Retail Rapture: Shopping in New Preston, Connecticut
November 3, 2016
New Preston is a little piece of shopping heaven, as a tour of a handful of our favorite boutiques proves.
Text by Dan Shaw Photography by Laura Moss
The Guide to Shopping in New Preston, Connecticut
It’s said you can’t buy good taste, but in the northwestern Connecticut village of New Preston, you actually can. The area was established as a railroad stop in the nineteenth century, and its historic clapboard buildings appear like Brigadoon on a narrow, winding road near Lake Waramaug. Over the past thirty years, New Preston has evolved into an incubator for independent retailers with idiosyncratic vision who cater not only to the area’s well-heeled locals (Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, Museum of Modern Art president emerita Agnes Gund), but also day-trippers from nearby Fairfield County and the Berkshires. The merchants are unfailingly gracious and eager to expound upon their wares, which are flawlessly displayed in meticulously composed vignettes—an Instagrammer’s nirvana.
Dawn Hill Antiques
Main Street and East Shore Road form a sort of retail row with one charming destination after another. Entering Dawn Hill Antiques is like stepping into a snow globe. Crystal chandeliers sparkle like icicles above a bracing landscape of Swedish tall-case Mora clocks, tables, and cabinets with their original painted surfaces in cool grays, blues, and greens. Owners John and Paulette Peden specialize in furniture from the Rococo through Gustavian periods, presented in airy rooms with the understated elegance of a Swedish manor house. The alluring assortment of English nineteenth-century blue-and-white transferware, vintage French majolica, and Baccarat-style goblets, will inspire you to plan a formal dinner party or rethink how you set the breakfast table. The Pedens are fans of the contemporary Connecticut potter Frances Palmer, and a hutch is devoted to her gossamer cream-and-white cake stands and vases with eccentric fluted edges. Upstairs, the Pedens have leased spaces to other antiques dealers where you can find more traditionally New England furnishings: gleaming brass candlesticks and fireplace tools, copper pots, nineteenth-century landscape and still-life paintings, and handcrafted American wicker furniture. Even if you’re just browsing, Dawn Hill offers an edifying crash course in the decorative arts.
The moment you walk into Pergola you breathe easier. You don’t have to be a gardener to be seduced by the Zen potting-shed ambience and selection of succulents, orchids, preserved boxwood balls, and wooden troughs planted with moss. Owners David Whitman and Peter Stiglin describe themselves as naturalists, and they are drawn to objects with organic beauty—a banded chalcedony onyx bowl, stone vases by New Hampshire artist Lee Spiller, a shadow box of planthoppers and oversize dried seedpods that can be used as a centerpiece. On their yearly trip to Japan, they bring back exquisite rustic glazed vases and antique screens with flora and fauna motifs. The terrace behind the shop overlooks the falls of the East Aspetuck River and features outdoor furniture, including the same stackable aluminum chairs that grace the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris.
J. Seitz & Co.
Catering to Litchfield County weekenders for three decades, J. Seitz & Co. is a densely layered lifestyle emporium where men’s and women’s apparel is sold side by side with a wide array of home furnishings in a palette of blacks, grays, whites, and creams. As eclectic decorating has become the new normal, Seitz has added more bohemian pieces to its classic mix of upholstered pieces from Cisco and Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams, such as oak stools with fuzzy goatskin seats and contemporary punched-tin Moroccan pendant lights. Reclaimed wood-and-steel pieces—a streamlined sofa and a bed layered with sheets by Matteo made in California from Italian linen, for example—epitomize the store’s contemporary, refined take on rustic style.
At nearby Privet House, Susanne Cassano and Richard Lambertson have created a sublime, high-ceilinged setting for bold antiques, tableware, decorative objects, and grace notes for the well-lived life. Utilitarian items like wood cutting boards in every shape and size hang from leather straps on a wall, looking like pieces of art. Upstairs, one sun-splashed room is painted a midnight blue with a mix of furniture arranged as if for an old-school Manhattan cocktail party. Another room is painted a chic gray-green, with vintage collections of Steuben glass and terra cotta pitchers and vases by Elsa Peretti for Tiffany & Co. The array of antique and vintage pieces defies categorization, but every item has a distinctive personality: a massive painted nineteenth-century Dutch armoire; 1960s ebonized tall-back dining chairs with patent-leather seats in the style of Gio Ponti; 1920s Regency armchairs upholstered in ikat linen. The vintage-book department has gems such as Billy Baldwin Decorates and Diana Vreeland’s Allure, which offer insight into the owners’ cultured cosmopolitan sensibility.
Just around the corner, in a cottage on New Preston Hill Road, Plain Goods reflects the charisma of its owners, interior designer Michael DePerno and fashion veteran Andrew Fry, who treat you like guests in their home. The sunny, whitewashed interior is a backdrop for a curated collection of accessories in a masculine palette of grays, browns, blues, and creams. The assortment of beguiling and esoteric items includes antique birdcages, oversized sweet-grass baskets, Persian kilim rugs, and modernist candlestick lamps. Like a contemporary curiosity shop, everything demands scrutiny—from a set of teak measuring spoons and a leather-and-brass shoehorn to desk accessories like handsome brass-and-steel scissors and contemporary Italian hand staplers. Old or new, everything at Plain Goods reflects DePerno and Fry’s passion for designs with innate integrity.
From one end of the village to the other, the relaxed pace of shopping encourages mindfulness, allowing you to appreciate the pleasure and privilege of furnishing your home with things of quality and beauty—the ultimate “retail therapy.”
Keeping Up Your Strength
For a quick bite, 9 Main Bakery and Deli (ninemainbakery.com) offers healthy salads and creative sandwiches in a country-house setting. If you want a glass of wine or a Bloody Mary after shopping, it’s a three-minute drive to the White Horse Country Pub and Restaurant (whitehorsecountrypub.com), where the menu includes salads, burgers, and such tavern classics as shepherd’s pie and fish
and chips. In warm weather, you can dine at umbrella-topped tables on a deck overlooking the river, and on cooler days you can warm yourself by the fireplacein the cozy taproom.
Dawn Hill Antiques, 11 Main Street, (860) 868-0066, dawnhillantiques.com
Pergola, 7 East Shore Road, (860) 868-4769, pergolahome.com
J. Seitz & Co., 9 East Shore Road, (860) 868-0119, jseitz.com
Privet House, 13 East Shore Road, (860) 868-1800, privethouse.com
Plain Goods, 1 New Preston Hill Rd., (860) 868-0280, plain-goods.com