Zen Home and Garden Decor: Bali Comes to Customs Imports

Zen Home and Garden Decor: Bali Comes to Customs Imports

If you find yourself hunting for zen home and garden decor in the Midwest, bear in mind that Bali, indeed, comes to Customs Imports.  Every year, in fact.  2022’s massive container of merchandise from the magical island paradise hit American shores this summer, and arrived at Customs Imports on July 15th.  What exactly is Customs Imports?  This one-of-a-kind shop/boutique/gallery, located in beautiful New Buffalo, Michigan, has been serving the country’s tastemakers and lovers of the exotic for over thirty years, and is truly THE Third Coast’s one-of-a-kind shopping experience.  And what about that merchandise?  These treasures have got to be seen to be believed.  Customs Imports’ tag line says it best: “Strange and Wonderful Things.”

Ok sports fans, let’s get this out of the way right up front.  You’re probably going to feel that what I’m writing here today amounts to a less than objective analysis.  You might even call it biased.  You’re going to think I’m blowing smoke because my better half, Dee Dee Duhn, runs the Customs Imports show.  It would, of course, be natural for you to harbor these thoughts.  After all, my relationship with this retail destination – and its proprietress – falls into a range that is decidedly less than arm’s length.  So, what’s the upshot?  Biased, or not?

I’m going to equivocate.

I’ll start by admitting that, by virtue of the Transitive Property of Equality, a hefty percentage of my personal happiness and well-being depends upon the success of Customs Imports.  When the store is happy, Dee Dee is happy.  When Dee Dee is happy, I’m happy.  You get the picture.  So yeah, it’s in my best interest to shine the brightest possible light on Customs Imports here on The Renaissance Garden Guy.

But familiarity breeds not only bias (or contempt, as the saying goes), in my case, it also provides a dog’s eye view of the workings of an iconic retail establishment, and the near-mythic efforts behind its success.  From Dee Dee’s annual buying pilgrimage to Bali, to the ultimate creation and establishment of one of the most unique and transporting shopping experiences imaginable, and everything in between, I’ve seen it all in total clarity, and in full color.  As a result, I find myself in the perfect position to provide you with an unadulterated commentary on this remarkable store, and its remarkable merchandise.

Zen Home and Garden Decor
Fabulous teak garden bar, handmade in Bali. This piece was crafted from reclaimed Balinese fishing boat planks. In the Customs Imports outdoor display area.

Zen Home and Garden Decor: The Customs Imports Shopping Experience

If you’ve read the piece I wrote last year about this amazing store, you’ll have a fairly good idea of what I’m talking about when I say that a visit to Customs Imports is a transporting experience.  If you’ve actually been to Customs Imports, you’ll know exactly what I mean.  The shop is comparatively small, but beautifully organized.  Separate rooms with names like “The Jungle,” “Buddhafest,” “The Gallery,” and “Southwest Corner” are intimate, without being the least bit cloying.  Fountain waters purl reassuringly, the scents of far away lands fill the air, and the colors, forms, and textures of exotic craftsmanship and artistry greet eager eyes.  When you’re at Customs Imports, you are somewhere else.

The shop also boasts an outdoor display area, and the selection of zen garden furniture is substantial.  Fabulous pieces are displayed beautifully outdoors, in the sort of milieu for which each is intended.

The staff at Customs Imports is friendly and knowledgeable.  Visitors to the shop are constantly surprised and delighted by the level of service and expertise demonstrated by this phenomenal group.  These ladies love helping connect customers and clients with amazing, world class pieces.

To read the piece I wrote last year about Custom Imports, and to learn more about its history, previous locations, etc, please click here.

Customs Imports, New Buffalo, Michigan, USA.
Zen Home and Garden Decor
Customs Imports' relatively small footprint belies the expansive selection of exotic treasures which await within, just beyond its front French doors.
A fabulous acacia zen garden furniture suite, handmade in Bali, is displayed beautifully in The Gallery at Customs Imports.

Customs Imports Goes to Bali: Hunting for the Strange and Wonderful

Customs Imports sells world class merchandise.  And much of that merchandise (a 40′ long container’s worth) comes from Bali, Indonesia.  Furniture, objets d’art, fine art – all created by Balinese artists, artisans, and craftsmen – make up a big part of Customs Imports’ stock in trade.

But how does this stuff get here?  Does Dee Dee browse some catalog and place her orders by phone?

No way.  Every Balinese item that Dee Dee sells is unique in nature.  Paintings, sculpture, furniture – each piece is a one-of-a-kind original.  These pieces need to be inspected, chosen, and  negotiated firsthand.  In person.  So, as she’s done every year for the past thirty years, Dee Dee goes to Bali.

She makes this trip, alone, every winter.  For an entire month, she scours this enormous island for Customs Imports merchandise.  From bustling marketplaces to remote hillside villages to obscure artist studios located in dense, sweltering jungles, the hunt is on.  Each year, the buying trip begins near the island’s southern Indian Ocean shores at Kuta, and radiates outward from there.  She visits one small jungle village after another in search of product.  Her itinerary then dictates a northward route, and she makes her way to Ubud and to the many obscure hillside villages even further north.  In spite of Bali’s legendary topographical beauty, and the kind and welcoming island population, this buying expedition is a challenging and grueling endeavor.  Dee Dee’s trips to Bali are definitely not vacations.

Bali – its faces and places – in the photos below:

The Lipstick Donation

The people living in many of the Balinese hillside and jungle villages are of very modest means.  Per capita income is low, and many consumer products which we here in the West take for granted are either considered luxuries to the Balinese villagers, or are unknown entirely to them.  One such product is lipstick.  The ladies of these remote villages consider lipstick to be the most priceless of luxuries.

Every year, in anticipation of her buying trip, Dee Dee organizes a lipstick donation.  Customers, friends, corporate sponsors, etc, all contribute lipstick.  Lots and lots of lipstick.  Dee Dee rounds it all up and brings it with her to Bali.  She distributes this product to the grateful ladies in village after village along her trade route.  This simple gift is always received with tears of gratitude.  If it weren’t for Dee Dee’s donation efforts, most of these ladies would live their entire lives without ever experiencing this simple pleasure.

This photo from January 2020 shows Dee Dee distributing lipstick to a group of ladies in Kuta. This simple gift is a source of great pride and joy for these ladies. In Bali, lipstick is considered a great luxury.

Bali Comes to Customs Imports: The Cargo Arrives

On July 15th of this year, at 7:30 AM EST, a 40′ long, high cube shipping container filled with Dee Dee’s Balinese bounty arrived at Customs Imports.  The sheer size of such a container, and the implications for its impending unloading, are not fully appreciated until one actually stands in its shadow on the morning of its arrival.  It really is one massive box.  And it is literally stuffed with Balinese zen home and garden furniture and decor.  The cargo contractor to which Dee Dee entrusts the responsibility of packing and delivering the Balinese merchandise is highly skilled in maximizing every square inch of container space.  The amount of furniture, art work, decor, and other fine furnishings that are expertly packed into this massive container is staggering.  The merchandise is packed and fitted with jigsaw puzzle-like precision, and there is literally no space whatsoever to spare within that container when it’s sealed and locked and sent on its transoceanic voyage from Bali to Tacoma, Washington, USA.

Getting the product out of, and off the container (which arrives on a semi tractor trailer) is tricky and time consuming.  As mentioned, the container is packed in incredibly tight fashion.  The individual pieces range in weight from a few ounces to several hundred pounds, and the trucking vendor allows a window of only two hours to unload the container.  It’s always a race against time to get the treasures of Bali off the truck and, at last, onto American soil.  In years past, the job of orchestrating and performing the unloading of these immense shipments has fallen to yours truly.  But this year was different.  As a result of my recent eye surgery, I was absent from the mix.  My involvement this year was limited to assembling my crew of hardworking friends – Carlos, Eric, Zen, and Tony – for the express purpose of executing the off-loading of all of the cargo from the container, and moving the pieces to their respective showroom locations.  This is a remarkable group of guys.  They’re great friends of ours and they’re the hardest workers I know.

“Cargo Day” at Customs Imports is a huge event.  Town officials and employees, owners and staff of neighboring businesses, and of course, residents and tourists all turn out to catch a glimpse of the celebrated Balinese cargo.  The sense of community is wonderful, and interest in the Customs Imports merchandise is greatly appreciated.  But on Cargo Day, the thing for which Dee Dee and I are most grateful is the help we receive from our friends.  Getting the merchandise from Bali unpacked and displayed, and cleaning up packing material, pricing and itemizing product, etc, etc, etc is a massive job.  This year, our dear friends Kevin, Bunny, Jeff, and Janine (and Customs Imports staff members Sophia and Gerri) all pitched in and worked their asses off.  As a result, Cargo Day was a resounding success.

Below are some highlights from Cargo Day 2022 at Customs Imports.

Customs Imports' Zen Home and Garden Decor : The Treasures of Bali, 2022

When it comes to zen home and garden decor, Customs Imports is all about giving customers what they want.  One-of-a-kind beauty, handmade quality, versatility, and an undeniable WOW factor – the imported treasures of Bali satisfy on each and every count.  And those treasures are here, beneath the lights of the Customs Imports showroom floor, and under the sun and moon and stars in Customs Imports’ outdoor display area: the artistry, essence, and magic of Bali, here on American soil, courtesy of Customs Imports.

Judging by the above photos, it’s clear that as of July 15th this summer, Bali has most definitely arrived at Customs Imports.  The strange and wonderful are indeed on display.  But make no mistake, while the Balinese zen home and garden cargo accounts for much of Customs Imports’ remarkable inventory, there are treasures here from other parts of the world, as well.  Items such as clothing, candles, crystals, incense, furniture, fine art, pottery, textiles, and much, much more make their way to Customs Imports from India, Mexico, and the American Southwest (and other parts of the USA, too).  Customs Imports truly represents a little “world marketplace.”  The treasure trove of merchandise on display here is as diverse as it is strange and wonderful.

Visit Dee Dee and her wonderful staff at Customs Imports at 139 N. Whittaker Street, New Buffalo, MI  49117, or call them at (269) 469-9180.  Click here to visit the Customs Imports website, and like and follow Customs Imports on Facebook and Instagram.

And if you do drop in for a visit, tell ’em The Renaissance Garden Guy sent you.

Cheers, and Happy Gardening!

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8 thoughts on “Zen Home and Garden Decor: Bali Comes to Customs Imports”

  1. Beautiful story, you captured all the essence ,
    Very nice, unique pieces that enhances the decors of home and garden….. beautiful images
    Thank you for sharing this place🙏🌺😊

    1. Thank you, Roxxy. I’m so glad you enjoyed the article. It really is an amazing store. Alot of work goes into it, but the result really is wonderful. I think you’d really love it there. Thanks again, Roxxy!

  2. Impressive success story of a hard working woman to establish and maintain such a unique and special business.

    1. Thank you for reading her story, Rick. You’re absolutely right on all counts. Dee Dee’s enterprise is truly remarkable, as are all of her efforts behind its success. Thanks once again!

  3. I have seen the remarkable items that Dee Dee found in Bali. There is no way to describe them. If you want to find truly unique items you absolutely have to visit Custom Imports and experience them for yourself. You will be glad you took the time to check things out!

    1. Thank you for reading the piece, Kevin. And thank you for your kind praise of Customs Imports. I must admit that it’s definitely justified. Thanks again!

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