Splendid Peasant Antiques: A Modern Approach to Folk Art
Martin Jacobs stares into the fireplace at the house he designed in Sheffield, MA.
Kitty and Martin Jacobs understand if you’re just as interested in their stunning contemporary house as their museum quality collection of antique folk art. After all, they built this house on a dirt road in Sheffield two years ago not only as their home but as a destination for aesthetes like themselves. “We wanted to live with all these things we love,” says Martin, a one-time psychoanalyst who is jolly and cerebral—a haimisha Santa Claus of a man. “Yes, almost everything is for sale, but we get such pleasure in enjoying these objects every day,” he says while tossing another log on the fire. Their hallways and staircase were designed as galleries with niches and natural light so you feel like you have arrived at a small but serious museum.
For two decades, the Jacobs’ Splendid Peasant antiques store operated out of an 18th-century blacksmith’s shop in the heart of Egremont, which was a popular destination for serious collectors as well hosts whose weekend guests wanted to go antiquing. “You always need outings for house guests, and we were a good place to stop,” says Martin. Having lived for many years in Oyster Bar, Long Island, Martin always yearned to be near the sea, and a few years ago they moved to a condominium in a converted factory in Bristol, RI, and opened a shop downstairs. “We didn’t like it. The people and the place were too glitzy,” he says. “We realized how special the Berkshires are and decided to come back.” In Rhode Island, they discovered that they liked living in a loft-like environment and wanted to live that way but in a rural setting. Thus, the interior of their new house looks almost exactly like the photographs of the Bristol condo that was featured in Rhode Island magazine in 2006. They have the same matching desks and steel dining room table by John Haas of Amenia, NY, and the same cherry sofas by Boyd Hutchinson of Sheffield, MA, which flank the fireplace. They even have the same custom interior window dividing their kitchen from the dining room.
The couple’s passion for folk art parallels their own late-in-life relationship. “I had an MBA from Columbia, but I was pretty much adrift until I met Martin,” says Kitty. “We’ve done this together.” For a couple who are experts in their field and display their collection with curatorial rigor (“Martin is a lighting master,” Kitty says adoringly), they do not take themselves too seriously. How could they when what appears to be an important abstract sculpture hanging over the fireplace turns out to be a rusty bedspring? “Martin calls it the poor man’s Calder,” says Kitty. “You would be surprised by how expensive it was.”
Part of the mystique of folk art is that it was not created to be collectible. The game boards, decoys and fairground art they sell were once utilitarian objects. “We have a definite point of view. We like bold, graphic pieces, and we like objects with texture,” says Kitty. “We’re not generalists. We don’t sell painted furniture. Quilts and hand-hooked rugs don’t do much for us. Our specialty is weathervanes.”
Like all antiques dealers, they now do much of their business online. “We have a reputation so collectors can trust us based on photos,” says Kitty. But then you’d miss the delight of experiencing their serene house, seeing the Indian clubs displayed in a niche, or the hand of a particularly well-painted checkerboard. “We love things with ravaged surfaces.” Martin mentions that when he first got into the antiques business, he made the mistake of buying fine English furniture. “One of the best things about folk art,” he says cheekily, “is that it never has to be polished!”
992 Foley Road, Sheffield, MA; 413.229.8800
Open most weekends, but call first to make sure.