Not-So-Secret Treasure: R.T. Facts in Kent, Connecticut
November 7, 2016
Text by Louis Postel
R. T. Facts in Kent, Connecticut
How do you separate the super-serious designer from the merely serious? Had you been at the opening of the R.T. Facts Gallery in Kent on a Saturday night in June, the difference between super-serious and serious would have been as clear as the zinc-frame mirrors leaning like louche guests against the walls.
While the merely serious held their pale Pamplemousse margaritas to the light, air-kissed such design illuminati as Bunny Williams, Robert Couturier, and John Rosselli, toasted owners Natalie and Greg Randall, and marveled at the 8,000-square-foot barn space with its twenty-foot-high ceilings, beams, trusses, skylights, and concrete walls, the super-serious went straight to the stuff on display.
Because the stuff is like nowhere else, perhaps in the entire world. An eighteenth-century limestone fireplace surround sets off distressed-leather industrial-chic gymnast benches and a contemporary table with a thick glass top and wrought-iron praying mantis–like legs. Creatively and meticulously bought, restored, and arranged, the many vignettes the super-serious spent so much time studying represent more than the sum of their primarily neutral-colored parts.
Antique plus contemporary plus -industrial equals the look and feel favored by R.T. Facts’s design clients. Contemporary expresses their optimism, their generation’s moment. Industrial brings in the raw, the sexy, a celebration of everyday life. And antiques lend character.
Any one look by itself risks coming off as too little or too much. “It’s the balance designers are looking for,” says Natalie. “They don’t want to have just antiques—that would look old fashioned—but a mix. They want to show that they have some knowledge of the arts, that they have traveled, that they have a personality. The key for us is to make sure everything we sell is elegant, beautiful, and of the highest quality.”
In addition to the new R.T. Facts Gallery, Greg and Natalie maintain a staging area, workshops, and an office a block and half away where, says Natalie, “you can still see things being made in what was once Kent’s Town Hall, firehouse, and ambulance garage.” A majestic, photo-ready blacksmith in a leather apron wields his hammer. Another craftsman devotes himself solely to copper weathervanes. Still others work on more angular steel, making the modern pieces that will join the antiques in the gallery. “We’re committed to supporting the local economy,” says Natalie, who, with Greg, supported three children who have now joined them in the business.
“We sell mainly to designers,” she says. “They come in from New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, and, increasingly, overseas. We supply homes, of course, and also a lot of common areas in bars, restaurants, and hospitality—the lobbies, not the rooms—and fashion houses looking for props, which they then extend to all their stores.”
Greg, who has a background in art history and architecture, and Natalie, who came from the world of fabrics and fashion, arrived in Kent twenty-four years ago from New York City. He was working for an antiques dealer and she worked in clothing. As a side venture they would drive ahead of the city’s trash trucks on bulk-item pickup days, then bring their finds to the now-defunct 6th Avenue Flea Market Annex on 26th Street. “People would ask, ‘Where’s your shop? We’d like to make an appointment,’” recalls Natalie, “and Greg and I kind of hemmed and hawed. After a while we started doing shows full-time, and we realized that a lot of our deliveries were to Litchfield County. There in Kent, we saw that the old Town Hall was for sale.”
The Randalls often invite guest curators to do their own signature vignettes. The night of the gallery opening, antiques dealer Jeffrey Henkel of Princeton, New Jersey, designed 1,000 square feet that drew the serious as well as the super-serious to witness his daredevil imagination, how it pulls back from the brink only at the last moment. The scene: a 1947 Peugeot motorcycle, behind which looms a fully reconstructed cow skeleton painted automotive white, a tufted chesterfield sofa, and a bronzed 1970s table that looks as though it’s growing out of the floor from tree-like roots. Antiques and “R.T. Facts” such as these will never grow old. •
22 South Main Street and
Kent Barns Gallery at 8 Old Barns Road, Kent