Let's Make a Deal in N.Y.

The doors at Mark McDonald Ltd. originally adorned a 1930s-era movie theater in nearby Saugerties, N.Y.
The doors at Mark McDonald Ltd. originally adorned a 1930s-era movie theater in nearby Saugerties, N.Y. (Mark McDonald Ltd.)
By Annie Groer
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, September 7, 2008

Make no mistake about it. You go to Hudson, N.Y., a slowly gentrifying, semi-shabby city of roughly 7,000 souls, to feather your nest.

Sure, you can admire splendid Hudson River and Catskill Mountain vistas 125 miles north of Manhattan, check out four centuries of architecture, eat and drink well in a Starbucks-free community and even take in local culture.

But the main draw, which has been evolving over 20 years, is antique furniture, art, rugs, sculpture, books, funky tchotchkes and, increasingly, new home furnishings. Feel the need for some George III or Louis XVI chairs? A Murano glass chandelier? Japanese erotica, garden sculpture, 1970s psychedelic barware, elaborate quilts, primitive paintings? How about decorating advice on pulling this stuff together?

It can all be yours along an eight-block stretch of Warren Street and a few adjacent byways. The mile-long main drag boasts about 60 antiques dealers, whose merchandising style ranges from meticulously curated to annoyingly jumbled, and 100-plus flea-market-style vendors sharing space in two large old buildings nearby.

That tally does not count Stair Galleries (549 Warren St., 518-751-1000), an auction house that moves as many as 7,000 objects a year, including estates referred by Sotheby's in New York. Savvy Hudson and more-distant dealers and designers regularly snap up, mark up and resell those goods, cheerfully described by owner Colin Stair as "good English furniture that's out of fashion," the occasional unrecognized treasure and copious "kitsch from the rich" who've downsized or died.

Add 25 more art galleries, some designer showrooms and rare-book dealers, a few new and vintage clothing boutiques, and you've covered virtually every style, if not every wallet. Sticker shock can be a problem, so haggle your heart out. Everyone else does.

I hit the main drag one recent Friday morning, but an hour of random browsing persuaded me to devise more rational systems based on city maps and dealer lists available free in many establishments (and online at http://www.hudsonantiques.net): Start in the sparsely populated 100 block of Warren Street and work your way uphill from the river to the higher-rent, higher-density blocks; or eat dessert first, so to speak, and start in the 700 block and proceed downhill; or shop by category, which might mean art galleries only, or stores focusing on Americana or Scandinaviana.

I chose the bottom-up route, and after my two full days of popping through what felt like 6,000 doorways, a few choice pieces still haunt the memory: six Frank Lloyd Wright leaded-glass windows from the dismantled Northome of Francis W. Little in Wayzata, Minn. ($250,000 for the six at Mark McDonald Ltd., 555 Warren St., 518-828-6320); a foot-high humanoid, newly crafted from Indonesian goat bones ($50 at LiliAndLoo, a longtime purveyor of stylish, affordable multi-culti home goods at 259 Warren, 518-822-9492); and a framed 1925 photo of the entire New York Philharmonic Orchestra posed stiffly in front of the U.S. Capitol ($25 at musty, dusty Warren Street Antiques, 322 Warren, 518-671-6699, where pulmonary fortitude is as important as a good eye).

I was charmed by oversize architectural bird-feeders evoking Tara, the Parthenon and country cottages ($250 to $600 at Hedstrom & Judd, 401 Warren, 518-671-6131) and stunned by the price of shiny nickel art deco-esque "skyscraper" andirons ($1,800 at Historical Materialism, 601 Warren, 518-671-6151) since I'd bought an identical set for $25 at a Bethesda estate sale in the 1990s; alas, I later sold them for what now seems a paltry $125. I gave presentation points to the eponymous shop of David Dew Bruner, who includes artful display stands he creates with many of his arresting oddments (621 Warren, 914-466-4857). And although there was no way I'd buy the 5-by-10-foot library stage sets from "Saturday Night Live" ($4,500 for the pair at Vincent R. Mulford Antiques, 419 Warren, 518-828-5489) or that handblown footed glass fishbowl circa 1860-70 ($1,250 at Noonan Antiques, 551 Warren, 518-828-5779), it was a treat to hang out in two of the classiest shops in town.

The best thing about Hudson might be the vibe. Dealers and their staffs are, for the most part, accessible, knowledgeable and voluble, many having fled Manhattan for a more affordable, laid-back life. Inquire about an object and you'll get its provenance, history and function; marvel at a shop's architecture and you'll probably be told it once was a department store, tavern, bank or bordello. And it's not just the merchants. The folks at the Opera House, built in 1855 as City Hall and now being renovated, have been known to let weary visitors nap on the office sofa.

Hudson was settled in the 1780s by New England seamen; it was a perfect deep-water port in which to keep their vessels safe from British retaliation after the American Revolution, according to the Historic Hudson organization. Since then, Hudson has known boom and bust, shifting from a teeming port city in the late 18th century to a victim of expanding railroads and increased petroleum use; from a 19th-century center of brickworks, ironworks, breweries and textile mills to a post-Depression, postwar casualty of displaced industries and shuttered factories. Antiquarians and galleristas began arriving in the 1980s, and though they have helped to revive Hudson, they've also alienated some longtime have-nots.

I thought about those underemployed, overtaxed townies living amid chi-chi shops and big-spending tourists as I admired a streamlined 1936 Crane bathroom sink by industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss. It was $6,500 at Mark McDonald, in pinkish-beige porcelain. If you prefer it in yellow, $2,250 takes it at Neven and Neven Moderne a block away (618 Warren, 518-828-4214).

Such a deal.

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