Destination Antiques: Sharing Sourcing Secrets
By Gianna Volpe; photography by Gianna Volpe
Getting an antique dealer to reveal the sources of their store’s stock is like handing a map to a pirate with nearby buried treasure and politely asking where X marks the spot.
Ask writer Maureen Stanton – though she spent six years peeling back the reality TV curtain to reveal the antique world’s competitive inner workings in her book, “Killer Stuff and Tons of Money” she still had to change the names of some sources to truly get the scoop.
Successful dealers like the aesthetically-eyed Randy Kolhoff of Black Swan Antiques in Sag Harbor already need to synthesize traits of reporters, historians, poker players and painters when shopping for authentic, desirable pieces to offer customers at a competitive price.
Why add “aggressive roller derby jammer” to the list?
“We’re only as good as our sources,” Mr. Kolhoff said when asked why antique dealers keep their sources close to the vest.
“Let’s say I’m in Indiana and I’m standing shoulder-to-shoulder with someone who buys for a store in LA. I don’t want to be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with someone who has a shop in my town…There’s only so much stuff out there. You want to limit access as much as you can to get dibs on what you want. When I’m at an auction in the middle of the country and don’t see a lot of East Coast buyers, I can get a much more fair price.”
Nobody knows the steep cost of owning history better than Chris Mead of English Country Antiques. Mr. Mead regularly travels overseas to his native England — and throughout Europe — to source those antique items offered alongside the reproductions and contemporary home furnishings at his Bridgehampton and Southampton showrooms, including thousands of lamps, lights and chandeliers.
“People often say they want the real thing, but many are not able or willing to pay the price,” Mr. Mead said of furnishing space with authentic antiques. The penthouse in Sag Harbor’s luxurious 64-unit condominium community, Watchcase, will ultimately be furnished by English Country Antiques.
“[Authentic antiques] are harder to find because there are obviously less of them and there are more people out there looking for original and unusual things,” said Mr. Mead’s fiancée, Zoe Hoare. “So they’re harder to source, more expensive to bring back and sometimes there’s also restoration involved.”
Restoration has long been a key element in antiques resale, but what’s big, bad and brand new is the art of reclaiming them. Creating new furniture, accessories or even fabricating entire spaces from old materials has become so popular these days that just about every antique shop owner is doing it.
“Nobody is strictly antiques anymore,” said Mr. Mead. And he’s not far off the mark. Nearly all the sources used for this story have a hand in the reclaim trade. Dan McAllister of Laurel’s “In the Attic Too” began building birdhouses from reclaimed materials 10 years ago, but Mr. McAllister said five years ago he kicked it up a notch by going ‘full swing’ into the architectural salvage game. According to him, there is a continuing trend—initially fueled by the downed economy—to buy reclaimed over new furniture. It’s also a more sustainable product in that it is recycled material.
“People are looking at something that might have cost two or three thousand dollars 30 years ago and instead of then buying a new item for $3,000, they’re going and buying [restored or reclaimed pieces] that are well-built and still in beautiful condition, for $400 to $600,” he said. “People realize they can not only save money and get quality, but save these items from going to the dumps.”
Reclaim artists like John Mazur of Jamesport’s Material Objects are even outfitting entire commercial spaces with salvage – skillfully applying old factory machines and other architectural elements into design builds.
For example, Mazur & Co. installed nearly all the antique elements found within Riverhead’s bowling alley and entertainment complex, The All Star, including old industrial windows, antique barn door strap hinges and vintage theater lighting.
According to Mr. Mazur, design-build jobs like these often begin when an architect, designer or interior decorator sparks a conversation over one of the unusual pieces on display at Material Objects, which will soon expand to a second location on Sound Avenue.
“I pick the whole East Coast,” Mr. Mazur said of the sources for his unusual finds, which include an airplane shell from Connecticut, which sits invitingly on the front lawn of Material Objects.
“I do a lot of buying in Maine, bring a lot of wood and material items from the Tennessee area and get a lot of architectural salvage out of the tri-state area and from factories littered throughout Ohio and Pennsylvania,” he said. “It depends on what I’m purchasing. I also shop all the trade circuit shows from Brimfield to Atlanta to Texas.”
Though Mr. Mazur does locally source some of his supply at Material Objects, Mr. Kolhoff is far less likely to do the same at Black Swan, though his Sag Harbor showroom currently features an enormous sign advertising Knickerbocker beer, a defunct New York state beer manufacturer that was prominent in the early 20th Century. In the summer, Mr. Kolhoff takes trips throughout the country to refresh his showrooms.
In fact, at interview time he had just returned from driving through five surrounding states to shop stock for a showroom that had been full of new items only two weeks prior. Mr Kolhoff said this “Buy Un-local” approach to selling antiques has been successful in setting Black Swan’s look apart from its competitors.
“I try to stay away from the local markets — the only reason being that I see a lot of similar style on the East [Coast],” said Mr. Kolhoff. “I get a lot of my stuff from the South and the Midwest… You don’t see this kind of collection anywhere else and that’s because I don’t buy locally. I don’t do the yard sales and I don’t deal with a lot of the local people because I see the same recycled styles and I have procured for myself a style that is a bit more cutting edge.”
Though pickers won’t likely run into Mr. Kolhoff as they round local tag sales this summer, they may see local treasure hunters like Bill Zucconi and Nancy McCarthy, who run their shops side-by-side on Main Road in Jamesport. For folks like these, picking is a passion and doing so on Long Island is the bread and butter of their businesses.
Aside from garage sales and trade shows, Mr. Zucconi, a Southampton-based electrical contractor, primarily picks from the private residences of those Long Islanders who — to put it gently — have a lot of stuff.
“They’re happy to have the space and be rid of the clutter and I just love the adventure because you never know what gold you’re going to find,” Mr. Zucconi said of his passion for the hunt. “And I mean that – literally – I’ve found gold.”
He said most antique dealers begin as collectors, something that seems to ring true for the owner of the adjoining antique shop directly east of Duffy’s Deli in Jamesport, local treasure hunter and long-time journalist Nancy McCarthy.
“My son likes to say I’ve never met a lamp I didn’t like,” she said with a grin.