Beach House Cover-Ups

Shelley Metcalf
Meet one family who has turned their laid-back lifestyle into a successful business―creating washable slipcovers.

When Nina, Bo, and Isabella Ellis come in from the beach, their parents don't mind if they put their feet on the white sofa. Their mom doesn't flinch when the black Lab presses muddy paws on a chair's skirt. "It's washable," Gina Ellis says, shrugging.

Gina and her husband, Bill, have built their business, Quatrine Washable Furniture, on this carefree concept. The slipcovered furniture they make, sell, and lounge on reflects the easygoing lifestyle they've created for their kids at the edge of a peaceful canyon south of L.A. "We're very casual people," says Bill.

He and Gina want this bungalow in Rolling Hills, California, to be as livable as the furniture they manufacture. "When I grew up, there were rooms in our house that were off-limits," Bill says. "I want my kids to be comfortable."

"The kids touch everything, and I love that," adds Gina, who keeps stacks and stacks of art and nature books for them in the den. She scatters shells across tabletops and places a bird's nest within child's-eye view.

In the breakfast room, glue guns and a sewing machine mar an old pine table, adding character. "This table is trashed--it's perfect," Gina says. "I can throw a tablecloth over it if we entertain. We're all about covering up. "

As carefree as that concept sounds, it led to a serious business. Just over a decade ago, Gina and Bill summoned their entrepreneurial spirit to launch a company. "We had an idea--washable furniture--and I felt strongly it was going to be successful," Bill says. "There are people selling the look, but we're selling a lifestyle."

L.A. shoppers, including celebrities and Hollywood set designers, bought it. Quatrine pieces won starring roles on such shows as "Mad About You" and "Melrose Place." Bill says, "We were at the right place at the right time."

People admire not only the furniture but also the casual, airy look Gina gives store interiors. She creates the same mood at home. Shells, botanical prints, and topiaries recall the nearby woodlands and ocean. Walls painted robin's egg blue make her furniture's crisp white slipcovers sing.

"I love the light fabrics," Gina says. "And I don't want to have dark furniture just because of our three kids, four dogs, and seven cats."

Quatrine Washable Furniture
800/407-5120 or www. Quatrine offers more than 400 washable fabrics and custom details. The company has opened nine retail stores-from California's Manhattan Beach and Corona del Mar to Chicago and Houston. Basic line: sofas, $1,100 to $2,500; sectionals, $2,000 to $8,000; and chairs, $600 to $1,300. Premium line: sofas, $1,500 to $4,400; sectionals, $3,000 to $10,600; and chairs, $950 to $2,400. Prices vary for custom designs.

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