When I get a new Veranda Magazine or The World of Interiors, I get a familiar flush of giddiness that seems to come no matter how many years creep by. At this stage, I’ve learned a couple of things and one of them is that I will forever be captivated by the universe of interior design and even more specifically, antiques. I wonder to myself, what it’s like to be a buyer and go on these procuring trips? If you’re like me and prone to flights of fancy, you may slip into daydreaming that you could be preparing for such a trip. Maybe then you too, are guilty of romanticizing this sojourn? We wanted for this issue, to see if the fantasy has legs or do we need to be educated to a more professional reality.
1. What are you packing for your trip and why?
- Susan and Laura: This is almost an athletic event so, we try to dress comfortably and in layers. Forget the jewelry. It’s a good policy to never check your luggage either and less is without question, more. After several trips dragging baggage down cobblestone streets, on and off trains, you quickly learn to pack less. Bring a good book, paperwork, labels and a camera.
2. What’s usually the first thing you like to do upon arrival?
- S&L: We try to make our reservations so that we land in the early morning. We set straight to work after landing. We’ve learned after practice, the importance of sleeping on planes.
3. What can you share about your sources and how you found them. If you have tips this can be instructional, such as how to find a reputable dealer.
- S&L: When buying in big cities or auctions, prepare yourself to pay more than you would at Fireside and keep in mind you will still have to pay for shipping, which can really add up. We try to buy out in the countryside, house closures, fairs, small dealers and auctions to keep our prices as reasonable as possible. We travel far and wide in France, England, Italy and Netherlands. We can spend 20 plus hours traveling in a country buying antiques along the way, all the while being closely followed by our trusted truck drivers.
S&L: The thing we absolutely couldn’t do without are our truck drivers. They pick up our items and we make our way through the countryside. Jobs are hard to find in France. Our truck drivers are happy to have a job to feed their families and enjoy helping. We share warehouse space and trucks with some of the other businesses. One driver always has to stay in the truck to protect it while two others pick up your goods. One early morning while our driver was alone at a pick up, two guys jumped him. He pulled out a baseball bat to rough them up. His comment was “I have a family to feed. They were not going to take my job away.” Our truck was full and we would have lost everything. There is no insurance to be purchased until our items get on the boat! We would’ve lost a fortune had he not stepped up for us. We treasure our friendships with them. We depend on them and they depend on us. It ends up that Laura and I house and feed 3 or 4 guys that drive our trucks, dining together every night. When you’re traveling and sharing all your meals, the bonds and appreciation develop even if you don’t fully speak their language.
4. What kind of experience or appraising eye should you have to not find yourself in over your head? Would you recommend a layman to go with a guide?
- S&L: Relationships are a must if you want to buy at the right price. There is the French price, tourist price, friend price and the American price. Americans are thought to be wealthy not to mention pushy, often rude and very demanding. Make sure what you are being told is the truth. You should know what to look for: joints, backs, inside drawers, is the hardware original and all there? Are the drawers working, locks working with keys, has work been done to the piece, a good patina from years of hand waxing, is mirror glass original, has marble been repaired, etc. Never forget to consider any work that will have to be done on the piece and add that to the cost. Another challenge is that you can’t buy without constant thought of price. In effort to keep our prices at Fireside as low as possible we simply cannot always get what we would like to, you have to think of all the hidden costs, things like shipping and restoration etc…
5. What kind of arrangements need to be made beforehand with your shippers? What are some pitfalls or things to avoid when looking for a reliable shipment co.?
- S&L: Packing is critical as breakage can be devastating and irreparable. Do you have a repair person should this occur? You’ll need all the receipts, detailed numbered paperwork telling you the type of wood, the age, country and description. Be prepared to have an inspection before leaving the country or a US Custom inspection. The wrong dates or descriptions can subject you to large fines or your item seized. This paperwork is needed to leave a country as well as for US Customs. We fumigate all our containers. It’s not required but it’s a good idea. Consider these all requirements to prepare for: Ocean Freight, Insurance, Broker Fees, Customs/ X Ray, Duty Fees, and Delivery fees. One thing to add is that big trucks don’t travel well down cobblestone streets and in some cases aren’t even allowed. Laura and have had to resort to all kinds of trickery to get our finds to and from point A to B. You have to be a problem solver. “Can’t” cannot be in your vocabulary.
6. If you find yourself getting any free time what do you like to do? Is there anything that helps soothe the craziness that is a long overseas work trip?
- S&L: We always wait until we are through with everything to relax. Our biggest splurges are: good Champagne, a heavenly bed, a long bath and a great restaurant. We try our hardest for 8 hours of sleep before returning home. You want to stay awake on the journey home to lessen jet lag. While working we stay with treasured antique dealer friends (relationships we’ve developed over our 35 years in the antique business) and cheap hotels.
~We can’t wait to dazzle you with what we’re bringing back home!~