What originally started as a farmhouse tray craft at Jill Equi’s dining room table has turned into a blossoming business, Gia Bella Designs, situated on the main floor of an 1800s Batavia mansion.
“I was a stay-at-home mom for a long time, and I felt like I needed some sort of release,” Equi says, noting she was a legal secretary before she stayed home. “I felt like I was losing myself in the moment of raising kids.”
Equi started selling her handcrafted goods at a booth before she outgrew that and moved into a 520-square-foot space in her friend’s Yorkville salon, Shear. It didn’t take long before she expanded again and moved into her own shop in Geneva.
“Not long after we moved in, my landlord decided to go a different route with the building, so we could either close up shop or move on and go bigger and better,” Equi says. “We decided to go bigger and better.”
That’s when she landed in Batavia at the historic Newton House, which became a perfect fit for her shop. “I was trying to find somewhere that an artist market was not very prevalent,” Equi says, noting her husband, Jason, has always been her biggest supporter. “We saw this space on the hill and we were like, ‘Uh yeah, we’ll take it.’”
The shop’s namesake is her two daughters, Gianna and Bella, but it also has a deeper meaning for her products. “It means ‘already beautiful’ in Italian,” Equi says. “That’s just like everything in my shop. It’s already beautiful and had a purpose, but I’m giving it a new purpose by updating it.”
While Equi still does make her own repurposed items, she has brought in an array of local artisans who specialize in various handcrafted goods. She currently has around 10 other vendors who offer clothing, home decor, gifts, tote bags, pet trinkets and much more.
“The shop is better decorated than my own home,” Equi says, laughing. “There’s a lot I would like to bring home.”
Equi has turned her focus to making candles and soaps for her shop while leaving the rest to her talented artisans. “When I get an idea here or there, I try it,” Equi says. “But I’m really focusing on my candle and soap line.”
She currently has a citrus and vanilla goat milk soap and is working on her donkey milk soap. “I know it sounds really weird, but donkey milk soap is wonderful for the skin,” Equi says.
In addition to the handcrafted soaps, Equi has crafted her own signature candle, “Gia Bella,” which is a blend of violet, amber, sweetgrass and oakmoss, and is working on a “Newton House” line that was inspired by the home where her shop resides. The line is a blend of tobacco, cognac, cherry, butterscotch and sweet vanilla.
“Creating this scent was a fairly easy project, as I sat in my candle bar, which was once the parlour to the home,” Equi writes on Instagram. “Imagining the old furniture and tables with the men sitting together — drink in hand, smoking a cigar or pipe — immediately brought a specific aroma to mind!”
For customers wanting to get creative, Equi offers a candle bar at Gia Bella Designs. Customers can make a reservation to make their own custom candle, which includes picking a jar and scent, melting the wax and blending it all together. “Creating a candle is not as easy as you’d think,” Equi says, noting she almost gave up on her scents multiple times. “It’s really a science.”
It’s only been a few months since relocating her shop to 11 N. Batavia Ave., but she’s already feeling confident in her new space and loving the community.
“It’s been wonderful having new faces pop in,” Equi says. “The customer base is growing, and it feels like more of a home here.
“It’s more a homey, close-knit feeling in Batavia.”