Louis' Writing Samples,  social media

Where designers go for antiques

by Louis Postel, first published in New England Home / Connecticut | November, 2016

How do you separate the super serious designer from the merely serious? Had you been at the opening of the R.T. Facts Gallery on 8 Barns Road in Kent, CT one Saturday night in June, the difference between super serious and serious would have been as clear as the antique mirrors on the walls.

While the merely serious held their pale Pamplemousse margaritas to the light, air-kissed design Illuminati Bunny Williams, Robert Couturier, John Roselli, Amy Mellon of Calvin Klein Home among others, toasted R.T Facts owners and impresarios Natalie and Greg Randall, marveled at the 8,000 square foot barn space with its twenty foot ceilings, beams, trusses, skylights, and concrete walls the super serious ignored all this and went straight to the stuff on display.

Because the stuff is like nowhere else, perhaps in the entire world. An 18th-century limestone fireplace surround ($40,000) sets off a very contemporary table with a thick glass top and wrought iron praying mantis-like legs ($6,800) and distressed leather industrial chic gymnast benches ($925 each). 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’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 Randall, “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. And to stay a step ahead of the clichés. We make it a point to stay clear of all this fake weathered stuff with peeling paint coming from the Pottery Barns and Restoration Hardwares of the world.”

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 you can still see things being made in what was once Kent’s Town Hall, firehouse and ambulance garage,” says Natalie. A majestic, photo-ready blacksmith in a leather apron wields his hammer. Another R.T. Facts 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 – about – 85%. They come in from New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and increasingly overseas. It’s nice that some designers try to get here before my assistant Alex posts new items on our site. We supply homes, of course, and also a lot of common areas, bars, restaurants and hospitality, the lobbies not the rooms, and fashion houses looking for props which they then extend to all their stores. While the display tables are very clean and minimalistic, just showing pants and shirts, for example, a beautiful urn or sculpture from us will express their taste level.”

Greg with a background in art history and architecture, and Natalie in fabrics and fashion arrived in Kent twenty-four years ago from New York City. He was working for an antiques dealer and she in clothing. As a side venture, they would drive ahead of the city’s trash trucks on bulk item pick up days, after that they would bring their finds to the now-defunct 6th Avenue Flea Market Annex on 26th Street. “People would say ‘where’s your shop? — We’d like to make an appointment,’ 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 and 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 June night of the gallery opening, designer Geoffrey Henkel from Princeton, NJ took a 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. A 1947 Peugeot motorcycle in the gallery window behind which looms a fully-reconstructed cow skeleton painted automotive white, a tufted chesterfield sofa and a bronzed 70’s table growing out of the floor with tree-like roots. Antiques and “R.T. Facts” such as these will never grow old.