Antiques hunting is their big game
A small town’s dealers know all the right stuff
WOODBURY, Conn. — Truth be told, it helps to have deep pockets to shop in this self-proclaimed antiques capital. More than two dozen dealers line Route 6 in the tony Litchfield Hills village, and they’re not peddling the Taxco silver jewelry, 1950s tableware, or art pottery that might suit our budget. Many sell investment-quality antiques out of capacious Colonial- and Federal-era homes or the historic barns out back. What makes them interesting, even for unlikely buyers like us, is that they are showcasing a lifestyle as much as selling furniture. The idyll seems all the better in the fall, framed by the foliage of ancient maples.
Mill House Antiques established Woodbury in the trade back in 1964 when it opened in a 17th-century grist mill four miles north of the village. Its restored antique buildings and charmingly overgrown country garden feel like an antiques theme park.
Mill House clings to Woodbury’s roots as an Anglophilic enclave. Its extensive showrooms are filled with English, Welsh, and Scottish furniture “with a smattering of French,’’ clerk Kerry Lawton says. Mostly dating from the 18th and 19th centuries, the substantial pieces of furniture represent Queen Anne, Hepplewhite, Chippendale, and Sheraton styles. Since the supply of antiques is dwindling, Mill House also commissions reproductions from British craftsmen using British woods.
Just as antiques convey a sense of history, the Woodbury dealers often have interesting tales. Monique Shay of Monique Shay Antiques is acknowledged for inventing an entire genre of decorator antiques. Born in Normandy, Shay “came here, got married, and had seven children,’’ explains her daughter, also named Monique. “Mom always wanted antiques but couldn’t afford them. Someone said, ‘Go to Canada — they’re burning the stuff.’ ’’ In short order she discovered French-Canadian painted country furniture, which she augments with accessories from France and Quebecois folk art.
The pine and maple furniture is both colorful and functional. Many decorators buy large pieces to create kitchen islands and counters. And the simple lines also go well with contemporary design. Monique Shay Junior (as she calls herself) has several pieces from the sprawling red barn that holds the shop. “They’re next to things I’ve found at flea markets,’’ she says. “My home is Early Miscellaneous.’’
Country Loft Antiques also fills a large red barn — the second barn that designer and antiques seller Carole Winer-Sorensen has restored since 1984. She’s converting the 1706 farmhouse on the property into a B&B that she hopes to open late this fall. An unabashed Francophile, Winer-Sorensen concentrates on 18th- and 19th-century French pieces, which she displays in room-like tableaux. Apparently many people share her passion. “This is a tiny little town,’’ she says, “but people come from all over the world.’’
Winer-Sorenson’s love for all things French extends to wine and she carries many items related to the industry, from wine barrels to storage racks to vineyard tools. A wine cellar built into the base of the barn’s silo should soon open to the public. We can imagine antiques hunters repairing there at the end of a buying day to contemplate just how much they have spent.
What Winer-Sorensen does with indoor settings, Tracey Young of the Elemental Garden does with outdoor displays. Her “antique gardenalia’’ from France and England may include a few gardeners’ tools and small busts, but she jokes that “my idea of a ‘small’ is something under 100 pounds.’’ In fact, partner Dennis Kaylor calls himself “Sisyphus Movers.’’ They search out all the pieces themselves and “we don’t always clean them,’’ Young says, pointing out the “really good English cobwebs’’ in a garden lantern. Young is crazy about a pair of late-19th-century terra cotta griffins from France, but we were most charmed by the original 1950s aluminum flamingo on iron legs.
With cold weather on the horizon, many antiques hunters might be in the market for the fireplace tools that are a specialty of Tucker Frey’s eponymous shop. Frey deals primarily in 18th- and 19th-century New England furniture, paintings, and rugs. He and his wife began collecting when they were in college and now live in a 1729 home with the same kind of antiques that Frey has been selling in Woodbury for 30 years. But even buyers who did not start young can still get into the market. “It’s a great time to buy now,’’ he says. “There’s been a serious correction in prices.’’
That “correction’’ has taken its toll on Woodbury dealers. Several shops are posted with “closed’’ and “for sale’’ signs. But the downturn is also bringing in new blood. “We’ve always wanted to live here,’’ says Meg Kocian DePasqua, who opened Kocian DePasqua American Antiques with her husband, Frank, last fall. “In fact, we had our eye on this house, which had been an antiques shop since the 1960s.’’ Carving out their own niche in the Woodbury antiques community, they have antique samplers, trade signs, weather vanes, and folk art mingled with furniture. In their living quarters, she says, she and her husband readily mix antiques with modern and contemporary furniture. “They seem to go together really well.’’
That wouldn’t surprise George Champion, proprietor of the George Champion Modern Shop. He admits to “going against the grain’’ of the Woodbury dealers by featuring furniture created from 1950 to the present. He casts a broad net, featuring French, Italian, American, and Scandinavian Modern pieces that he assembles in domestic scenes that evoke the experience of sitting around on a Danish Modern couch reading Architectural Digest by the light of an arching Italian lamp. Most of his clients, he says, mix Modern with antique furnishings, and Champion himself decorates his Victorian-era farmhouse with both Modern pieces and American Shaker furniture.
“I tell people to buy what they like,’’ he says. “I think all good things look good together.’’
Patricia Harris and David Lyon can be reached at email@example.com.