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Nantucket | Antiques & Design Show

Umami* of Nantucket | Antiques & Design Show of Nantucket
By Sara Boyce

Thursday August 1st, the apex of the summer in one of the the busiest weeks of the season, and I had the fleeting thought “What wouldn’t I give for a quiet night?” I’m glad I let that thought fleet.

Instead, I went to the Nantucket Historical Association Antiques & Design Preview Party, where I found great energy and was delighted to see all ages browsing. The event was so well attended that every time I finished one conversation, another interesting person walked up. I suspect I’m not the only person who did more “partying” than “previewing” Thursday night. (Luckily the show runs through Monday.)


The Antiques & Design Show is held in an enormous tent at Bartlett’s Farm. For the last 23 years the NHA has engaged The Antiques Council to coordinate the 40 exhibiting dealers and manage the structural elements of the show. Responsible for several US Antiques shows, the Antiques Council gave the 13,000 square foot tent a “bricks and mortar” feel by creating 40 separate walled booths that were well lit and air conditioned.

Friday morning, I returned to hear The Designer Panel coordinated by Susan Zises Green. For the third year in a row, the panel spoke to a sell-out crowd. The star-studded panel included New York based designers Alessandra Branca, Christopher Drake, Jamie Drake, Brian J. McCarthy, and Alex Papachristidis.

NHA Panel

Susan Zises Green, Christopher Drake, Brian J. McCarthy, Alessandra Branca, Jamie Drake, and Alex Papachristidis

NHA packed crowd

A rapt crowd.

Good designers are in demand and work one-on-one with their clients. Design work can be all consuming and leave little time for collaborating with colleagues. Leaders in their field, all six are known for different styles, but share a similar philosophy. The panelists explained, “People hire us for our vision. A designer can visualize things others can’t. We guide decisions that enable people’s lives so they can get from Point A to Point B, which is a finished, loving interior.” Of course, it’s fun to have an unlimited budget and carte blanche, but at the end of the day, the client has to live in and love the home. It was summed up “If we don’t have engagement at a deep level, all we have done is create a structure. We haven’t created a home”.

Nantucket designers Trudy Dujardin, Kathleen Hay, and Michelle Holland of Nantucket House had each created showcase booths to demonstrate how to include antiques into a variety of rooms. The booths ranged from traditional to contemporary, and the designers could often be found in their booths answering questions about their decisions and styles, and offering advice.

Attending a show of this magnitude might seem overwhelming. 40 booths? How do I select? How do I identify quality? How do I know the dealers are not just trying to sell me?

Take a quick lap. A bird’s eye view tour is invaluable. See what draws you in. On your second loop, you can spend more time savoring and learning.

The dealers are reputable. The Antiques Council is non-profit and they have no financial interest in who exhibits. Each of the dealers has been selected for their quality, reputation, variety, and to appeal to Nantucket.

Trust yourself. What you acquire depends on your personal taste. Surround yourself with objects that speak to you. While collecting can be very involved, it can also be very simple. I used to say to people who visited my gallery, “At the end of the day, do you want to sit on the couch and enjoy a glass of wine while looking at that painting?”

Ask the experts. Dealers and designers are experts, and will share what they know. A significant part of their job revolves around education. Use their knowledge. One designer explained this concept: “I can do research to learn about my health and how my body works, but when I need an expert I go to a doctor”.

All ages are welcome. Walking through a show of this caliber is a wonderful way to familiarize young people with the importance of art and antiques.

NHA all ages

A potential young collector?

NHA All ages Nantucket House booth

Enjoying the Nantucket House Showcase Booth

Learn the story behind each piece.  Craftsmen and artists have created these items. They have been bought, sold, lived with, and traveled through space and time. The dealers have selected each and every item in their booth. They know the history, the value, and its importance. You never know what you might learn and you are under no obligation to buy.

For example, a magnificent architect’s desk drew me into William Cook’s booth, a British dealer.

NHA William Cook Desk

1780 Architect’s Desk, William Cook Booth

“The desk is George III, circa 1780. It is an architect’s table that is by Gillow of Lancaster. The firm of Gillow was commissioned during the 18th and 19th centuries to supply furniture to the finest houses, stately homes and the royal residences of this period. This desk with its double rising top, fully fitted secretaire interior and secondary leather writing surface is without question a highly important piece of Gillow furniture. A near identical table by Gillow is featured in the recently produced double volume book on Gillow by Susan Stuart (plate GG28). The desk is made from Cuban mahogany, original throughout including the handles, and of first class quality, color and patination.” The price tag of $68,500 represents its superior quality.

Dealers bring their best to Nantucket. William and I both agreed that even after 5 years, post economic meltdown people are still very judicious about their spending decisions. The best of the best is what sells and there is not much room for mediocrity. The dealers are smart and probably will not go to the effort of transporting anything less than their best.

Dealers will work for you. Each dealer wants to build a relationship with you. If you find someone specializing in work you like, strike up a conversation. Don’t be afraid to tell them exactly how you feel about different pieces; you won’t hurt their feelings. It helps them to understand your tastes. They are constantly searching for exceptional new inventory. And they will work for by keeping you in mind when they locate a piece that might interest you.

The show runs through Monday, and there is a “Sip & Stroll” Sunday from noon – 2 pm with free Bloody Mary’s and Booth Chats.
Location: Bartlett’s Tent
Hours: Saturday: 10 – 5, Sunday: 11 – 5, Monday: 10 – 3

*”Umami” is something the Japanese recognize as the 5th flavor, in addition to sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. A nuanced word, one could define it as the “je ne sais quoi” that deepens flavor, the experience, and imparts satisfaction and sensory delight. To me, it’s “that which makes Nantucket special”.

This article appeared in the August 3, 2013 issue of Mahon About Town.  Mahon About Town’s Food, Wine, and Drink Editor, Sara Boyce has been working in the luxury market since she visited Nantucket for a “three-week” visit after 9/11. As an Art Dealer turned “Lady in Chief” at Grey Lady Wines, she was thrilled to Chair the NHA’s 35th August Antique Show in 2011, where she launched the first Designer Panel and started the Young Collectors Group. Knowing how much work goes into making this event happen, she applauds the NHA and the Antiques Council!

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