Antiquing in Westchester
How to hunt for that next amazing find right in your own backyard.
It’s Saturday morning and here you are poking around in someone else’s garage searching for that overlooked Picasso masterpiece or at least a bud vase for the curio cabinet. Inspired by the taste of Martha Stewart and the promise of Antiques Roadshow, millions of otherwise sane Americans spend at least part of their weekends antiquing. And while the pride may be in the trophy, the thrill is in the hunt. Fortunately for you, Westchester provides plenty of good hunting if only you know where—and how—to look.
What makes an antique an antique? Antiques generally are defined as items 100 years old or older. Anything newer is referred to as “vintage” or “collectible.” The Westchester Library System as well as bookstores such as Borders and Barnes & Noble feature a wide assortment of books to help the would-be collector learn what to look for.
Antiques shows are a great place to do research and have fun. The leading show in this area is the Winter Antiques Show at the Park Avenue Armory which will be held this year on January 23 until February 1 in New York City. This show is an annual event and is close enough to Westchester to make a day of it. Dealers here are usually “vetted” (i.e., chosen by a committee) to guarantee the superior quality that the show has come to represent. If you’re new to antiquing, don’t be intimidated. Though most of these antiques are unaffordable to anyone but the most well-heeled collectors, you can still appreciate the real thing up close and personal.
Closer to home, Westchester hosts several antiques shows throughout the year. Promoter Martin Greenstein, owner of The Last Detail Antiques Shows, Ltd., is responsible for several of the best shows the county has to offer. His presentations are a well-balanced blend of the finest antiques and collectibles along with more affordable offerings, so bring your checkbook. Greenstein is particular about the dealers he chooses, basing his selections on the pride dealers take in their presentation. The White Plains Winter Antiques Show will be held at White Plains High School on January 10 and 11. Later this year, look for the Armonk Antiques Show to be held April 18 and 19 at the Byram Hills High School.
The Weekend Sales
Weekend sales come in several varieties. Garage sales and yard sales occasionally yield a surprise, if you know what to look for, but usually the offerings tend toward the practical.
Then there are tag sales. Sometimes professionally managed, they often are held when someone is moving and needs to clear out a house. Most professional tag sales are well organized with everything laid out and priced. (Hint for treasure hunters: don’t be shy about looking downstairs, back in the dark recesses of the cellar, where things got thrown decades ago and have long been forgotten. Dirt is not your enemy, but a chip or a crack is.)
And finally, there are estate sales. These are usually at multi-million dollar homes in which the owners have passed away and the heirs want to liquidate the estate. They’re especially fun if for no other reason than to see how the other half lives.
Ann Marie Gordon and her partner, Hesta Fortgang, owners of Tag-Along Estate Sales in White Plains (914-698-7779), have been heading tag and estate sales for 32 years. “Be open to falling in love,” Gordon says, when something pleases your sense of taste. She also warns there are less and less really good quality antiques on the market so people who are looking for quality should be prepared to pay a premium for them. Most in demand at these sales are estate jewelry, sets of sterling-silver flatware, Baccarat glassware, porcelains, linens, and fine art.
Though Westchester’s only flea market is limited to Sundays from May through November in Peekskill, there are several others only a short drive away. The Elephant’s Trunk Country Flea Market on Route 7 in New Milford, Connecticut, has been in business since 1976. It’s open from April through November and claims about 50 percent of its dealers offer antiques and collectibles. You can find out more including dates and directions at etflea.com.
Open 11 times between April and November on the runways of a country airport just off Route 216 in Dutchess County, The Stormville Airport Antique Show & Flea Market may be one of the most unique and largest flea markets in New England. And although, like the Elephant’s Trunk, the fare is not strictly antiques, there are enough antiques dealers to make the trip worthwhile. For directions check out stormvilleairportfleamarket.com. And get there early as the parking lots (there are several) tend to fill up fast.
Westchester’s only auction house is hidden away at the end of North Avenue, a narrow street in Larchmont. Clarke Auction Gallery, which began business in 1998 as C&C Auctions, offers an average of 16 auctions a year, all run by veteran auctioneer Ronan Clarke. Each auction provides a mix of everything from furniture and art to jewelry and collectibles. The auctions take place on Monday evenings at 6 pm and usually run until 10:30 pm—or later.
Tom Curran, art specialist with Clarke Galleries, compares auctions to live theater. Just don’t lose your head. There’s nothing worse than waking up the next morning regretting that chipped urn you bought on a whim for $150 the night before. Curran suggests that the novice sit through an auction first to get the hang of it. Then check out the catalog online (ccauctiongallery.com) and read the terms and conditions carefully. The gallery offers three full days of previews—Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 6 pm and the day of the auction from 2 to 6 pm. Everything is sold as is; so once you buy it, it’s yours.
Thrift shops are often a great source for furnishings, vintage clothing, and collectibles. Most of these shops are charities that serve local hospitals or animal shelters so you can feel good about yourself and find a bargain in the process. The Salvation Army also has thrift stores in Peekskill, New Rochelle, Port Chester, and Yonkers, while Goodwill has thrift stores in Yonkers, Croton-on-Hudson, and Elmsford. Because Westchester is home to so many wealthy families, items donated to these little charities are often a terrific value. Antiques dealers regularly haunt these shops because the inventory is continuously being updated and the offerings are priced to move. Favorites are Treasures Thrift Shop in the basement of St. Stephens Episcopal Church in Armonk, which just celebrated 40 years in business, Opportunity Shop in Chappaqua, the Penny Pincher Boutique in Bedford Hills, and Antiques & Consignments Shop on the Square in Tuckahoe.
According to the Yellow Pages, there are about 90 antiques stores here in Westchester. Almost every town has at least one or two. Larchmont has, by far, the most followed by Tarrytown, Mount Kisco, Yonkers, Mamaroneck, Pound Ridge, and Rye. Among the standouts are Crown House Antiques in Chappaqua, The Yellow Monkey in Cross River, and Antiques & Tools of Business & Kitchen in Pound Ridge.
Antiques stores are made for browsing, and no two stores are alike. In Tarrytown, for instance, Carol Master on the south side of Main Street is a cavernous building with six or seven dealers, while MS Antiques, across the street, is small and exclusive. Both stores are frequented by decorators and other antique dealers and feature 19th- and 20th-century furniture and art, although MS Antiques specializes in mainly European antiques.
A note of caution: antiques stores occasionally go out of business or move, and new ones spring up, so if you have a particular store in mind you might want to call ahead to get their hours of operation.
Although it doesn’t qualify as “antique” yet, the beautiful simplicity and functionality of mid-20th century design creates a wonderful living space. Perhaps that’s why the hot style in home furnishings today is what designers call “mid-century modern.”
Tom Curran of Clarke Galleries says the market for mid-century furnishings and furniture has been driven by the 30- to 40-year-old set for the past 10 years. That’s a long time for any style to remain popular, but the trend shows no signs of slowing yet. Auction houses like Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Doyle’s are setting records every month for the best designers—names like Eames, Nelson, Noguchi, and Mies van der Rohe. On October 8, 2008, Doyle’s semiannual Doyle+Design Auction sold six dining chairs, walnut with leather upholstery, by the late French designer Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann for a whopping $62,500. That comes to a little over $10,416 per chair
For admirers of mid-century modern who can’t afford such prices, several stores in Westchester specialize in this style. Joe Hill, owner of Apartment 28 on Main Street in Tarrytown, is gambling that the trend will continue. “Furnishing a home is like putting a puzzle together. You come to us for the corner pieces,” he says. Hill describes his store as quirky. “We’re offering objects that create focal points; that represent the owner’s personality.”
Richard. R. Binkele is a former Wall Street executive who left the world of finance to pursue a passion for antiques and freelance writing. He currently lives in Katonah.