Two generations. On left, Seamus McCance with partner Rebekah Milne, who’s next to her parents, Jim and Judy Milne.
Exterior of the shop at 81 Broadway in Kingston.
A view of the shop’s 30' ceilings.
Rustic hand-hewn farm table, $2850; set of seven reproduction Windsors—one arm and five sides—$3250; 1970’s red tableware, $20 to $60 a piece. “I bought them from a prop house,” Judy said. The 19th-century push-up brass candlesticks are $225 for the pair.
A variety of garden decorations. The six cast stone Chinese female musicians are $18,500. The column-base cast stone table is $2200. The pair of cement baluster-form lamps is $875. Cast stone basket-form planters in the foreground are $375 for the pair, and the pair of cast stone Art Deco planters with their pedestals (partly hidden behind the lamps) is $1850. The yellow cement garden ball on the table is $185. The two half-round windows put together in a circle are $375 for the pair.
Blanket chest in old dry surface with early hardware, $1250. The Three Graces on it are carved and silvered. They are Continental and early, and are $14,500. The folky panel on the right is made of wood planks and depicts a carefully painted view of the Arizona statehouse. “My guess is that it’s from a stage set,” Judy said. It’s $875. The large carved figure is believed to be from a Ringling Bros. circus wagon. A very similar one appears in figure 186 in Frederick Fried’s book Artists in Wood. It’s $8800. The marine watercolor on the wall is from 1950 by Edgar Corbridge (1901-1988). It’s $1450. “We have two others by him,” Judy said. The carved wood owl on the right is $875. Rebekah said it’s a Herter decoy.
Bronze Art Deco bank table, $2850. The two pieces of pottery are Turkish. The one on the left is $145. Judy said the one on the right is much older. It’s $475.
Pair of chairs designed by Jay Spectre, circa 1960, $2550 for the pair. “We also have a set of four sides and two armchairs,” Judy said. The round hooked rug on the floor depicts the zodiac with a sun face in the middle. It’s $1650. The olive jar in a handmade iron stand is from Turkey. The jar is $475; the stand is $675.
In the Trade
Is Kingston becoming a younger generation’s Hudson?
Maybe it’s just coincidence, but for the second time in six months, we’ve gone to Kingston, New York, to interview a young couple getting into the antiques business.
This time it’s 32-year-old Rebekah Milne, the daughter of longtime dealers Jim and Judy Milne. Rebekah is joining the family business along with her partner, Seamus McCance, who’s also 32. Jim and Judy Milne began selling antiques from their New York City apartment 42 years ago, and for 38 years they sold out of their gallery on East 74th Street. But an unreasonable landlord—“He didn’t know there was a recession,” Jim said—led them to think about moving their operation out of town.
And that’s where Rebekah and Seamus entered the picture. About a year ago, the Milnes set up a new store in the Rondout section of Kingston in a building that they owned. It’s an artsy neighborhood of antiques shops and galleries by the Hudson River. Rebekah and Seamus essentially oversee the shop, while Judy and Jim do up to 15 shows a year. “It’s almost like two different businesses,” Seamus said.
Almost like two different businesses, but, as with any family business, it’s more complicated than that. The “kids” help out at shows. The Milnes always have carried a substantial selection of heavy garden stuff, so Sean’s youth and strength—he’s trained as an ironworker and has a union card—are big assets. And Jim and Judy are still deeply involved in the shop. It is, after all, their inventory.
You could make a case that Kingston is hipper these days than, say, Hudson or Rhinebeck. The east side of the river exploded during the 1980’s and ’90’s when New Yorkers looking for second homes discovered rural Columbia and Dutchess Counties. The area bordered Connecticut and Massachusetts, but you could buy a house for half of what it might cost in the Litchfield Hills or the Berkshires. It became Martha Stewart country, and places like Hudson and Rhinebeck, with their antiques shops, boutiques, and restaurants, were part of the Zeitgeist.
The west side of the Hudson River, on the other hand, grew more slowly, hampered in part by its old reputation as a place where people went to big outdated hotels in the Catskills to eat, schmooze, and watch comedians like Henny Youngman. More recently, however, the area’s variety and lower prices have attracted a younger crowd. For people who have settled into a Brooklyn loft and are ready to look for a weekend home, it has become a destination of choice. Rebekah said, “They’re coming to Kingston because they can buy a home for a quarter of the price of Rhinebeck.”
While all this clearly benefits Kingston, no one would argue that the city is anywhere near gentrified. Judy laughed, “Kingston has been poised for forty-five years. And it’s still poised.”
It’s clear that the two generations here clearly have different approaches to the business. Judy said of Rebekah and Seamus, “They bring energy and a new path. At shows the younger set doesn’t want to talk to me.” She added, “Rebekah will say, ‘I saw you rolling your eyes when I was talking to a customer.’”
That’s because, in some cases, it’s as if they talk two different languages. When Jim or Judy talk to you, it’s likely to be in the patois of their generation’s antiques business. Focus is on age, rarity, surface, condition.
For Rebekah and Seamus, it’s the language of young professionals and hipsters. “There’s really a different trend in the business now,” Rebekah said. “Young people love the look of antiques, but they want them to fit in and work with what they have. They’re used to making everything in their lives work together. They make their BlackBerry work perfectly.”
They are not, in other words, willing to compromise when a period piece isn’t quite the right size or style. So Rebekah and Seamus accommodate them. “If they want a farm table that fits their space exactly, we’ll get some 1880’s barn boards and make a table,” Rebekah said, adding, “We design everything. We have two local woodworkers. Everything is handmade.”
But they realize this is a delicate balance. If you do too much of that sort of thing, you risk losing your integrity. Seamus said, “We’ve discussed this. We cannot lose the authenticity.” Rebekah agreed. Young buyers, she said, “still want to know about history. That’s what separates us from Pier One.”
And in fact they’re proud to sell serious antiques. “That remains the core of the business,” Rebekah said, noting that they recently sold a Kings County kas for $12,000 and were delighted that it went into a low-ceilinged restored Hudson Valley home. Seamus said, “It just fit, with the width of a CD between the kas and the ceiling beam.”
Rebekah said younger buyers are looking for cheaper stuff. In general, they are not seeking the sophisticated examples that collectors of their parents’ generation coveted. “The dominant aesthetic is an eclectic mix,” she said. “They’ll combine a grain bin with Windsors [either real or repro] and a mid-century coffee table. Industrial is still huge but with simpler, cleaner lines. Primitive, rustic, and country are popular but not super painted stuff or expensive high country.” On the other hand, she said, the younger clientele is no longer focused exclusively on mid-century modern as it seemed to have been a couple of years ago. “They want a certain level of comfort that they gave up with mid-century modern. They want to bring a little more warmth into their homes.”
The aforementioned farm tables, whether old or new, are big sellers. “People are really into putting them into their city homes as well as their country homes,” Rebekah said.
A big difference between younger and older buyers, Rebekah said, is the former’s susceptibility to fast changing trends. (If you’re old, you call them “fads.”) She explained, “Our generation has gotten so used to trends changing so quickly. One week, one celebrity said, ‘I like X.’ The next week, another celebrity said, ‘I like Y.’ We know enough about both X and Y to work with customers.”
As one might expect, Rebekah and Seamus are a lot more involved in Web concerns and social media than Judy and Jim are. (During our entire interview Rebekah’s smartphone was never out of eyeshot.) Of her parents’ former Web site, Rebekah said, “My parents really didn’t have a functioning Web site.” That’s changed. “They put in the money, and we put in the time,” she said. “It’s the way people find us.” She added, “We wanted an e-commerce site so you could buy on line, just like Restoration Hardware.”
They also work with a company that specializes in promotion on social media. Rebekah said, “Say we go to a client’s home and see that a certain color works well with a certain shape. Then you can come home and blog about it.”
The couple is also eager to promote the whole concept of arts businesses in the area. At the top of their list are the “Third Friday” events held during the warm months when shops stay open late. Rebekah said, “It’s not just a few cute little stores.” (We should note here that the Milnes’s shop alone is 5700 sq. ft. with 30' ceilings.) In the Rondout section there are at least nine art galleries and antiques shops. “It’s like a Parisian market,” Seamus said.
And, as is the case with others of their generation, the couple likes to link commerce with good works. Rebekah said that at each Third Friday event a local non-profit is designated to receive 10% of merchants’ profits on goods sold that evening. The partners are also getting together with other merchants to maintain the planted median that runs down Rondout’s main drag, Broadway, since the city doesn’t have the funds.
There remains one big obstacle to Kingston’s catching fire as an arts venue, however. Unlike many old cities, it is very spread out. “Uptown” contains the historic Stockade section with its cluster of bars, restaurants, and cute shops. “Downtown”—the Rondout waterfront where the Milnes are located—also has its attractive shops, but these two artsy nodes are separated by a miles-long “Midtown” commercial strip, which isn’t artsy at all. Rebekah said, “Nobody works together. You have Uptown and Downtown, but Midtown gets forgotten.” There used to be an “arts bus” that connected Uptown and Downtown during the city’s “First Saturday” events, but funds have dried up, Rebekah said.
(There’s also the undeniable fact that Kingston’s street patterns seem particularly confusing. It’s rare that I’ve gone there and not gotten lost.)
Rebekah’s entry into the family business was not a foregone conclusion. Judy said, “She had asked before to come in, but we thought she was too young.” But time passed. Rebekah, recovering from a marriage gone sour in Florida, had moved in with a friend who lived in Pittsburgh. She met this ironworker named Seamus there.
Judy continued the story: “She called us and said, ‘I know I’ve asked before, but I really want to come into the business.’ I said, ‘You don’t want to be in this business. It’s a dying business.’ But she said, ‘We have ideas,’ and they did, a whole plan, and we said ‘OK.’”
Rebekah, who graduated from Smith College and has an MBA from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, called at a fortuitous time. Judy and Jim had bought the cavernous building in Kingston as an investment. They rented it out to a kitchen and bath shop. “Then the recession hit, and they said they couldn’t pay the rent,” Judy said. Jim and Judy had undertaken a gut renovation that took them two years to complete, which meant they now had a really nice warehouse in which to store their inventory after not renewing their New York lease. It seemed like a waste. Opening the place as a shop seemed like an obvious next step.
So Rebekah’s proposal that she and Seamus take on the shop fell on fertile ground. For a year now, the place has been At Home Antiques and Gallery.
Things immediately got off to a good start. Rebekah said, “We had just helped my parents set up at the [New York] Botanical Garden show, and Seamus and I arrived here for the first time. We pulled up, and a guy was staring in the window. He spent a couple of hundred dollars.”
Seamus originally had not planned to be part of the business. He thought he’d spend a couple of months helping set things up and then look around for some iron work. “I’m in the union, so I can work anywhere,” he said.
But he proved to be an invaluable part of the formula that seems to be working. Judy said, “All the middle-aged women in Kingston are in love with Seamus.” She added, “It’s exciting to be mentoring a young couple—especially mentoring a daughter, so she sees how hard it is.”
So far, Rebekah, too, said her business—and her life—are working out just fine with Seamus: “His strengths are my weaknesses, and his weaknesses are my strengths.”
For information, contact At Home Antiques and Gallery, 81 Broadway, Kingston, NY 12401, (347) 331-2242, (845) 331-3902; Web site (www.milneathomeantiques.com). Hours vary. Judy said they are still experimenting, but their brochure said: closed Tuesdays; open Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, noon to 6 p.m.; Friday, noon to 7 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Originally published in the June 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest