The Art of Shopping: Working Warren with a Pair of Pros
We all shop, but shopping with someone who actually makes a living buying stuff is an entirely different game. For one thing, the pros notice subtleties we pikers would be likely to overlook, such as the fine print on the $900 price tag dangling from a ‘50s floor lamp that’s shoved into the corner of a cramped and dusty shop on Warren Street in Hudson. Faced with such seemingly irrefutable evidence, many would conclude that $900 is the asking price. Not Paul Siskin, of Siskin Valls, an interior design firm in New York City. “How much?,” he asks. Mark of Mark’s (612 Warren) replies, “$150. And, as you can see, the price tag from [he names a chic store in the neighborhood that recently closed] is still on it.” Sold.
Mark with his “$900” lamp; $150 later, the lamp chez Siskin.
At Red Chair (608 Warren), a New Hampshire antiques shop transplanted to Hudson last fall, Siskin makes his first pronouncement of the day: “This is the biggest bargain in town.” He is pointing to a French bistro garden table and a pair of benches (right), with their original green and brilliant yellow paint. At $495 for all three pieces, it’s hard to imagine a chicer, cheaper way to furnish a casual dining area, indoors or out. Even more remarkable: Siskin’s palpable excitement. Despite having trudged from shop to shop, showroom to showroom, for the last thirty plus years, his love of the chase is undiminished.
As we cross Warren, he points to where we’re headed, Bavier Brook (621 Warren), specialists in antique and vintage jewelry, and says sotto voce, “Joan keeps this place in business.” She hears and counters, “My mother taught my five sisters and me that if a woman doesn’t own jewelry and real estate, she isn’t Chinese.”
Chan especially likes this shop, she says, because, “They have great taste, and they are affordable.” A few weeks ago, she purchased a beautifully crafted amethyst ring here. “The stone is cabochon cut, so it’s a little more discreet than your average cocktail ring,” she says. “And I love the 1960s setting. It makes me feel like Twiggy.”
Note this salient difference between professionals and the average tire kicker: Instead of dithering endlessly, pros actually buy stuff; lots of it, both for their clients and themselves. Siskin is still in the process of furnishing his own just-completed house a little south of Hudson City proper on Mt. Merino, a long, low modernist design on which he collaborated with Chan. The decor consists of things he’s long had in storage (some of them client rejects) combined with new (to him, at least) Warren Street finds. The sole exception, so far, is a large sofa from a chain store that shall go nameless. (Suffice to say, it’s notorious for its designer-find knock-offs.) However, there’s still one major piece missing—some sort of storage piece for the dining area. Today, Siskin will revisit some leading contenders, while continuing to cast his net for new possibilities.
At Gris (514 Warren), where months earlier Siskin bagged a brilliant ‘50s French canape with original leather upholstery (right, in his house), he considers a Chinese cabinet. A raised eyebrow from Chan lays that to rest. At Vince Mulford (417 - 419 Warren), he looks once again at an overscale chest of drawers (below) that he’s been circling for weeks. Like nearly all the objects in Mulford’s monumental space, this one would make a fantastic accent piece in a vast modern room, precisely what Siskin has. But drawer space is not his top priority; dish storage is the more urgent need. At Skalar (438 1/2 Warren), he examines a French ‘50s oak sideboard (top photo), but rules it out because of its shape—horizontal whereas his space cries out for a vertical. At Foley & Cox Home (317 Warren), when store manager Nancie Shelhamer notices Siskin hovering around a tall 19th-century dark wood cupboard with shelves, she casually mentions that the piece is on sale. As it happens, the price beats all other contenders so far.
Even so, Siskin hesitates. He can’t yet see the piece in his place. Chan tells of once seeing some tiles at the aforementioned Mark’s. Though she loved them, “I couldn’t figure out what to do with them.” Weeks later, in a taxi on her way to the airport to board a plane for Malaysia, inspiration struck. “I’m renovating my own apartment, and, I thought, they’d be wonderful as a mantel surround.” She called Mark from the car and asked him to hold them for her.
Perhaps this propensity for ultimately closing deals is what earns the pros a more animated reception at the shops of Warren than one may be accustomed to. At every store we enter, they are greeted warmly, as if they and the store owners were the oldest and dearest of friends. And indeed, they practically are. As checks change hands, promises of free home delivery that very afternoon are met with cries of, “Stay for a drink!”
Such is the case at Theron Ware, Works of Art (548 Warren). While Chan buzzes from blossom to blossom, hovering over a perfect square mirror here (right), an exquisite Queen Anne table there, Siskin closes the deal on an oval silverleaf-framed mirror he’s had on hold for a client. “I get a lot of mirrors here,” he says. Chan adds, “Antique mirrors are better than the ones made today. They have thicker glass and the mercury backing isn’t so perfect.”
“Shopping here is so different from a place like Vince Mulford,” Siskin says. Mulford’s shop is large and sparely filled with one showstopper after another, whereas Theron is small and packed to the rafters with exquisite things. “Here you really have to look.”
Yet different as they are, the two stores apparently have more in common with each other than they do with most of the antiques shops in the city. “The rarefied air of some of the New York shops can be suffocating,” Siskin says. “Most Hudson dealers specialize in pieces that are decorative and stylish but not too serious—neither the pieces, nor the prices.”
Passing Hudson City Books (533 Warren), a mix of expensive rare books, first editions, and more affordable used books where, they tell me, Chan recently got her daughter’s graduation gift—a vintage leather-bound set of Jane Austen—Siskin slips back into pronouncement mode: “This is the best bookstore in the world.” An hour later, after stopping in all-too-briefly at Chris Lehrecke (415 Warren) so Siskin could check on the progress of a daybed (similar to the one above) he’s having made for a client in the Hamptons, we enter 12 (318 Warren), a wonderland of exquisite things, including vintage couture, and antique jewelry, furniture, art, and accessories. While some in our party are detained up front, mesmerized by a pair of 18th-century diamond-drop earrings, Siskin calls from a back room, “Come look! This is the most beautiful chandelier in the world!” —Marilyn Bethany