Montage Antiques of “antiques row” (as we affectionately refer to it here at Main Street Magazine) in Millerton, NY, is a true family affair.
When did you open in Millerton?
We opened our store four and a half years ago, and this summer we bought the building. We find the village so appealing from a retail point of view. There’s no need to drive from store to store, which was the case with our previous shop in Woodbury, CT. Millerton has a wonderful range of attractions – the Moviehouse, Harney & Sons Tea, Oblong Books & Music, the Antiques Center as well as all of the other shops, which are all drivers of foot traffic on Main Street. Merchants get a tremendous boost from weekenders and year-round people alike, who enjoy the fact that Millerton is still very much a brick and mortar town.
The train to Wassaic has made the area more easily accessible from the city, which has also made it appealing to many people looking to buy second homes in the area. Hence, the train is among many keys to what we do – providing a wide range of antique furniture and objects to make one’s house a home.
Does Montage have a point of view?
Definitely! Our interior design philosophy is all about our edit. We value style and practicality, and the fact that furnishing with antiques is about the most sustainable way to go. We work hard to provide stylish furniture and accessories, with an ever-changing inventory, a fresh edit that keeps up with evolving taste in the market. We focus on making sure our prices are approachable to everyone.
What are the current trends in home furnishing?
Minimalism, modernism, and a somber palette have been in style for a very long time. But taste and trends are always cyclical. We certainly see that antiques, art, and interior design are moving into a phase in which there is a greater density of objects, fewer empty walls, more saturated color, a greater interest in collecting art and a distinct swing toward earlier, more classic antique furniture. That said, it continues to be a time of fantastic contemporary design. We believe the best interiors are put together with objects of all periods.
What is the definition of an antique?
The standard definition is something 100 years old or older, which would bring us to anything before 1919. But the 20th century is packed with objects of fantastic design of tremendous merit. It’s one reason our store is called Montage. We mix and edit furniture, art, and objects from all periods. It’s all about the montage!
Where do you find your
The truth is that, like most antique dealers, we have no one source. Because we have a large shop, we often have the opportunity to buy from estates. Often people are downsizing and offer us merchandise. Pickers also know what we like and show their finds to us. We always prefer to purchase outright rather than taking things on consignment.
Is online business important to you?
Our daughter Chloë, who is a partner in our business (that makes her a fifth generation antique dealer), handles our web presence and has very definite ideas about the overall buying experience that we offer. Every week she sends out a “Weekly Peek” email to anyone that signs up. It is a first look at merchandise, usually eight to twelve carefully selected items, several days before they appear on our website.
We have an active Instagram presence (@montageantiques and @montage.antiquary) however; we are not on sales platforms like 1st Dibs or Chairish. We find that those platforms cause dealers to mark up their prices to cover the expenses of being on an online platform. We prefer to keep prices down and we really want to maintain the antiques business as a real and tangible experience. The trend toward shopping online takes away from people’s ability to really fall in love with the things they will live with. We are old fashioned in this way. We believe in brick and mortar and we know that the only way to keep it from slipping away entirely is to join forces with other businesses, in a village like Millerton, to make the shopping experience thrive.
Tell me about the history of these five generations of antique dealers.
The first generation was my great grandfather who, at the turn of century, had a shop on Madison Avenue in New York City called Lewis Antiques. Then my grandparents, Louie and Alice Lewis, opened an antiques shop and an art gallery in Woodstock, NY, after World War II. My grandmother’s art gallery was across the street from the Woodstock Playhouse. I spent as much time there as I could – it was the coolest place. My grandfather fought in World War II and was able to shop in Europe after the war and ship goods back on Navy troop ships. The shop was a treasure drove of objects from Europe and Morocco.
Their daughter, my mother Gloria Buckley, became an antiques dealer in the 1970s when my stepfather retired from advertising. They opened Buckley & Buckley Antiques in the 18th century Warner house in Salisbury, CT, specializing in American William & Mary and country Queen Anne. It was very specific and they were highly regarded as experts in their field.
My husband, Fritz Rohn, and I started our business in 1987. In those days we focused mainly on early English and Continental furniture (17th, 18th and 19th centuries), old master paintings and drawings, and accessories like Delftware.
Why the move to Millerton?
Initially I came to Salisbury to help care for my parents, while Fritz and I still had the store in Woodbury. I opened a booth in the Antiques Center to have something to do. Montage happened because of an opportunity to buy 80 paintings from the estate of the Belgian artist Guy Scohy. We needed a lot of space to show them and rented the vacant part of this building as a pop-up gallery for just a month. It was fairly successful and the landlord, Bob Quinlan, kept calling and asking if we couldn’t think of a way to use 6,600 square feet. I tried to think of how you could make an antiques business viable in such a huge space without having it be another antiques center. I realized it needed to be a volume business of objects readily saleable in this market – less precious, more eclectic, more affordable – practical, stylish, and useful objects. We decided to move ahead and lease the whole space. To help make the business work, we came up with the idea of hosting “Pop-Up Dealers.” Our first Pop-Ups were our friends from Mix on Main in Sheffield. It worked so well that we kept them as permanent members of our shop. In addition to them, we have one or two other dealers at any given time, in displays that last just a few months. We find the constant change to be very stimulating for business.
At Montage we select items that people need to furnish a home – farmhouse tables, chairs, mirrors, chests of drawers of all periods, etc. We still carry what are called “Objects of Virtue,” a collection of wonderful early things that have survived for hundreds of years, which add tremendous distinction to an interior. These sorts of objects make the past more personal; they put time in perspective. You reflect on where these objects were made, who made them, and why. They can connect us to the past in a way that nothing else can do. We are ephemeral as individuals on the continuum of time, but what humans make can last thousands of years.
How do you learn to become an antiques dealer?
Both Fritz and I grew up looking at antiques. We encouraged our own daughters to have small booths at antique fairs where they could sell little bits they had purchased. The “Two Rohn Girls” booth was really popular and they got to know all the dealers and many customers. Chloë, as I mentioned, has made a commitment to continue on in the family antiques business after majoring in human ecology at the College of the Atlantic in Maine. Chloë brings a completely different skill set and perspective to Montage. She does our window displays and pushes the envelope of combining objects. She feels strongly that brick and mortar is not dead, that we should not give in to the impersonal and convenient. Everything should be real and tangible. I think people are waking up to this sensibility.
The educational background of antique dealers varies enormously. In the past buyers wanted to be educated by dealers. There was a curiosity about history and artists. In the last 30 years that has become less and less true. I think people are just too busy and over stimulated – there’s just no time or inclination to learn about antiques’ periods, construction styles, etc. Like myself, a lot of dealers operate more on gut. The occupation has become more intuitive and not as academic.
Fritz is an exception – he makes it his business to research everything. We have a small reference library here at the shop, but a very extensive one at our home. He’s an old school antique dealer, trained as an art historian who pours over books while I’m the big picture person who focuses on the business and promotion side of things. Chloë has an accumulated knowledge, which has mainly been by osmosis!
What has made this business successful?
Montage is an antique shop that focuses on turning over high volumes of antique furniture with very specific taste combined with practicality. Price point is hugely important. I never want to see a customer come in and not find something they can afford. I believe the store has to be accessible to everyone. We want our shop to be a place that people enjoy visiting often. We’re interested in what people want and need. We’re fortunate to be able to make a living in the countryside. You have to work really hard, be a positive influence, and also be supportive of the community and other businesses.
Have you hit any rough spots in the time you’ve been in business?
The economy has been on an upswing since we’ve arrived in Millerton four and a half years ago. These are golden days right now. But we survived two nightmares, 2001 and 2008, when nobody needed an antique. In times like those you have to be really creative.
Buying the building was a big investment. How did you decide?
Last Christmas Eve Bob Quinlan, the owner of the Diner, Hunter Bee’s building and this building, called us with advance notice that he was putting all of the buildings on the market. He gave us a few weeks to decide. We knew that our lease was running out in May and that it would not be renewed. We spent about a month looking for someplace to move. There’s just not a lot available, and Saperstein’s had already been sold. The Antiques Center itself has tremendous character and is run super efficiently by the loveliest people. I just can’t say enough good things about their operation – they have been around for 26 years. It’s one of the best antique centers in the whole area and a huge asset to the village. We knew they would be a great tenant and a draw for our business. We had to look at the big picture timeline and make a decision about buying. But we believe in this community, and we see ourselves as part of a larger movement, to preserve retail, to give folks a great shopping experience and to provide a resource for homeowners and interior designers.
It is an exciting and challenging time to be a store owner. I think one of the best things about being here in Millerton is that we are a community of businesses who work together through our association, The Millerton Business Alliance. I am a co-secretary of the MBA and so I get hands-on understanding of the workings of a community like ours. We have great opportunities ahead of us in building the strength and diversity of our offerings. Millerton and our whole area are in a growth period. We are lucky to be part of it all. •
To learn more, visit them in person at 25 Main Street in Millerton, online at www.montageantiques.com, on Instagram @montageantiques, or by calling (860) 485-3887.