– Words by Sean McIntyre Photography by Don Denton
Every summer when I was a kid, my family would pack up the car and travel through the mountains from the Lower Mainland to the Okanagan to visit my grandparents. The lake was warm, the cherries plentiful and the good times spent with family proved priceless. Amid these idyllic childhood moments is the memory of hours—or was it days?—devoted to swinging in a pod-like rattan chair hung from the ceiling above my grandparents’ deck.
Come to think of it, my grandparents must have had a special fondness for wicker furniture, since I can also remember some woven stools, a love seat, chairs and a matching coffee table, maybe even a bed. As nostalgic as the memories may be, the style of my grandparents’ West Kelowna furnishings would be kindly described as classic by today’s standards.
Fast-forward 40 years, however, and Josh Cole, owner of The Wickertree Patio Plus, wants to make sure those woven wicker furnishings aren’t left to linger in the pages of family albums.
“It’s not just your grandma’s store anymore, it’s everyone’s store,” he says.
Josh took over The Wickertree Patio Plus in the Cowichan Valley in early 2020 as a kind of mid-life career shift. Having grown over-stressed and all too tired of a life travelling the world working in the film industry on visual effects, he sought more time with his family closer to home.
“I didn’t know this industry, but I jumped in with both feet at the opportunity,” he says.
The Wickertree is a familiar site on the east side of the Island Highway, south of Duncan. The store’s bright yellow frontage stands out amid a diverse array of small locally owned businesses. The Wickertree’s current building once housed a Chinese restaurant, which the property’s original owners had moved there in the 1970s, piece by piece, from Duncan’s once-booming Chinatown District. Adjacent buildings were brought to the site from elsewhere in the valley and even from as far away as Sooke.
Josh says the iconic property was once a popular tourist attraction, luring visitors with its colourful heritage buildings, quirky shops and eccentric collection of vintage household appliances. When the Island Highway was upgraded, however, changes to the roadway complicated access and the number of visitors dropped dramatically.
Adversity breeds adaptation. Rather than pack up his goods to relocate, or call it a day, the Wickertree’s former owner shifted the store’s focus to higher-end indoor and outdoor furniture—and this is the direction that Josh has maintained.
These days, Josh says, he can tell the story of his typical customer. The individual, he says, walks through the front door with a look of resigned frustration. He has a problem. For years, he’s been buying typical patio furniture only to watch it warp, wobble and end up in the dump. After several rounds on this cycle of patio furniture disappointment, the customer finally decides to visit The Wickertree and speak with Josh.
“I want to show them this store because we can fix that problem,” he says. “This is high-end furniture, and you get what you pay for. Families have shopped here for generations because the furniture lasts for so long.”
Josh encourages people to bring their ideas and visit the showroom. Sitting in and getting a feel for what’s available is an essential part of the furniture-buying experience, he adds. Josh can also help plan and design the ideal living space, whether it happens to be inside or outside of the home.
“It’s more about finding the style and the comfort that you like. Comfort is a big deal. Every piece has different cushions; every piece has a different depth to it; every piece has a different height to it,” he says. “You have to sit in furniture in order to know what it is that you want. If you’re just ordering furniture and you’re not sitting in it first, good luck.”
These days, Josh says, outdoor furniture accounts for about 80 per cent of the store’s inventory. The remaining 20 per cent is mainly indoor furnishings. Since taking on the business, Josh has added a wide array of fun and stylish accessories to liven up living spaces.
“When I came in—and because of the industry [film] that I once worked in—I know there is a market of young people looking for high-end furniture, and sometimes it’s hard to find,” he says. “So I kept the classic look of the store, but I took out all the items that were duplicates, and in their place I brought in younger styles. Still the same quality and still the same manufacturer, but with a more contemporary feel.”
Josh has brought in high-BTU fire pits, cantilevered patio umbrellas that can be operated effortlessly with a single hand, and state-of-the-art propane, gas and electric heaters—including George, a robot who greets customers at the store’s entrance—along with lighting options designed to extend usage of outdoor space throughout the year.
A big part of Josh’s motivation, he says, is to give people more reasons to spend more time outside.
“I want to get everybody outdoors,” he says. “I grew up in the era when every kid grew up outdoors. If I can eat outdoors, I’m out there. Whatever I can do outdoors, I’m out there. It’s just a better way of living.”