Ooh La La

The word "chouette" en français means "cute" or "that’s great!" Both meanings aptly des-cribe Susan Bakke’s women’s boutique Chauette tucked in a corner of the Paoli Schoolhouse Shops & Cafe. Bakke learned the word from her son who studied French, but decided to change the spelling. “Chauette” simply looked better.

Truth be told, many storeowners’ decisions are driven by this kind of instinct. “I had never done this before and I was just trying to see what I could do,” says Bakke. “I had always wanted to own a store.”

Bakke’s instincts also drove her to carry colorful, fashionable items that are reasonably priced—items like Chanel-ish tweed jackets, sleek metallic clutches, sparkly jewelry and lightweight wrap tops. Well-versed in every line she sells, Bakke can talk about the cosmo kate jackets, Hillhouse Naturals Farm candles or Paddi Murphy pajamas with equal ease.

Chauette’s girly décor—Granny Smith green walls and pink toile curtains—plays nicely off the main shop area’s soothing sage walls and stylish sales floor dotted with silver tableware, furnishings, kitchen goods and gifty items. Bakke’s sister-in-law, Debbie Schwartz, owns this part (as well as the entire building; she purchased it in 2002), a home accessories/furnishings store.

The Schoolhouse Cafe, which serves salads, sandwiches, soups and pastas for lunch, was a 2008 addition. The building itself (yes, originally a school) goes back to 1854, with an addition at the turn of the twentieth century. The Belleville School District used the building until 1972.

Considering you can do everything in downtown Paoli from picking up a trendy gift to dining overlooking the Sugar River, it’s worth a little trip southwest. “I came here because it’s an artist community,” says Bakke. “This is a nice space and I think it’s a great destination.” Sounds parfait to me. 

Price range: $12–$300
Owner’s Picks: Cotton and silk/viscose scarves, $21; Lola and Kelly Starfish recycled cornhusk handbags, $40; ivy jane black/white jacket, $158, and pants, $114.
Editor’s Picks: Tiffany & Fred handbags, $42–$120; cotton scarves, $18; Claire V handbags, $86.
Verdict: Even though it’s 150-plus years old, the schoolhouse building has survived and thrived with the times—the chic Schoolhouse Shops & Cafe being its latest incarnation. Chauette’s look and feel is a nice updated addition that plays well off the historic vibe and offers Paoli shoppers unique items not found at other local stores.
Chauette, 6857 Paoli Rd., Belleville. 848-6261.

Shayna Miller is associate and style editor of Madison Magazine.

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