Published: November 8, 2016
Driving down Route 6 on the Antiques Trail through Woodbury, Conn., George Champion’s Modern Shop may stick out like a sore thumb to someone hunting for an early Windsor chair. But they would be remiss to not stop in and explore, because tucked away in the Antiques Capital of Connecticut is, hands down, the finest collection of Modern design on offer in the state.
How did you get started selling Modern?
I first started selling Modern design out of the garage and barn on the property where I live in Woodbury more than 20 years ago. I converted both buildings into galleries, the barn a little rustic and the garage a little refined, with Pirelli floors, white lacquered walls and galvanized ceiling. When the building on Main Street became available about 15 years ago, I purchased it and set up shop there. Five years ago, I bought the large Victorian house next to the shop and now use it for display as well. The house has afforded me the opportunity to place pieces in room settings and show them to great advantage.
What’s it like to be the only Modern dealer in a town known for antiques?
It has me being a little of the odd man out, but sometimes works in my favor. Reactions from visitors range from a look of fear upon entering and turning to leave before getting off the welcome mat, to people sighing in relief at seeing something different in town. It was a little difficult when I had just the smaller building, because if a Modern enthusiast came in, they could usually view my entire inventory in minutes, and would ask if there was anywhere else to see Modern things in town, and there really wasn’t. Now when they ask, I can take them next door where they can see 4,000 square feet of space furnished with Modern design. Usually, when they are through there, they don’t ask for more.
There is quite a mix around your gallery, from Ducati to Jean Royere and Francois Azambourg. What is the unifying theme?
I think the unifying theme is “interesting.” I sometimes tire of what we call “good design,” although I like it and certainly know it when I see it. Something can be interesting for a lot of reasons, whether it’s innovative, useful, great looking or makes you smile. Sometimes, we get lucky and an object we have is all those things.
You don’t use online retail platforms like 1stDibs. Why?
I don’t use any of the online retail platforms beyond our own website and Instagram. The platforms like 1stDibs and others have worked well for many dealers, but it’s not what I want to do. Every piece in my shop is personally selected by me for some inherent virtue that I think it possesses. The process of changing its ownership is something I want to be a rewarding experience, both for me and the client. Selling online, with the lack of personal involvement, would make me feel like I should be selling easily duplicated widgets that get put in a box and sent out. The online platforms have blurred the identity of their dealers and made the whole experience like one of shopping in a mall. It can be very hard to gauge the knowledge level and integrity of the individual dealer. We welcome the inquisitive shopper. We’re here to answer any questions and provide reference materials that can help with decisions. The shop is set up to make browsing more of an experience.
What makes a good design for you?
I have an innate passion for design that has me constantly looking and considering, but a good design, for me, evokes emotion. I have favorites that range from clean, crisp, MoMA-ready pieces to some that are just plain fun.
What is your favorite piece in your collection?
It’s very hard for me to pick a single favorite, but at the top of the list would be an early Shaker ladder back tilter chair with posts so slender they would drive Gio Ponti wild; an early Marcel Wanders for Droog knotted chair that is just a tour de force of design involving ancient and modern techniques; an early Eames storage unit that was originally owned by the American Academy of Poets in New York City; and a Shiro Kuramata clock with hands made of twigs and yarn that is the most sensitive statement about time I know.
Where is Modern design headed? What challenges does it face?
Modern design is still establishing its identity as a forward reaching form. Most of what people see and know of Modern design are objects they covet from the last century. When people see the timeline of design through history that involves the study of antiques, ancient and Modern, it will help them to understand and appreciate the new things that are coming along from our increasingly international design community. Increasing the knowledge base will keep Modern design from being a fashion trend and fuel the passion for new and innovative things in this century as it did in the early part of the last.
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