- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 24, 2005

The idea was hatched on the beach at Fenwick Island, Del., three summers ago.

Meg Carter’s son Teddy, then 7, brought home a hermit crab. When the crab vacated its shell for a new home, Mrs. Carter — a stylish blonde with a love for design — couldn’t bear to throw it away.

“It was just so beautiful,” she says. “I looked at it and thought I should make something with it.”

With the help of her father and his ship-modeling tools, she drilled two tiny holes on each side, attached some beads, and voila, instant beach-chic choker.

The first time she wore it, friends asked if they could have one. So she made a green one, then a blue one.

“I went to these small shell stores at the beach and found a bunch of shells I liked,” she says

Then she went to Maine, and everyone who saw the unusual chunky necklace wanted one. Armed with a dozen pieces, she attended an arts and crafts show and “sold everything I had.”

A small boutique in Kennebunkport was the first retail outlet to carry her handmade designs, which now include earrings and bracelets decorated with freshwater pearls and exotic etched agate from Tibet. The pieces are priced from $65 to $200 and can add an instant dash of fashion to a little black dress or T-shirt and jeans.

“I think the pieces make people feel good,” she says, “and that’s what I love about it.”

Mrs. Carter, 40, grew up in New Jersey and majored in economics and math at Dartmouth College. She worked in commercial real estate, then got a master’s degree in business administration at Northwestern University. She quit her job with Arthur Andersen when her first son, Teddy, was born in 1995, and never looked back. (She also has a younger son, Garrison, 7, and a good-natured and highly supportive husband, Ned.)

What started as a part-time hobby soon became a business. Working around the clock at her dining room table in Old Town Alexandria, Mrs. Carter made enough jewelry to officially start her business, Meg Carter Designs, by Christmas 2003.

“Every time I wear these,” says Melanie Howard, pointing to her pair of crystal-and-aquamarine drop earrings, “someone comes up and asks me where I got them.”

Mrs. Howard was just one of dozens of Meg Carter enthusiasts who showed up at the Old Town boutique Hysteria recently for a trunk show of new jewelry.

Wearing one of her own striking necklaces, Mrs. Carter pointed out the different shells and stones and said she starts with the color of the shell and works from there.

“Some people think I paint them, but I don’t. They are all natural,” she said.

She ends up tossing many of the shells because they are simply too big or unworkable. It’s a time-consuming process, but Mrs. Carter has a definite eye for what works.

She has been featured in Women’s Wear Daily and InStyle magazine, and her fans include first lady Laura Bush (who owns a white shell and pearl necklace), “Today” anchor Katie Couric (who has worn Mrs. Carter’s coral necklace on the air), the first lady’s chief of staff, Anita McBride, and Mrs. Bush’s sister-in-law, actress Margaret Bush, who owns “more than I can count now,” Mrs. Carter says.

Her designs also were featured in a collection at the National Gallery of Art and are sold in exclusive boutiques from the Bahamas to Nantucket, Mass. Locally they are available at Tickled Pink in Bethesda, Sherman Pickey in Georgetown, Hysteria, and Ann Bateman Ltd. in Rehoboth Beach, Del. Mrs. Carter also has a thriving Web site (megcarterdesigns.com).

The styles all have exotic beach names (“Antibes,” “Fortunes Rocks”), and one earring design is referred to as the “Courtney” in honor of Hysteria’s young owner, Courtney Reynolds, who was one of Mrs. Carter’s earliest supporters.

“She’s always trying to get me to be more fashion forward,” Mrs. Carter says with a laugh. In deference to the longer-length necklace currently in vogue, she has designed beaded ropes that can be worn long or wrapped around the neck like a choker.

Mrs. Carter, a lover of surf and sand, wants her customers to love the evocative sea treasures as much as she does.

“I’m very lucky that the line is carried in lots of wonderful places, like Bermuda and Cornwall,” England, she says, arranging a necklace on the table. “My hope is that a woman will return home from a special trip with one of my pieces in her bag. Hopefully, it will be a reminder of a place by the sea.”

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