Stepping into Comer & Co., the latest design shop in Georgetown’s Book Hill neighborhood, is like being invited to a private home.
The pink clapboard house at 1659 Wisconsin Ave. NW has four rooms filled with vignettes set up to show customers how to put old and new together. The shop includes European antiques, midcentury tables and chairs and vintage accessories. The artful mix: 19th-century plaster busts of George Washington, 1920s French Deco chairs, gold Chinese pagodas, 1930s stone garden frogs and 1960s Lucite coffee tables.
In one corner, a pair of robin’s-egg blue vintage Christopher Spitzmiller lamps ($1,690 apiece) sit atop an 18th-century Scottish mahogany sideboard ($6,400). Seagrass carpeting, gray walls (Revere Pewter by Benjamin Moore) and a pink ceiling painted the same color as the exterior (Rose Reflection by Benjamin Moore) set off California beeswax candles in 25 colors ($8.50 per pair of tapers) and 18th-century corkscrews ($175 to $250).
The shop reflects the style of Fred Comer and partner Mark Manoff, who opened their first store two years ago in Kilmarnock on Virginia’s Northern Neck. They are also dealers on 1stdibs.com, an online marketplace for antiques.
Comer and Manoff have an advertising and publishing background working with clients such as Architectural Digest and Town & Country. They live in Georgetown and Irvington. Like many others, they started in the business by being collectors themselves. “Antique furniture and paintings have always been a passion for us,” Comer says. “We set up our first house and decided to buy what we could afford. Then we began upgrading and selling pieces we had to get ones we like better. Now we help others.”
We recently spoke with Comer at the Georgetown store. He sat in a 19th-century French armchair and I sat in an 18th-century English chinoiserie side chair.
Lots of antique dealers have closed, yet you’re expanding. What’s the state of the antiques business?
The days of antique shops filled with brown furniture has passed. The solid, old, quality pieces have their place, but they have to be integrated with lighter things, such as painted furniture, glass or Lucite. Today, the function of some of the old standbys has changed with younger people using antique sideboards as bars in family rooms or as storage in a front hallway.
Does old brown furniture get a bad rap from those who describe it as fusty and granny-looking?
Yes and it shouldn’t. These pieces lend a sense of permanence and history to a room. Antiques are green, and this bears repeating. The tree used to make this table [he points to the mahogany Scottish sideboard dating back to 1790] was harvested 200 years ago and has served 10 generations. It will likely carry on for another 10. It has lasting beauty and quality.
Why did you choose to open in Washington?
This is an interesting town. Lots of people are retiring from bigger homes to smaller townhouses and many live in apartments or condos. There are plenty of furniture stores selling big marshmallow sofas and chairs that just won’t work in these small spaces.
How has the antiques business changed?
People are not purist collectors anymore. They don’t just look for Chinese export porcelain or French furniture. Today, people want a mix.
Are antiques still good investments?
Yes. You live with these pieces and they won’t drop in value like a new piece of furniture does. Usually, when you are done with it, there is someone else waiting who wants it.
What’s your favorite piece in the shop?
I like the silver-leaf Italian bombe chest with the faux black marble top. It works in virtually any room: in a front hall, as a bedside table or in a dining room. This piece is a 1950s reinterpretation of an 18th-century form. The silver-leaf gives it a fresh, modern feel.