Midway down Benicia’s First Street, within two historical buildings, lies a business that folks from even the farthest reaches of the Bay Area travel to seeking advice and tips about decorating their dwellings: Romancing the Home. Like its name suggests, Romancing the Home aims to help its customers find ways to make life around the house a little more colorful and interesting, in an all-encompassing sort of way. The store caters to all of the senses; its got food and candies, all kinds of sweet scented items, as well as art and furniture, and the owners are always looking for ways to grow.
“We offer a little something for everybody,” said owner Rob Machado, who took over the business with his wife, Debbie, in 2003. “We go to several shows a year and we search out the best products.”
When Machado first took over the business it was simply a furniture store; and before that, ye olde Benicia Creamery. Since then, he and his wife have expanded the business out to include every aspect of the home, from decorations to cooking ingredients. They’ve expanded so much that the store now takes up two adjacent 200-year-old buildings, though you’d never know it from walking around the inside.
Nowadays, Romancing the Home has a baby section, as well as kitchen and bathroom sections that feature jams, soaps, scented candles, and decorations to go with them. Oddly enough, Machado says he and Debbie tend to sell the bulk of the baby products during spring, and they have alternating periods of time where they have high demand almost exclusively on boy clothes, followed by a spell where they’ll have high demand on girl clothes. Hard to tell what to make of that trend, but it appears to warrant further study.
On top of that, this year will mark a full decade since they opened their garden section, which is tucked away outdoors in the back area where customers are welcome to walk through.
“We put the garden in the back because it used to just be a dirt lot,” Machado said. “We just started out with a little bit of garden stuff and now we’ve got statues, decorative items, outdoor furniture, wall art, all kinds of stuff. And we’ve still more to come!”
The couple designed the backyard specifically so folks could walk through to get a visual sense of what their garden decorations look like in their natural setting, as opposed to inside on a wall. Luckily, their store resembles a lot of Benicia and Vallejo dwellings. You’ll see they’ve outfitted a deck with backyard furniture, cement figurines and other decorations, with items ranging from the practical to the downright artistic to both.
“We designed it and had it put in to have multiple levels; customers can walk through and get a feel of what it’d look like in their home,” Machado said. “The glass feeders and hangers have been doing great lately. Glass seems to be big this year.”
In addition to their glass hummingbird feeders, Romancing the Home offers birdbaths, fountains, and other interactive features. Machado used to keep those fully stocked with water in previous years too, but lately, weather conditions have put a stop to that.
“Years before, I’ve had the bird baths full of water, but I’ve kind of cut back on the water because of the drought,” Machado said.
But, as it has done in the past, Romancing the Home has found ways to evolve with changing times. One thing the owners have found is that drought-resistant plants, like succulents and cacti, are making a comeback. So they’ve formed a partnership with a local gardener who specializes in those types of plants, and is helping them by supplying a few for the outdoor section of the store.
“She grows them all at her house and arranges them all—we’ve done pretty well with them,” Machado said. “We also had a local lady who does jewelry, and a few other local partnerships.”
Machado said that the bulk of the customers who aren’t homeowners tend to come looking for gifts for their friends and family, especially during the holidays. In that spirit, if you have the opportunity to check out Romancing the Home, the holiday season might be a good time to do it. They put in a little extra effort to give the store a Christmas theme. A few years ago they’d have a tree or two, but in keeping with their theme each year they find a way to make it bigger and better than the last.
“We convert into a Christmas store during the holidays—we get about 20 trees in here and we turn the store around,” Machado said. “Christmas is huge for us, and that sort of evolved on its own.”
Machado also said that he’s willing to travel to local customers’ homes to get a better sense of their needs and to help them find the best possible fit for whatever they have planned. He said homeowners looking to remodel make up a good portion of the store’s clientele, so if you’re curious about something, here’s a guy with more than a decade in the business.
“Benicia’s a good little town,” Machado said. “We’re happy to be here. It’s a nice little tourist town.”
Romancing the Home is located at 617 First Street, in Benicia. For more information, call (707) 747-1717, or visit www.benicia-rth.com.
Nate Gartrell grew up in Benicia, studied journalism in college, and has written for a handful of media outlets since age 15. He aspires to visit all 30 Major League Baseball stadiums and to hit the trifecta at the horse track.