Published: November 6, 2006
Maria & Peter Warren Antiques isn’t easy to find if you don’t know what you’re looking for.
Tucked away on seven and a half verdant acres on the old Ridgefield Road in Wilton, the white clapboard house with its by-appointment-only antiques shop is understated and traditional, just what one would expect in this affluent bedroom community just over an hour north of Manhattan.
The assortment of cars parked in the sizable gravel court adjacent to the house is the first indication of unexpected activity inside. Shelves well stocked with ceramics, sculpture and books, and walls hung to the ceilings with paintings, drawings, prints and photographs, testify to the many interests of Peter Warren — traveler, collector and antiques dealer.
Visitors are warmly, if unconventionally, welcomed. Coconut, a large, white, happily untethered cockatoo, squawks hello. Blazin, the friendliest of four Warren dogs, offers a wet nose. Weary of visitors, English bull dogs Puck and McDuff and French bull dog Edith Louise eye their beds longingly. Client service is not for them.
It’s a busy morning at the Warren household. Peter’s daughter Maria Alejandra, known as A.J., is rushing out the door to her job as director of broadcast marketing at CBS News in New York, where she has worked for 28 years. Off to make an important professional appearance, grandson Josh Warren is pondering his choice of tie.
Peter Warren brings magisterial calm to the amiable bustle, something he has been known to do throughout his 60-year career as a beverage industry executive and advocate for charitable causes. As the former chairman of the Council of Governing Boards, he pushed for more affordable tuition at 110 independent colleges and universities in New York State.
“It kept me pretty active,” says Warren, the recipient of a slew of honorary degrees and a 1984 commendation for his efforts on behalf of postsecondary education from President Ronald Reagan.
In the mid-1980s, hoping to enlist Warren and his late wife, Maria, to her own cause, Wilton Historical Society and Heritage Museum executive director Marilyn Gould invited the couple to help with the museum’s “Mulled Wine and Madrigals” holiday celebration. When a steaming punch bowl crashed to the kitchen floor just as festivities were getting underway, Peter Warren insisted on remaining in the kitchen to clean up the sticky mess so that Gould could attend to her guests.
“He was always calm, sensible and willing to help in any way that he could,” say Gould, who relied on Warren’s good judgment and steadying influence during his two terms as president of the Wilton Historical Society.
Best known for Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Century English pottery, Warren began dealing in antiques 21 years ago, soon after retiring as CEO of PepsiCo International, where he worked from 1950 to 1985.
English pottery is a great love of Warren’s but not his first. The dealer, a member of the Antiques Council and the Art & Antique Dealers League of America, was initially drawn to Pre-Columbian artifacts and Asian antiquities, which he continues to collect. He was coaxed into the antiques business by his wife, who founded the firm in 1983.
The couple initially sold paintings, prints, rugs, textiles, ceramics and a wide range of decorative accessories from America, England and the Continent. The breadth of their business is still reflected in the company’s website, www.warrenantiques.com.
“Business was so different when we started. We exhibited at 29 shows a year, including the Southport-Westport Antiques Show and fairs in Cleveland, Detroit, Columbus, Chicago and Washington, D.C. There were weekends when Maria set up one place and I set up somewhere else,” Warren recalls.
“Peter was key to the transformation of the Wilton Antiques Show. He became active in the antiques business just when I took over as manager. We learned the business at the same time,” recalls Marilyn Gould. With show proceeds, the Wilton Historical Society grew from one small house to 17 buildings, and from four period rooms to 14.
For a time, Peter Warren also rented space at Pat Guthman Antiques on Pequot Avenue in Southport, Conn.
“I loathed shop sitting. It was only Pat who made it bearable. She was a wonderful dealer, very knowledgeable,” recalls Warren, a good friend of the hearth iron specialist who died in 2002.
“Peter became family to me,” says Pat’s daughter, Pam Guthman, who first visited the Donald M. Kendall Sculpture Gardens at PepsiCo with Warren. On 160 acres in Purchase, N.Y., the gardens, open to the public year round, display sculptures by Alexander Calder, Joan Miró, Alberto Giacometti, Henry Moore and other modern masters. Asked to select a sculpture for the garden, Warren chose “Marie” by the French-born artist Aristide Maillol.
Over time, Warren whittled his schedule down to just two fairs, the November 10–12 Delaware Antiques Show and the January 17–21 New York Ceramics Fair. Both are known for pottery and porcelain.
“Our business is collector-driven today. We regularly advertise and see collectors by appointment,” says the dealer, for whom working with fellow enthusiasts is one of the business’s chief pleasures. He enjoys helping novices stretch for great objects but is equally reluctant to part with a piece if buyer lacks appreciation for its rarity or quality.
A bookcase in the Warrens’ ample kitchen houses antique creamware, pearlware, salt glaze and redware. Explaining his interest, he says, “Pottery is warmer than porcelain. And I’m fascinated by the inventiveness of people like Wedgwood and intrigued by the progression of technology during the era when much of this was made. Salt glaze is my favorite English pottery. I like its breadth of color, form and decoration.”
First a traveler, later a collector and finally a dealer, Warren embarked on his connoisseur’s journey more than 50 years ago.
“I’m a product of the Depression,” says the antiquarian, whose family moved to New York in the early 1930s. “I served almost seven years in the Army in Europe. I went in as an enlisted man and came out a captain. I didn’t have some of the educational advantages that are taken for granted in business today.”
A marketing man for much of his career, Warren worked for the department store Arnold Constable & Company, Time magazine and Coca-Cola. He joined Pepsi-Cola in 1950 when it was still a one-product company. Founded in the late 1890s by a New Bern, N.C., pharmacist, Pepsi-Cola was renamed PepsiCo in 1965 when, under the stewardship of CEO Donald M. Kendall, it merged with Frito-Lay. By the time Warren retired in 1985, PepsiCo had grown into the world’s largest beverage company with $7.5 billion in revenue, more than 137,000 employees, and products in 150 countries and territories.
As a marketing vice president, Warren was frequently on the road, regularly traveling to every continent and more than 90 countries.
“I liked foreign travel,” recalls the dealer, who spent many years in Latin America. He met Maria Alba Pardinas Noquera, an aristocratic Spaniard with a talent for dancing and a love of the visual arts, in Mexico. They married in Cuba ten days later.
The couple spent their early years together in Caracas, Venezuela, with their small daughters A.J. and Carmen. A son, Peter J. Warren, followed. Of the three children, businesslike A.J. is perhaps most like her father. After her mother died in 1991, she began helping her father at shows, working with collectors and managing the books for Warren Antiques.
“My father has a mind like a steel trap. He remembers everything he reads. He’s the voice of reason and an amazing negotiator. Watching him has been an example to me in business,” she says.
“My mother was unbelievably energetic, very artistic and always interested in people. Her family moved from Spain to Los Angeles, where she attended Hollywood High School and the University of Southern California. She spoke several languages and was a great professional asset to my father,” A.J. recalls.
Peter and Maria Warren’s shared curiosity about the world around them and Peter’s abiding interest in history led naturally to collecting. The Pre-Columbian treasures he bought decades ago were packed away to make room for the burgeoning assortment of Asian art that now fills the Warren residence, a conjoined house and barn whose earliest elements are nearly two centuries old.
“It’s a mad house for mad occupants,” says Warren, smiling as he leads a tour through a downstairs kitchen, great room, den and office and up a narrow flight of stairs to a huge loftlike sitting room with a view of a sweeping, tree-fringed lawn.
“I’m the classic collector. I never sell anything that’s not inventory. Each object represents a specific moment in time that is very precious to me. I think most collectors feel that way,” he says.
Warren’s collection is a varied one, ranging from an Australian aboriginal bark painting to a Yoruba head, Zuni fetish, a Spanish vargueno or drop-front desk, and an extensive selection of Nineteenth and Twentieth Century American landscape paintings.
Beginning in the late 1950s and continuing to the present, Warren has gathered Asian art and antiques. His interest, initially in Chinese and Japanese porcelain, particularly Qing dynasty pieces of the Kangxi (1662–1722) and Yongzheng (1723–1735) periods, was encouraged by business travel to the Far East. The assortment today encompasses a Fourth Century Gandarhan head of a Buddha, a Yuan dynasty (1279–1368) pottery head of a warrior and a Japanese Muromachi Period (1333–1568) carved, gessoed and painted figure of a seated monk. One of his newer acquisitions is a 1984 print on rice paper of Kabuki actor Tomijuro Nakamura X. A favorite piece is a Han dynasty (206 BC–220 AD) terra cotta dog.
“He is just so charming,” says Warren.
Devoted to the singular, Warren’s antiques business has long co-existed with more mass-market endeavors. After leaving PepsiCo in 1985, he co-owned Monsieur Henri, an alcohol importing and distribution company. Upon selling Monsieur Henri in 1994, Warren and his partners founded a similar concern, MHW Ltd, based in Manhasset, Long Island, N.Y. Warren is a partner in the holding company Beverage Planning Worldwide, affiliated with MHW.
“MHW is pushing $100 million in sales today,” says Warren, who enjoys the scale, complexity and dynamism of the spirits industry.
Warren often travels to Colorado, to his second home in Steamboat Springs. The house is another legacy of his life with Maria, who athleticism lead her from dance to climbing and skiing. On his sixtieth birthday, she enrolled her husband in ski school in Austria, fostering his ongoing taste for alpine life.
A well-thumbed copy of Dine: A History of the Navajos by Peter Iverson and Monty Roessel lies open on a table at Warren Antiques. The Navajo, with their highly evolved spiritual beliefs and artistic gifts, are one of Peter Warren’s current interests. Typically for the dealer, travel to the Southwest stimulated his eye and aroused his intellectual curiosity.
“I love art and I love history. It’s why I’m in the antiques business,” Peter Warren says simply.
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