June 7, 2005 > Kate's Kottage
Kate McBurney loves gardens and gardening. Her passion is evident everywhere, inside and out, when visiting her Niles business, Kate's Kottage. She sparkles as she talks about organic gardening and the dˇcor used to enhance its presence. About 6 1/2 years ago, Kate bought this unique property where Don's Antique Auto Parts formerly resided for many years. She says that after Don moved out, "I was left with an empty building and knew it would be a great shop." Soon the interior, cleaned and renovated, started filling with, as Kate said, "Items that I like and found items that I think other people would like too." Windows on three sides of her shop - a rarity in the old buildings of Niles - allow natural lighting to enhance an eclectic mix of merchandise at Kate's Kottage.
A visit to the "Kottage" quickly reveals Kate's preferences. Garden implements and accessories as well as garden art fill nooks and crannies of the shop, spilling onto a pleasant outside patio and...you guessed it - garden. According to Kate, this "secret garden" allows a visitor to experience the "character of the residential area and flavor of Niles." She reflected that many shops in Niles, including Kate's Kottage, "sell memories." Furniture and items from the '40's and '50's - dishes, glassware, linens, etc. - are in evidence inside her shop. Kate said that many of her offerings might be called "cottage" or "shabby chic," and commented that Kate's Kottage has "things that people of my generation like to see again."
Scavenging in attics, basements and looking at yard and estate sales is enjoyable for Kate. She calls them her "search and rescue" missions. Although these forays are her primary source of inventory she adds, "I also have a sprinkling of new items and we have hats - vintage, new and red hat lady hats." Lately, Kate has been leaning toward more garden art pieces which she describes as "anything I like that looks good in the garden." True to her passion, Kate's own organic garden is a work of love that produces gorgeous flowers and a wide variety of organic vegetables including garlic, carrots, beets, lettuce, radishes, cucumbers, squash, peppers, onions, peas and tomatoes accompanied by fruit from her trees.
"I live her in balance with nature," said Kate. "I like to eat everything I can from my garden and can pretty much do that in the summertime." If there is a DNA sequence that foretells gardening, Kate has it. She comes from a family tradition of working with the land and reaping the harvest of a farm; "My mother is a master gardener and my grandmother was a gardener on a farm and grew a lot of their food. It is natural that I make my salads from the garden."
Previously, Kate worked in the construction industry, traveling 150 - 200 miles a day. Now, living next door to the shop, she said, "It is quite a relief from the long drives and wonderful to live in Niles." Life in Niles reminds Kate of the small town of Chester near Mount Lassen where she grew up. In her past, Kate was a real estate appraiser and has seen a lot of "pocket areas" around the state composed of older buildings and neighborhoods. Niles struck her as a wonderful community with a "small town atmosphere." She adds that "nobody in the Bay Area has what is available in Niles; the railroad, the hills, the bay, hiking and (another passion) fishing at Quarry Lakes a couple of blocks away."
This summer, Kate is happily anticipating the help of her granddaughter, Chelsea, who just graduated from high school. In a light-hearted aside, Kate says she will be Chelsea's "slave driver." Kate's Kottage is often alive with music from the '40's and '50's and Kate says that Chelsea loves the music. "We will turn on the music (Roy Orbison, the Maguire Sisters, etc.) and sing along to it; Chelsea loves the music, the clothes and hats." Chelsea's gardening genes have not kicked in yet so Kate says that much of her time will be spent in the garden while Chelsea takes care of the store.
Wherever Kate spends time, her pleasant demeanor and happy smile decorate the day. "I enjoy meeting people who come in the shop, especially when they light up and say, 'Oh, I just love this' or 'I was looking for this!" She adds, "It's just fun, a great people job."
Located next door to The Florence, Kate's Kottage shares some of the unique history of the Niles tunnels. She points to a water tower behind the shop that is tilted and explains that the reason is a tunnel collapse underneath. Kate explains that during Prohibition, these basements and tunnels may have been used to store illicit merchandise. She speculated that there may have even been "shanghai" operations through these caverns. Kate said that the building housing her business is probably well over 100 years old - built between 1870 and 1900.
Back in the garden, Kate dreams of having events amidst the flowers. "I would like to do more teas in the garden so people can enjoy it." She smiles while viewing her "labor of love" intent on finding ways to share the joys of a peaceful garden setting with visitors to Niles and Niles residents as well. For residents, first-time visitors and those who have been coming to Niles for years, Kate's Kottage is a refreshing trip to the past with a sprinkling of the present. The bright, airy shop and garden setting on a pleasant afternoon filled with music are a combination that is hard to beat. Stop by for a visit; Kate's Kottage will transport you to a place called serenity.
37323 Niles Blvd., Fremont