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Paulette and John Peden, Dawn Hill Antiques, New Preston, Connecticut

Frank Donegan | October 13th, 2013


Paulette and John Peden.


Shop entrance.


View of one small corner of the shop.


Rare set of blue-transfer covered canisters in the Spode’s Tower pattern, $3200.


Paulette sells candles, fragrances, and other products from the tony Parisian firm Diptyque. They make good host gifts (which once upon a time were called “hostess gifts”). They are not cheap. Paulette said, “I was introduced to them when I was working with Karl Lagerfeld.”


Swedish tall clock from Jutland, circa 1820, $11,000. The oval mirror next to it retains its original silvered “platinum” surface and has a Boston label; it is $6800.


A selection of ironstone. Plates start around $50. More impressive pieces go up to about $450.


Set of circa 1800 Belgian library steps with their original long hand-pole, $1500.


Swedish settee, circa 1790, $14,500.


Here’s a view of John Peden’s music room with some of the Fender amps he sells. He said he concentrates on small-size amps and calls them bedroom amps or gig amps. They don’t need a large venue to sound their best. The Univox, upper left, is $575; the Princeton Reverb, rear center, is $2400; the Princeton model, rear right, is $1600; and the Deluxe Reverb on the floor is $3200.

In the Trade

When we called Paulette Peden to arrange for a visit to her shop in the quaint/chic hamlet of New Preston, Connecticut, she told us that she was expecting a new shipment from Europe any minute and that it was likely that when we got there, “the shop will look like a bomb went off in it.” We arrived a few days later on a beautiful September Sunday to find no evidence of any decorative arts bomb having been exploded. Instead, the place looked as if it had just stepped out of a photo spread in World of Interiors or Elle Décor.

Paulette and her husband, John, specialize in Scandinavian antiques. Their shop is a riff on the type of country house depicted in old Ingmar Bergman movies about guilt-racked Swedes—all cool Gustavian shades of white and gray. (Actually, John really specializes in vintage Fender guitar amplifiers, but we’ll get to that later.) The Pedens’ shop, Dawn Hill Antiques, is the first antiques shop on the left that you come to as you enter New Preston from the east. Dawn Hill is the name of the street in nearby Sharon, Connecticut, where the Pedens’ weekend house is. (They live in the Chelsea section of Manhattan as well.) It’s not anybody’s name. Paulette said, “A lot of people think Dawn Hill is a woman’s name and often call me ‘Dawn’ at shows.”

Those with long memories will recall that for decades New Preston was a thriving setting for antiques shops. People such as Gary Sergeant and Lou Marotta had spaces there. Nearby inhabitants provided a ready market. The surrounding Litchfield hills have always drawn the type of artsy and literary heavyweights who wanted second homes near New York but didn’t like the looniness of the Hamptons. The area attracted the likes of Arthur Miller and sculptor Alexander Calder. Today it’s home to folks such as Meryl Streep, Daniel Day-Lewis, Mia Farrow, Bunny Williams, Brooke Hayward, Dustin Hoffman, and George Malkemus and Anthony Yurgaitis, the top guys of Manolo Blahnik shoes and of Arethusa Farm, an upscale dairy in Litchfield.

With the softening of the antiques market, the hamlet lost some of its luster but seems now to be prospering with the type of retail mix that appeals to today’s generation of well-heeled country home owners and weekenders from New York City. It’s a mix that includes antiques but is not dominated by them. In New Preston, along with antiques you’ll find new and distinctive home goods, a florist, some fashionable clothing, and even a nice little stationery store. Who would have guessed that there are still people out there using expensive handmade paper to communicate?

“The town has had a comeback,” John said, to which Paulette added, “We’ve been in this town almost twenty years. It’s back to where it was when we moved in.”

During our visit, a steady parade of people came into the shop. Some were clearly just lookers intent on savoring a late summer outing. But an encouraging number took pictures, dimensions, and prices.

Even though one might classify most of the Pedens’ inventory as relatively formal (or at least “high country”), the light scale and light paint tones lend an airiness to these pieces that allows them to work well in modern interiors in a way that period high-gloss, brown formal furniture does not. Consequently, decorators continue to use this material in their interiors. “There’s a coterie of designers who call Paulette all the time,” John said.

Like much of American country furniture, this material is painted, which raises the question, “Do buyers pay a premium for original paint as they do with American antiques?” The answer is “yes—sort of.” Paulette said, “We try to keep to our goal of original surfaces, but not every single piece [has its original surface]. In my opinion a piece in original paint is always more valuable in Swedish furniture as well, of course, as it is in American. However, that being said, there is certainly a lot of repainted Scandinavian furniture around, so perhaps consumers don’t care as much as I do.”

The prime market for this type of furniture is not collectors. Paulette said typical buyers are “people who decide that a Swedish clock would look great on their stairway.” This also means buyers may not always be sticklers for whether or not a piece is period or heavily repaired. “We stock decorative but old,” Paulette said, to which John added, “That makes it tough because you’re going up against repro stuff.” Indeed, “Gustavian” furniture—like French furniture—has been reproduced pretty steadily since the 19th century, so there are a lot of repros around that can still be a hundred  years old.

John said they will stock the occasional later decorative piece, even though period pieces are their primary interest. “Dealers hate to hear about ‘decorative,’ but those are the people who are spending money today. You have to have one foot in practicality.”

John credits longtime employee Jane Frederickson with helping maintain the shop’s focus on period material. He said, “Jane grew up near Malmö [Sweden]. They had this stuff in her house growing up. She became our in-store vettor and kept us on the straight and narrow.”

Paulette, whom John calls the “prime energy source” of the business, tries to keep multiple examples of popular forms on hand in the shop. She said, “If you have a store, you need choice. If people want a chest, you want to have more than one for them to look at.” During our visit, for instance, we noticed at least three or four settees in stock along with an equal number of tall clocks. “We have to keep it fresh,” John said.

While the Dawn Hill inventory leans heavily to furniture, there’s no shortage of smalls. Paulette stocks substantial amounts of pottery, glassware, decorative objects, paintings, lighting, and looking glasses that complement the furniture she sells. In fact, her first love was china, not furniture.

For much of her career Paulette worked in advertising and public relations for Elizabeth Arden in New York City. On her many trips to England she became interested in Staffordshire and related pottery. She said, “I went around buying blue and white transferware and brought back huge boxes on the planes.” Customs in those days did not present a problem. “You’d just wave to the customs people and tell them you had antiques, and they’d let you through.” Before she began specializing in Swedish material, she said, “I used to do a lot with Welsh dressers because they looked great with all the transferware.”

Her first antiques business venture also focused on pottery, albeit of the most utilitarian sort. Paulette said, “I had a shop with a friend in Cornwall Bridge [about a dozen miles north of New Preston] called Real McCoy. We sold McCoy flowerpots.”

In addition to blue and white transferware, Paulette also stocks a substantial amount of white ironstone as well as a limited amount of new pottery. She also carries a line of high-end French fragrances and candles. Not only do these things add to the general attractiveness of the shop, but they serve a direct business purpose as well. The well-off homeowners in this area are also the type of people who are likely to entertain houseguests on a regular basis. And those houseguests need thank-you gifts to give their hosts. “We get a lot of people coming in for a fifty-dollar or a hundred-dollar item. They’re not looking for a ten-thousand-dollar clock. In this town you need to have these smaller items,” she said.

While the shop is clearly their major undertaking, the Pedens also do a number of antiques shows. They’ve exhibited at shows in Nantucket, Maryland, Charleston, Palm Beach and Naples, Florida. They used to do the Marilyn Gould summer show in Wilton, and they do the Botanical Garden show because they buy a fair number of garden pieces. They also do the “downtown armory show” in Manhattan. “And way back when, we used to do the Wendy shows at the uptown armory,” Paulette said. “They were great.”

Paulette is on the board of the Antiques Council and handles some of the organization’s advertising and public relations chores.

Dawn Hill has a substantial Internet presence. The Pedens have an active Web site. If you Google “Swedish antiques,” Dawn Hill comes up on the opening page. The business has also been on 1stdibs for ten years. Paulette credits 1stdibs with giving the business a national reach. She said, “It’s what takes pieces further afield. I just sold a clock that’s going to Lake Tahoe from 1stdibs.” She also works with the Internet marketing firm Constant Contact sending out e-mails to clients. “I do it every month or two,” she said.

When asked what percentage of her gross comes from each component of the business—shop, shows, Internet—Paulette thought for a minute before answering, “One-third, one-third, one-third.”

That mix may change in the near future. The Pedens are doing fewer shows. “I don’t know that people are turning out for antiques shows the way they used to,” Paulette said. “I’m hoping to build the shop and Internet. This fall will be a good test for me. I’m not doing any shows until the downtown armory [in January].”

The business also generates extra income by leasing space on the upper floor of the building, which the Pedens own, to three dealers, Barry Strom, Glenn Allard, and Darius Nemati. The Pedens also reserve a space upstairs that they call Brocante, where they show things that don’t quite fit the look of the shop downstairs. It allows them to buy an eclectic mix of interesting stuff that may have good potential profit in it but that would dilute the Gustavian ambiance of the main shop. During our visit, for example, there was a cute bistro table and a pair of Kem Weber chairs on offer.

Upstairs is also where John sells his musical stuff. He joked, “Paulette is kind enough to let me have a little cubicle.” He calls this venture Peden’s Vintage. He specializes in those small early Fender amps that aging Boomer guys are likely to have used when they were young. He also carries some other Fender paraphernalia and a small selection of vintage vinyl records. He does not sell vintage Fender guitars. He said, “The guitars are no fun. I can’t afford to tie up forty to sixty thousand dollars in a guitar.” And the amps, he added, “are undervalued still.”

John played guitar with the Heavenly Blues Band in North Carolina and then moved to San Francisco in 1966. In short order he learned that there were lots of better guitarists around than he was. He began taking pictures of musicians instead of playing with them. “Given what happened with drugs to so many musicians back then, I dodged a bullet,” he said. (Nevertheless, after moving to New York in 1970, he played rhythm guitar for 30 years in the roots rock and blues band the Cool Jerks.)

John went on to have a career photographing musicians and as a fashion photographer. He no longer shoots fashion but still photographs things musical. His photos have appeared in a large number of music publications and books. Also, he recently has begun photographing gardens.

It was while he was working as a fashion photographer that John met Paulette. Apparently, it was not exactly love at first sight. “We worked together in the professional sense for five or six years before we got together,” John said. “If you really want to get to know someone, work with them.”

It was at work that Paulette became enamored of Swedish antiques. She said that Elizabeth Arden had a business relationship with fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, which required her to make regular trips to Paris. She would visit the Paris flea market before work. It was in Paris that she discovered the attraction of Scandinavian antiques. “It was twenty-five or twenty-eight years ago; I saw my first painted clock. I loved the pale color, the quirky design.”

She said, “We went to Sweden a couple of times” and developed a network of European dealers (one of their favorites is actually in Belgium) who specialize in Swedish antiques. They met many of them in, of all places, the south of France. “A lot of Swedish dealers came to shows in Provence,” she said.

Even in today’s softer market, the Pedens are active buyers. The container we mentioned at the beginning of this article was a 40' one that the couple shared with another dealer in town. It contained 20 pieces of furniture for them and another 45 pieces of dishes, glassware and decorations. “Only one glass was broken,” Paulette said. In a market where selling any furniture is difficult, you have to admire someone who’s buying 20 pieces at a time.

For information contact Dawn Hill Antiques, 11 Main St., New Preston, CT 06777, (860) 868-0066, cell (917) 767-6384, Web site (www.dawnhillantiques.com); year-round hours: Saturday 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m., all other days 11 a.m.-5 p.m., closed Tuesdays. Also Peden’s Vintage, cell (917) 855-9255, Web site (www.pedensvintage.com), e-mail <john@pedensvintage.com>.


Originally published in the November 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest

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