Everything Old Is New

May 19, 2016

A vibrant design scene anchored by antiques galleries has turned a tiny part of Fairfield County into a mecca for lovers of timeless design.

Text by Regina Cole

The party at Stamford’s Antique and Artisan Gallery is a glittering affair attended by notable and beautiful people and photographed by artists and paparazzi. Designers air-kiss magazine editors, champagne flows, and bonhomie prevails. The setting is enchanting, composed of the carefully curated antiques and decorative objects that gallery owner Mari Ann Maher displays in a 22,000-square-foot former warehouse on Jefferson Street.
Hers is one of the antiques and design businesses that have transformed this part of Fairfield County. “It all started eighteen years ago, when two gentlemen bought this building to launch a multi-dealer antiques mall,” Maher explains. “It was a seedy, unsafe, old industrial area at the time, but they had vision.”

Maher, who had worked with the venerable New York, Washington, D.C., Florida, and Chicago antiques firm John Rosselli, bought the business with partner Bruce Wylie eight years ago. “We have developed it,” she says. “We have fabric, we offer upholstery services, we have our own trucking capabilities, and we offer in-house design services. We have sixty dealers renting space, with things that run the gamut from seventeenth-century Belgian furniture to midcentury modern.”

“Jefferson Street is having a renaissance,” says Greenwich interior designer Catherine Cleare. She lists some of her favorite antiquing destinations, which include Harbor View Center for Antiques and Hiden Galleries. “It doesn’t matter what style you’re looking for, there are so many dealers that it’s there somewhere.”

New York interior designer Michael Whaley lauds this renaissance. “There is still a scattering of dealers in Westport, and there used to be a lot in Greenwich, but this is really where it’s happening now,” he says. “A one-mile area on the South Side of Stamford has the country’s largest con centration of antiques dealers. In four or five centers on the south side of the tracks, there is a huge collection of dealers. Each center has its own personality.”

The burgeoning antiques scene has brought other design businesses to the area, including Stark Carpets, Design Within Reach, and Lee Jofa. The abandoned industrial warehouses of Stamford and Norwalk have proved a boon to space-hungry businesses priced out of the overheated New York and Boston real estate markets. “Some have showroom areas that are open to the public, some are to the trade,” says Linda Ruderman, a Greenwich interior designer. “All are located in old warehouses.”

Location, location, location doesn’t just apply to selling real estate, it seems. “We are in close proximity to both New York and Boston, where there are fewer and fewer antiques shops,” says Geoffrey Walsky, owner of the Fairfield County Antique and Design Center, located in a 20,000-square-foot 1950s warehouse in Norwalk. “We represent seventy dealers, and we also have a contemporary art gallery, so we are a serious resource for dealers and designers.”

Like Maher, his Stamford counterpart, Walsky offers design resources that include draperies and upholstery services. And, like antiques dealers everywhere today, he makes smart use of online outlets. “Online is a major part of our business,” Walsky says. “We really make use of our own website, and we are on 1stdibs and others.”

Still, he notes, “It’s fun to watch people coming into our building. Even if you didn’t think you liked antiques, you will find something that catches your eye!”

Cleare credits magazines for showing homeowners how to put the old with the new. “You can only have so much new stuff; it gets tiresome and soulless without the mix,” she says. “We need the proportions and the scale of fabulous old pieces. A pretty line is a pretty line.”
To keep eye-catching vignettes fresh and sparkling, Walsky and Maher treat their spaces like showrooms that bear no resemblance to the musty, jumbled antiques shops of yore.

“Mari Ann has a fabulous sense of style,” Whaley says of Maher. “Every couple of weeks, the place looks completely different.”
“It’s a lifestyle,” Maher attests. “We do this seven days a week, and are constantly moving and decorating.”

This activity is also prompted by the speed with which antiques are selling. “Midcentury modern was all anyone cared about, but now that is shifting,” Whaley says. “People are rediscovering antiques. Now, if you see something you want, you’d better grab it, because it won’t be around for long.” •

HAPPY HUNTING
Hundreds of antiques dealers sell their wares in various galleries along the southern end of Fairfield County. Those hunting for something unique are sure to find it somewhere between Bridgeport and Stamford. Here is a short list of highly recommended sites.

The Fairfield County Antique & Design Center represents more than seventy dealers, functions as a conduit to design services, and also features a contemporary art gallery curated by owner Geoffrey Walsky. 19 Willard Rd., Norwalk, (203) 826-8575, fairfieldantiqueanddesign.com

The Antique & Artisan Gallery houses the wares of sixty dealers in a showroom that New York designer
Michael Whaley calls “very chic.” Director Mari Ann Maher prides herself on her displays. 69 Jefferson St., Stamford, (203) 327-6022, theantiqueandartisangallery.com

Cheryl Hiden of Hiden Galleries likes a little bit of everything, from jewelry to midcentury modern design. Accessible and wide-ranging, the showroom also provides design services. 47 John St., Stamford, (203) 363-0003, hidengalleries.com

The Harbor View Center for Antiques is a particular favorite of area designers Catherine Cleare and Linda Ruderman. Described as “very upscale,” with almost fifty dealers offering the best of traditional antiques, this is heaven for browsers. 101 Jefferson St., Stamford, (203) 325-8070, harborviewantiques.com

United House Wrecking Company started as a demolition business in 1954; today, it offers a dizzying array of house parts, garden elements, and a wide selection of new furniture. 535 Hope St., Stamford, (203) 348-5371, unitedhousewrecking.com