Interview: Mari Ann Maher of Stamford’s Antique & Artisan Center

October 15, 2013

Text by Kyle Hoepner    Photography by Portrait by Matthew Furman

The newest partner at Stamfords Antique & Artisan Center talks about the innovations in store for the popular design emporium.

KH: How does the work in Stamford differ from what you were doing as director of John Rosselli Antiques in New York?

MAM: Honestly, I have found that there are more similarities than differences between my careers in New York and Stamford. I am still surrounded by a trade clientele, but also enjoy our retail customers who need a little more direction and inspiration. I really like bringing New York decorators here and exposing them to all that the Antique & Artisan Center has to offer, not to mention the other antiques centers nearby.

In New York I was responsible for overseeing just one dealer’s antiques. But now I work with more than 100 dealers on a daily basis—and they’re all located under one roof! The variety of merchandise that passes through my hands is just wonderful. It’s a really exciting time to be here: the Antique & Artisan Center was the first antiques center to open in this part of Stamford, some sixteen years ago, but the neighborhood today has the largest concentration of antiques centers in the country. There are 785-plus dealers now occupying close to 200,000 square feet of retail space, and together they’ve generated more than $180 million in sales in just over fourteen years.

KH: What is your take on the Fairfield County market? Are there any things about the community that you’ve found interesting or surprising, compared with New York?

MAM: I view the typical Fairfield County customer as being a relaxed version of the New York City lady. By this I mean they have sophistication, taste, and design sense, but with a relaxed edge to their buying habits and a desire to have me guide them through their shopping experience.

KH: There are some changes of focus coming at the center, I gather, especially in terms of connecting with the design trade. What should we expect to see?

MAM: For one thing, we have added a gorgeous, custom-built library that offers everything from coffee-table books to classics. We can now outfit a complete library for any client, with old books bound in either cloth or leather, or with new books.

KH: I’ve heard you’re now carrying some lines of new products by companies like Edelman Leather, in addition to your antiques business.

MAM: The Upholstery Studio followed the completion of the library. We now offer in-house custom upholstery services, as well as furniture refinishing, and can provide our clientele with a wonderful selection of antique textiles and designer fabrics by the yard…plus, we can custom order any fabric.

I’d really like your readers to know how easy we have made the process of having a treasured piece brought back to life. For the shopper looking for a quick fabric makeover or to cover a new cushion, our designer fabrics are perfectly priced from $18 up to $200 a yard. If you really want to dive deep and create a whole new look, our studio offers a wide array of coordinating fabrics and Samuel & Sons trim that will give the finishing touch to any room.

Some of the lines we’ll carry are Tania Vartan’s printed linens and cottons; Elanbach’s printed linens and cottons (imported from Wales); Savel’s gorgeous printed velvets, woven linens, and an extensive collection of mohair fabrics; and John Saladino’s textured linens, wool paisleys, and silks—plain and quilted. But with vendors from all over bringing me their wares to see if they are a good fit for the A&A Upholstery Studio, the list is truly evolving on a daily basis…so this is just the beginning.

KH: What about a proposed garden area that will include garden furniture, statuary, ornaments, and such?

MAM: Our next big endeavor will be an outside Garden Folly that will include stone, terra cotta, and architectural elements for both the inside and out. We will keep you posted on that!

KH: I’m sure Illumé, the New York–based bespoke lampshade boutique and lighting workshop run by your partners Mark Candido and Ron Scinto, will continue to be part of the mix.

MAM: Mark and Ron are such an important part of the changes being made here, and together, if I may say so, we make an amazing trio. Because Illumé is located in the heart of the design district and Ron oversees the day-to-day running of things in New York, he has his finger on the pulse of what’s hot and trending. Mark’s time is focused on Illumé’s sister business, The Accessory Store, and making sure he is providing his client base with the latest in shades, lighting, and decorative home items. The three of us get together quite often to push ideas back and forth, exchange sources, and determine how we can successfully meet the ever-changing needs of our savvy shoppers.

KH: I can’t imagine you don’t have some promotional events being prepared, in conjunction with these other changes?

MAM: Oh yes, most definitely. We are hosting a book signing on October 10 for Mario Buatta and Ellie Cullman. Both designers will be releasing new books just days before the party—so we thought it would be fun to feature them on the same night. This party should prove to be a real “who’s who” event.

Then we’ll turn our focus to planning a spring 2014 roundtable discussion that will be by invitation only. Our goal is to have twenty of the most interesting designers, architects, and artists together with twenty of the most unusual antique dealers and midcentury shopkeepers. Private invitations will be mailed at least three weeks in advance and will include a topic of discussion that has yet to be determined. Let’s see who comes up with the most outrageous answers!

KH: Where do you see yourself, and the Antique & Artisan Center, going from here? Are there other initiatives you’d like to undertake down the road?

MAM: I envision the Antique & Artisan Center growing into a full-service design center that will provide one-stop shopping for anyone looking to fill their home with beautiful antiques, custom upholstered furniture, and the best accessories to be found in the tri-state area. It will be full steam ahead for Mark, Ron, and me as we have a lot to do and even more to look forward to. •

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