The Thrill of the HUNT

Editor’s note: This article is also featured in our print magazine “Out & About with The Berkshire Edge”. This magazine is a seasonal guide, available for free at high traffic locations throughout Berkshire County and in contiguous counties of New York, Connecticut and Vermont. To see a digital flip book version of the current issue, click here. To see all past issues, still full of valuable information, click here.

For addresses, phone numbers and web sites for the shops mentioned in this article, click here.

 

What’s old is, apparently, brand new again—at least for the time-honored tradition of scouring antique shops, estate sales, and flea markets in search of vintage goods. These days, an entirely new breed of hunters and gatherers has discovered an appreciation for patina—and is making the Berkshires its stomping ground.

 

On a steamy June afternoon, a pair of twenty-something women comb through a box of CDs in the entrance to Saddleback Antiques, on a bucolic stretch of Route 7 approaching Williamstown. Mind you, this handsome, esteemed shop is prized for its Civil War pieces (such as a powder horn belonging to Revolutionary War hero Ethan Allen) and folk art, plus furniture, stoneware, farm tools, and first-edition books along the lines of Huckleberry Finn. So finding CDs was an unexpected bonus. 

Saddleback Antiques in Williamstown. Photo by Evelyn Battaglia

“My family arrived in southern Williamstown in 1874 on a horse-drawn wagon and I grew up on the original farm,” says owner Daniel Rhodes, who opened the shop some 30 years ago—and enjoys regaling customers with historical anecdotes. “Greylock was once known as Saddleback Mountain because from a certain vantage point it resembled a horse with a saddle. I have a bunch of postcards of Saddleback from the 1800s.”

Later the same day, it’s near closing time at Mix on Main, on Route 7 in Sheffield, but Andre Gordon—who owns the shop with husband Harvey Wiener—encourages customers to linger. “I live five minutes away and I don’t have to cook dinner tonight.” Jazz is a fitting soundtrack for the delightful mash-up of 19th- and 20th-century furniture and artwork, run through with pops of color. (Fans of Mrs. Maisel take note: Some of the stylish show’s midcentury modern pieces came from this very place.)

Explaining “we like to read and drink,” he says the shop is known for its barware—including a cool set of 50s highball glasses—as well as lamps (to read by). “Harvey has a knack for picking the perfect shade.” 

Gordon is especially fond of Primitives right now, pointing to a storage piece “that would be a great bar—you could store your olives in the little drawers, your drink tools here, and a giant ice bucket down below.” 

Pricing to sell is a key part of the couple’s strategy: “We are more about volume than getting top dollar and having items sit around,” Gordon says. “That way we get to do the fun thing, which is to go on safari for new merchandise.” 

Such are the unique encounters with proprietors in the Berkshires, who are happy to share their passions with passersby and long-time clientele alike. 

Saarinen tulip chairs at Circa in Pittsfield. Photo courtesy Circa

UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL

Tired of flat-pack boxes arriving on their doorstep, people are once again relishing the relational aspect of shopping—and looking for items with a pedigree. “It might be more convenient to buy online and have it land on your door, but you’re missing out on a unique experience—and the vendor’s expertise,” says Maxine Carter-Lome, publisher of Sturbridge-based The Journal of Antiques & Collectibles and member of the Southern Berkshires Chamber of Commerce “It’s very inspirational to get out there and touch the items. You are going to meet people who know things that you don’t. They can tell you its provenance and how it was meant to be used.”

An avid collector herself, Carter-Lome purchased, in 1988, The Weathervane Inn on Route 23 in Egremont to—she explains, half-jokingly—house her own massive collection. (After two decades she sold the property to the current owners of what is now The Egremont Village Inn.)

In that heyday, visitors flocked to the Berkshires to explore the potpourri of shops that dotted the landscape. You could easily spend a day or weekend winding your way along Route 7—known as the “antiques corridor.” Over time, however, a number of shops on that main thoroughfare faded away, with many shutting their doors and/or moving their business online to stay afloat.  

Now that we are in a “newly domestic era” (sayeth The New York Times), with people spending more time at—and more money on—their homes, antiques are once again on the decorating radar.

“The pandemic was a huge opportunity for empty nesters to clean house and maybe downsize, so once-private collections have flooded the market,” Carter-Lome says. “A lot of inventory is priced to sell, so it’s a good time to start collecting.”

Old Soul at Jim’s Garage in North Canaan, Conn. Photo courtesy Old Soul at Jim’s Garage

What’s more, “Now that shipping costs have skyrocketed, I’m seeing a resurgence in brick-and-mortar shops and people doing it the old-fashioned way,” says Gary Leveille, 25-year archivist for the Great Barrington Historical Society and 45-year collector of local ephemera—postcards, souvenirs, photographs, maps, and other artifacts. (He is also author of the “Then & Now” column for The Berkshire Edge and several books on the history of the region.) “Plus, it’s fun to get out there and get exercise instead of sitting at a computer.”

A fresh crowd has settled in the Berkshires, which is also attracting a different generation of tourists. (Tanglewood’s “Popular Artist” concerts were already drawing them here too, well before COVID.) And from all reports, these newcomers have jumped on the vintage bandwagon, whether buying for themselves or looking for gifts. 

“Younger people are liking older things and not so matchy-match, which we find encouraging,” Wiener says. “Quite frankly they represent a whole new market for us. This new demographic is also embracing more than the usual midcentury modern. “

TOGETHER TIME 

For families with children, antiquing—or better yet, “we’re going on a treasure hunt!”—is a screen-free pastime, and you never know what might spark their curiosity.

“I started antiquing with my mom when I was just a kid and I’ve been doing it ever since,” recalls Solange Boucher, who recently graduated with a degree in history from Smith College and plans to pursue a master’s degree in library science. (Yes, she sees the connection.)

What hooked her was coming across a circa-1913 math textbook when she was 10 years old. “Something compelled me to open it up and I discovered it was from the local public school in the middle of nowhere Vermont, and I thought about how for 100 years or more students have been learning math and not enjoying it,” she says, laughing. Since then she has collected more than 75 historic textbooks and other volumes, which she enjoys flipping through (“the pages are soft like fleece”). She even got some of her college friends to tag along to her favorite haunt—The Vintage Cellar East in Easthampton (now rebranding as Keystone Vintage Market).

Lest you fret about having kiddos in tow: “I love it when children come in here,” Rhodes says. “My grandmother used to pull me out of places by my ankles. She never knew what I was searching for and neither did I, but I just had to search.” Granted, not every place will be so hospitable, and it’s up to you to keep little hands from touching (and potentially breaking) everything, but you can always ask before entering. 

Besides, these kids just might grow up to be future collectors. “Memory connections are a huge part of attracting younger buyers, who may see something that reminds them of their grandparents or parents,” Carter-Lome says.  

Rob’s Records in Great Barrington. Photo by Evelyn Battaglia

CONSCIENTIOUS SHOPPING

Vintage may be all the rage, but for different reasons than in the past. For starters, buying old satisfies the three R’s of today’s sustainability ethos—repurpose, recycle, reuse. Indeed, Carter-Lome sees “upcycling” as resonating more with younger generations than a fuddy-duddy word like antiques. (Boucher is a holdout but admits to being proudly old-fashioned.) 

The 50-and-under set has caught onto the fact that these are investment pieces and not “just” decorative items. Hence, they may be willing to spend money on premium furniture or artwork that gains even more value over time. And the rise in home entertaining has people longing to elevate their basic white dishes and tumblers. By all accounts, barware is the bee’s knees. 

“These new buyers are not just buying an object, they’re going for an experience,” Carter-Lome says. That’s fitting for the “experience generation,” which routinely shunned registering for china and crystal in favor of receiving more practical, everyday items as wedding gifts—and spending the real money on travel or other things like state-of-the-art road bikes or kayaks. 

Certainly, exploring independent shops, where each and every item is hand-picked by the owner(s), is immensely more rewarding than clicking “buy now” or buying mass market. We have these proprietors to thank for being stewards of the past and preserving one-off, hand-crafted treasures for our enjoyment. 

ON THE TRAIL

If you think collecting is not your cup o’ tea, time to dust off images of fusty, oldfangled shops. Nor do you need any knowledge of historical artifacts and ephemera. Keep an open mind: it’s about being fully engaged in the process of procurement—of savoring the journey as much or more than enjoying having the piece in your home. 

A great way to explore diverse styles, periods, and price points is at the larger multi-dealer markets such as Berkshire Great Finds (in Sheffield; also the exclusive dealer of limited-edition 1970s Ken Rogen photos of the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan); Great Barrington Antiques Center, Antiques Center “And All That Jazz”, and Emporium (all in Great Barrington); Route 7 Trading Post (Lenox); and Berkshire Emporium & Antiques and Sanford & Kid (both in North Adams). The Antique Center at Camelot Village and Main Street Antiques are both worth a day trip to Bennington, Vermont. 

Otherwise, seek out shops that reflect the vision of one vendor, including the following.

Vintage signs at Berkshire Mantiques in Lanesborough. Photo by Evelyn Battaglia

EXPLORING THE ANTIQUE CORRIDOR,
FROM NORTH TO SOUTH

For “roadside memorabilia,” head to Berkshire Mantiques (in Lanesborough), a new market specializing in Texaco signs and all things related to the American automobile culture of the 50s. Plus it has a coffee bar in the back that sells No. 6 Depot coffee and live music on weekends through summer. A country general store, drive-through coffee shop, and food shack with picnic tables share the same campus.

Midcentury and Danish modern fans will want to visit Circa in downtown Pittsfield for furnishings, lighting, home decor, and collectibles in a minimalist space with original tin ceilings and plank floors in the Greystone Building. (Check back often; new items arrive daily.) 

In business since 1985, Berkshire Hills Coins and Estate Jewelry “sells lots of interesting things, including postcards,” Leveille says. But collectible currency is its stock in trade.

In West Stockbridge, the owner of Serendipity Waterside has evolved the former art gallery into a full-fledged antique shop; highlights include a vast array of barware (displayed in a real bar), plus an impressive selection of vintage clothing. A few doors down, Sandy [email protected] has a mix of early country, mid-20th century, and even later vintage pieces (a sampling of what the interior designer keeps at her original store in Canaan, N.Y.). The “back room” has vintage and designer clothing as well.

Jukeboxes at Retro Pop Shop in Lee. Photo courtesy Retro Pop Shop

Retro Pop Shop, on the outskirts of Lee, is the place for Coke machines, Mobil Oil signs, and Wurlitzer jukeboxes. “It’s Americana—most of it was thrown away. It’s not for everybody, but the people that love it just love it,” says owner J. Pierre Duhon, who fell into the business 30 years ago out of “a passion for logos and signs.” 

Duhon credits Lee with being a unique antique community because all the different purveyors work together and recommend each other. Uptown (which has a vintage stereo corner), Christopher James, Finders Keepers, and the Jewelry Box are all within walking distance of each other in the town center. 

Just south of Monument Mountain in Great Barrington, Chelsea & Co. Antiques stocks country and formal antiques, mid-century furniture, vintage items, collectibles, and folk art in a three-story, 3,500-square-foot converted horse barn right on Stockbridge Road (aka Route 7).

Along this same stretch are two world-class sources of authentic Asian art imports. For over 30 years, the owner of Mundy’s Asia Galleries, who divides his time between Kyoto and the Berkshires, has amassed an extensive selection of Buddhist artifacts and Japanese antiques at his warehouse in GB (in Jennifer House Commons). What you’ll find: Screens, scrolls, shop signs, lacquered tea boxes, ikebana (Japanese vases), opium art, ceramics, lanterns, rugs, furniture, dolls, jewelry, Samurai artifacts . . . and so on.

AsiaBarong has more than 50,000 sculptures, furniture pieces, crafts, and antiques from all over Asia, importing a new batch each spring—all hand-picked and ethically obtained by the owner during his winter travels. Browse the outdoor sculpture garden and indoor gallery for instruments, furniture pieces, textiles, armor, pottery, artwork, shrines, temple relics, jewelry, animal statues, masks, gazebos—pretty much anything you can imagine (even erotica). 

Elise Abrams Antiques in Great Barrington. Photo by Evelyn Battaglia

Tucked away at the intersection of State and Stockbridge Roads, Elise Abrams Antiques has the largest collection of museum-quality porcelain, stemware, and tabletop accessories—all organized by color. “Barware is hot: Champagne coupes, martini glasses, highballs—those are selling,” says Abrams, who readily assuages any concerns about buying an entire 12-piece set of china. “You don’t have to use it all together and at the same time. Just take the dessert plates out or use the bread-and-butters for a cheese platter.” As for her everyday dishes? Hand-painted enamelware, which can go into the dishwasher on the gentle cycle “and makes everything taste better.” It’s perfect for mixing and matching too—a must for setting a modern table. 

Downtown GB has its own vintage offerings—Griffin for clothes, furniture, and home goods; Robert Lloyd for barware and 1930s Guinness illustrations; and Shire Glass smoke shop for glassware, LEGOs, disco balls, and other “stoner” paraphernalia , says co-owner Maggie Bona. At brand new Scout-House, in a smartly renovated home on Elm Street, choice midcentury chairs, pine chests, and other vintage pieces share space with new merchandise. (Tip: The Edward Acker street photos of up-and-comer Madonna are a must-see.) 

Looking for vintage vinyl? Rob’s Records (at the top of Railroad Street) is popular with the teenage set. “It’s why I opened up this place, 110 percent. I wanted to bring something soulful to the community that will bridge the generation gap—everyone listens to music,” says owner Rob Brannock. “Vinyl is coming back, and it’s because of young people.” Besides first-press renditions, there are plenty of new albums to choose from, as well as turntables and speakers. Lexicon (in the old Baba Louie’s space on Main St.) has LPs on one side and books on the other.

SHEFFIELD—THE ANTIQUE STRONGHOLD

Besides the aforementioned Mix on Main, Le Trianon is a Berkshires port of call for in-the-know designers and collectors. It’s also a family affair: Owners Jean-Henri, Colette, Alexander, and Eric Sarbib travel to private estates across Europe and the U.S. to amass rare pieces, notably a large selection of paintings, architectural elements, tapestries and Aubusson carpets.

Inhabiting an 1815 colonial house and a two-story restored barn, Painted Porch has specialized in English and French country furniture and accessories since 2001. Owners Larry and Carol Solomon will also create reproduction tables and chairs to order.

Painted Porches in Sheffield. Photo courtesy Painted Porches

Linda Rosen Antiques is a recognized dealer of American country furniture, with a sizable selection of Queen Anne, Chippendale, Hepplewhite, Sheraton, and Federal tables, chairs, cupboards, blanket chests, and bureaus, plus folk art (and a convenient layaway plan). Ceramics are another reason to shop here; recent additions include a Spatterware basin and pitcher set, lots of decorated redware jars and stoneware crocks, and various Delft platters and dishes.

Formal English antiques from the 18th and 19th centuries are the raison d’etre of Susan Silver Antiques—particularly Georgian and Regency period pieces for libraries and living rooms (tables, desks, bookcases, and chairs). Silver credits her mother, an interior designer in NYC, with helping her discover her passion for fine craftsmanship. “Beautiful antiques make my heart race!” 

Dipping into North Canaan, Conn., Old Soul at Jim’s Garage has a nice mix of vintage pieces on display in a refurbished auto shop on Railroad Street next to Flea at 99, a year-round indoor flea market with multiple vendors, and the Old Canaan Market, a dealer of higher-end antiques. “I’ve been in this business so long that I am only doing better quality and atypically fine antiques,” says owner Dave Mason. 

HUDSON: THE HOLY GRAIL OF VINTAGE

It would be hard to single out even a few standout stores that line Warren Street, Hudson’s main thoroughfare, so instead you are encouraged to park at one end and browse your way down the other—popping in any that catch your eye with their window displays. It is especially strong in midcentury modern furniture though you will find a nice supply across all periods and styles. 

The Antique Warehouse in Hudson, N.Y. Photo courtesy The Antique Warehouse

Or you can plot out your visit ahead of time by exploring the directory at visithudsonny.com. 

Honorable mention goes to The Antique Warehouse (on Front Street). With over 3,000 items spread across 40,000 square feet, this one-stop shop is easily the largest owner-operated antique and vintage resource in the northeast where you’ll find a wide range of furniture, lighting, and decorative accessories along with architectural salvage. 

MILLING ABOUT MILLERTON

Sporting a string of shops as Main Street curves up the hill, Millerton has become a favorite collecting haunt. Start at Hunter Bee—named for owners Kent Hunter and Jonathan Bee, who discovered Millerton over weekends at a family Berkshire getaway. The intimate, inviting shop carries everything from American country to industrial pieces, “with quirky folk art and the occasional found object thrown in for interest.”  

Then work your way to Montage, opened in 2015 by the owners of long-running Jennings & Rohn Antiques in Woodbury, Conn., with a greater focus on mid-century and country furniture. 

At the top of Main sits the Millerton Antiques Center, which has 35 dealers on two jam-packed floors.  

Also nearby on Route 22: North Elm Home offers design services along with new and vintage furnishings, accessories, and local handicrafts in a warm, weathered barn. Further up the road, The Old Mill of Irondale is filled with country dining tables, chairs, chests, hutches, and all the rest in a lovely red building along a bubbling brook. 

FOR BIBLIOPHILES

If you share Boucher’s love for rare tomes, Leveille recommends the “incredibly priced books and ephemera” (and 20,000 title selection) at the quaint Rodgers Book Barn, reached via winding backroads in Hillsdale. No less than E.L. Doctorow deemed it “a national treasure.” 

The Book Nook at The Great Barrington Historical Society & Museum, open by appointment or on Sundays, sells most books for a dollar each. 

Familiar Trees sells new and used books focusing on art, architecture, design, and photography (plus vintage objects), including a first-edition Isamu Noguchi monograph published in 1965. 

Yellow House Books has a room devoted to a wonderful selection of used children’s books as well as sections on history, biography, and literature.

Rodgers Book Barn in Hillsdale, N.Y. Photo by Evelyn Battaglia

In two delightful buildings, Shaker Mill Books boasts an eclectic collection of over 30,000 books: used, rare, antiquarian, out-of-print, and some new. While there are books for every interest, the shop’s selections of photography and art books, as well as local history titles, are particularly noteworthy.

HITTING THE LITCHFIELD HILLS

Woodbury is one of the best-known antiquing areas in New England, with more than 40 distinctive dealers specializing in quality furniture, decorative arts, rugs, porcelain, paintings, textiles, ceramics, and other historic artifacts.

Since 1992, Jeffrey Tillou has been wooing designers and well-heeled clients to his historic townhouse-cum–shop on the Litchfield town green, specializing in fine Americana furniture and art from the 18th and early 19th centuries, as well as European furniture and original art. Explore all three stories for unique items—pewter sconces, zinc garden statues, carved painted eagles, Windsor chairs, old weathervanes, and animal portraits. 

Black Squirrel Antiques in Lakeville, Conn., known for its vintage tools. Photo by Evelyn Battaglia

Black Squirrel Antiques, in picturesque Lakeville, Conn., is a more recent addition. There you are likely to be greeted with a wave by Tom Emerick who, with Joni Beveridge, purchased the white clapboard house—which had been turned into a doctors’ office—six years ago. “We saw the listing online and said, ‘it’s perfect!’” So they moved their antique business up from Naples, Florida—a return of sorts to the region, having launched in Saugerties decades prior. 

Beveridge has seen a spike in younger clients who are buying antiques—namely tables, chairs, mirrors, lamps, clocks, and artwork. “They are drawn to the area by all the beautiful old homes and want to decorate them, partially at least, in the period to bring out the best features.” (She also sells “a lot of jewelry.”)

What sets their business apart from others, in their estimation, is that they tend to buy less-than-perfect items that other dealers pass by. A carpenter by trade, Emerick relishes fixing their finds and has all the requisite (vintage) tools. “I feel like I am saving stuff and think of antique dealers as the original recyclers.” He also admits to buying things that are guaranteed never to sell. “An antique shop should be full of antiques, not just the stuff that sells.”


TAG, YOU’RE IT!

If you hit it right (and persevere), estate sales and tag sales are also excellent places to score one-of-a-kind finds. Leveille recommends State Line Auctions (Canaan, Conn.) in particular for finding all kinds of collectibles and antiques, both online and at its previews. It’s worth following Housatonic-based Heaven Sent Estate Sales and Liquidations as well. Just beware that prices at professional estate sales can be on the high side, though these companies know the market and you may be able to negotiate.

On the flip side, backyard tag sales can be a treasure trove of bargain finds. Leveille shares a quote by a friend and longtime collector (who prefers to remain nameless), who answered the question “What do you collect?” with “I collect other people’s mistakes.” By which she meant underpriced items that are worth a lot more. (Note that if you are aware of an item’s true value, you are encouraged to offer more than asking.)

Flea markets are another option. The outdoor Tilden Plaza Flea Market, in New Lebanon, N.Y., takes place every Sunday through October.

For addresses, phone numbers and web sites for the shops mentioned in this article, click here.