Published: April 11, 2023
We’ve all heard about – and in some cases may know – a “corporate refugee,” someone who parachuted from a boring desk job or perhaps was pushed out in a downsizing, only to reinvent himself or herself as an antiques dealer. Meet David Perrelli. He recently opened a new shop in Essex, Conn., which is named Old Beautiful. He agreed to give Antiques and The Arts Weekly the details on his accidental vocation.
Can you provide a brief bio?
I’m from Guilford, Conn., and have an English degree from the University of Pennsylvania. I decided to become a full-time dealer amid the 2008 financial crisis and opened my shop in Clinton, Conn., in early 2010. In addition to dealing, I’m also the collections curator of the Clinton Historical Society.
Is there anything transferable from a corporate legal job to the realm of antiques collecting and dealing?
I suppose the basic structure of the client-professional relationship still applies. Also, a bit of business savvy comes in handy as a dealer, as do good research skills. One thing that definitely isn’t the same is having complete freedom to run things as you see fit.
Where did the name of your shop come from?
It’s named after a book written by a man called Thomas Rohan. I was with a friend in a second-hand bookshop in Brooklyn at the time my business was in the planning phase, and I came across a copy, and she said, “You have to name your shop that!” so I did. I think it’s reasonable to say that Rohan was one of the first celebrity antiques dealers. He was active in the early Twentieth Century and was a famous expert in antique glass, an area of dealing and collecting that interests me as well. He had a shop in Southampton and later in Bournemouth and wrote a number of books in addition to Old Beautiful. He not only wrote himself but inspired others to write about him – the main character of the novel and play Quinneys by Horace Annesly Vachell is said to have been based on him, and it was wildly popular in its day, even giving rise to a spate of dealers across England calling their shops Quinneys.
Why did you move your business from Clinton to Essex?
Well, it wasn’t exactly by choice. My space of nearly a decade, which was a quaint, quirky mid-Nineteenth Century general store building on the town green, ended up getting sold. Or rather I should say another dealer approached the owners and induced them to sell it to him so he could move his own business there. Fortunately, a suitable new location at the top of Main Street in Essex became available at the same time. It’s practically the opposite in character – it’s a neutral box with plate glass windows – but I find that things display better there. It’s drenched in natural light, and it has an airy, spacious feel that people seem to respond to. Even though square footage-wise it’s the same as the Clinton shop, customers keep coming in and congratulating me on landing in such a bigger space.
Describe some of the merchandise on offer?
I have a bit of everything, but I would say that I’m particularly interested in American furniture, early glass, China trade porcelains and redware pottery. I like both country and formal things, so I always try to maintain a mix of both. I like the overall feel to be American, but I won’t say no to a good English or European piece. Case in point, I currently have a marvelous, undisturbed North European gateleg table dating from the late Seventeenth Century. I also have an oil painting of the Neptune Club, a yachting club that existed in Norwalk, Conn., in about the third quarter of the Nineteenth Century, as well as a painted sea chest with an Old Saybrook provenance, dated 1826.
What informs your collecting interest?
I’m mainly interested in Americana, so I suppose it’s ironic that I named my shop after a British dealer’s book. If we’re talking about the kinds of things I try to acquire for myself, I’d have to say that I favor trim, tidy, simple pieces with clean lines and, whenever possible, with historic surfaces. I live in a relatively plain Eighteenth Century farmhouse so I’ve tried to appoint it with things that make sense there, although the intent certainly isn’t to make it into some kind of museum interpretation. As with the shop, I like to live with both country and formal pieces, although I tend not to mix the two together in the same room.
Some adventures to recount in your restoration of a 1742 center chimney house?
Every day is an adventure in an early house, some more fun than others, but on the whole it’s a privilege to spend time in a building with such a palpable sense of history. In some spaces that’s literally true – for example, there’s a room in the garret where generations of inhabitants have written their names on the sheathing in chalk. At the time I moved in, a Birdsey descendant – that’s the family who owned it longer than anyone else, from about 1815 to 1960 – was still living across the street. She moved away shortly thereafter, but before she did, she gave me a trove of family possessions, including the daybooks of her ancestor Samuel, who was the first of the line to live there. She also had an early Nineteenth Century painted cupboard that had been made for my house. It was in a dilapidated shed that she wouldn’t let me into because she feared the roof might collapse. Somehow – I still have no idea quite how – she managed to get it out by herself and it’s now in my summer kitchen, possibly the very room it was made for. Something else of significance also came to me quite by chance. I was browsing in a shop in Old Saybrook one day and spotted a hetchel with an ancient looking “granny note” tacked onto it. To my astonishment it read that it had descended in the Birdsey family of Middlefield, meaning that it came from my house.
What kinds of topics are covered in Antiques Trail, the radio program you host on iCRV?
Much like this column, the format is a one-on-one conversation, and episodes run for half an hour. I would say the mission of the program is to inquire into the current state of the antiques world, so to that end I have a repertoire of basic questions I tend to ask most guests – how they started in the trade, trends they see emerging in the marketplace, so on. But, of course, other questions are tailored to whatever the guest happens to specialize in, and that’s been anything from needlework to clocks to folk art. I’ve done 36 broadcasts now with dealers, curators, auctioneers and collectors. I became the host under amusing circumstances. One day a client of mine telephoned to say he’d just been on the radio talking about the historic house he lives in, and afterwards the station asked him if he knew any antiques dealers because they wanted one to interview – could he give them my name? I said ‘sure,’ and then the next day a lady walked into the shop, announced that she was from iCRV Radio, and thanked me profusely for agreeing to take over as host of Antiques Trail.
Do you participate in any shows?
When I first started dealing, I used to do three Connecticut-based shows, but within a few years all were retired, and by that point, business in the shop was well-enough established to make the prospect of hauling my inventory around start to seem less appealing. So in recent years I’ve tended to stay put at my desk – perhaps that’s also a point in common with the corporate world, I’ve basically found myself another desk job. I have given serious thought to getting back into the fray, however, because I do think there are huge benefits to doing shows. Aside from the obvious objective of making sales, they’re a good way to network and to meet potential new clients, and they can also be great buying opportunities as well.
Address, operating hours & contact info for Old Beautiful?
2 Main Street, Essex Village, CT 06426
Mon, Tues – by chance or appt.
Wed-Sun – 11 am-5 pm
On Instagram: old_beautiful
On the radio: www.icrvradio.com
Old Beautiful Antiques & Art is at https://www.loc8nearme.com/connecticut/clinton/old-beautiful-antiques-and-art/5041482/
– W.A. Demers
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm