’m a creative person,” Monica says. “Finance is nothing like design.”
So in 2000 — age 30 — she headed back to Arizona. Monica helped her friend John Koering with the business side of his high-end wood furniture business. She learned everything about beds, tables, chairs, entertainment systems, kitchen cabinets and bookshelves. Including how to put it all together.
In 2005 she returned to New York to get married. She’s been a full-time wife and mom ever since — and, for the past 9 years, a Westport resident. It’s a town she’s always loved, going all the way back to high school in Rye.
All along, she missed working with Koering. She fed her furniture fix by assembling her own pieces.
A month ago — watching Monica put together shelves for her daughter, so quickly and easily — a friend suggested she do it for others.
Monica searched the web to see who else provided the service. Not many others, she found. (Sure, there are “white glove” specials from certain stores. She charges 10% less.)
“I can do in 30 minutes what takes some people 2 hours,” she notes. “Some people just don’t want to do it themselves. Others can’t.”
Monica Ryan, in action.
She offers the option of having items delivered directly to her from the retailer. “No mess or packing materials for you to deal with,” Monica says.
The primary market for her new venture — IAssembleWestport.com — is older folks who have a tough time assembling furniture, and moms busy with kids who lack the time.
But, she adds, anyone who buys from Ikea, Restoration Hardware or other retailers is a potential customer.
Back home in her native Norway, Camilla Moe Røisland had a thriving career.
She spent more than 20 years as a news presenter, reporter and producer, for TV and radio. She worked in communications for the oil, gas and shipping industry, and for unions and organizations.
When her husband was offered a great opportunity — building wind farms off Long Island — she put her own work on hold. Since late September she’s helped their 3 children (and dog) adapt to life in Westport.
Camilla Moe Roisland
It’s an exciting adventure, filled with ups and downs. Camilla loves much about this town (and, from time to time, just shakes her head). Between furnishing her new home, making new friends. figuring out the difference between Stop & Shop and Whole Foods, and spending endless hours behind the wheel, her days are full.
But Camilla is, at heart, a journalist. So she’s eager to share many of her insights — and photos — with her old friends in Norway.
And her new ones here.
“Camilla Blogg” is an intriguing look at our town, from one of our newest arrivals. She sees the beauty many of us take for granted — the beach, for example, and Saugatuck Island. She also sees jarring sights many of us never think of — like the “Private Property” signs that keep so many others from enjoying much of our beautiful shoreline.
Camilla is a warm woman. Her writing reflects her outgoing nature.
“People in my situation have to be that way,” she explains. “We need to make friends to survive.”
By reaching out, she’s already made many friends here. Some are Americans; others are Europeans and Australians. She finds Westport to be very open and welcoming. There’s an international flavor, and most people want to help.
(Her children are embarrassed when she walks up to strangers and says, “Sorry, I am new to this country. I don’t know where to find…” Of course, kids all over the world are embarrassed by their parents.)
Camilla’s blog alternates between profound topics and light ones. She toggles between big themes and random encounters.
An early post on the joys of Compo Beach (she could not believe she wore shorts and a t-shirt in the fall) was countered by the heartache of her children’s first day of school.
Camilla illustrated her “first day of school” blog post this way.
Her youngest “looked so small in this huge building,” Camilla wrote. Fortunately, his counselor, teachers and principal seemed great.
“I know he is in good hands,” she said, before adding, “it’s hard when he is really scared that the other kids and the teachers will not understand” what he’s saying.
She concluded: “I cross my fingers, and hope that I will pick up two smiling kids after school today.”
Any mother anywhere could relate to that feeling. And any mother anywhere could share her frustration at hearing Ikea say, over and over, “We are sorry for your inconvenience.”
But it takes an objective, new-to-Westport eye to point out the extent to which automobiles rule life in our suburb.
In Norway, Camilla writes,
our kids are used to either taking the bus, walking or cycling to their schools. We commuted to our jobs by walking, taking the bus, ferry and sometimes a tram. Imagine how much more healthy that is, and it saves the environment for all the pollution from the cars.
She adapted. She bought a car that handles the snowy winter here. But she also “allowed” her husband to buy a Mustang.
Camilla captioned this “Americans and their cars.”
“In the beginning I was a bit unsure if it was tacky or not,” she wrote. “But some British friends assured me that it was cool. I hope they´re right. You might see me driving it around in the area too.”
The Winter Olympics — in which Norway built up a substantial medal lead — provided material for another blog post.
Camilla did not include an incident that meant a lot: When someone at Saugatuck Sweets complimented her on her country’s showing.
But she wrote about the good feeling she felt, in this cosmopolitan town, watching so many nations compete.
“Go Norway and our modern Vikings!” she said. “Go our Scandinavian neighbors, our European friends. And this time, go the US too!”
There is much more to cover. Camilla has noticed how wonderful and well-equipped Westport’s schools are, and the dedication of the teachers. Yet she’s astonished at the amount of homework her kids have — including weekends — and the fact that students must stay indoors when the weather is cold or wet.
“In Norway we have no bad weather,” she laughs. “Just bad clothes.”
She also contrasts Westport schools with those 10 minutes away. There, she notes, “they can’t even afford pencils.”
She loves her proximity to New York City. But she still can’t figure out why the train fare is so expensive, while the cost to drive a car is so cheap.
One of the photos Camilla took to illustrate the beauty of her new home town.
Moving from Norway to Westport was not easy. Camilla has put a lot of work — and thought — into making her new life here.
She loves sharing it all with others — those in her home country, and her new home town.
“I feel very Norwegian in Westport,” she says. “I also feel very European.
“I love Westport. I want to protect it. I’ve met so many nice, welcoming, interesting people. I have a very broad life. We all learn from each other.”
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