When I first came to New York in the early 1980’s and worked at Christie’s (Fine Art Auctions), there was one firm that defined Fine (read: Very Expensive) English Furniture—Stair and Company. What Harry Winston was to diamonds, Stair and Company on 57th Street was to English furniture. The best.
Fast forward to 2009. Colin Stair, the 4th generation of Stairs in the antiques business, is continuing his family’s tradition via his eponymous firms, Stair Galleries
, the auction house in Hudson and, our topic today, the internationally renowned but perhaps less-known-locally Stair Restoration
, headquartered in Claverack.
Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat, Stair Restoration is NOT where you take your kitchen chairs to be tightened or Granny’s chest of drawers for a lick of polish. (Just last Saturday evening, as I began my descent into a dining chair, the host piped up, “Where can I take these broken chairs to be fixed?” Lends new meaning to, “Gives one pause.”) If the value is sentimental, you’re on your own. Stair Restoration is where you send your treasures to have them treated like, well, treasure.
The former railroad buildings that house Stair Restoration in Claverack have seen some of the world’s great furniture come through the doors. Our firm M (Group)
usually has something being worked on there, so I visit frequently, and I love wandering the workroom aisles – a textbook of styles and forms. (And cool professional insight into who is doing what for--or to—whom. Not that I care...) On one occasion, I admired a beautiful French chair that had been stripped of its old silk, its raw frame exposed. Upon inspection, I noticed the initials MA carved in the crest--Marie Antoinette.
Collectors, dealers, and decorators from all over the world send pieces to Claverack knowing they will be beautifully restored, conserved, replicated (in case you wish that pair of chairs were a set of twelve), or just polished up. Stair has gilders, polishers, and master cabinet makers on staff—and innumerable experts on call. The Brit in charge, Nigel Thomas, knows exactly when to STOP or, at least, hold back—which in the furniture restoration business is key. To my way of thinking, less (restoration) is more. As I write this, Nigel and his crew are in California on a “house call”—useful when the tortoise shell veneer on your Boulle cabinet shouldn’t be jostled.
To give you an idea of the level of expertise and professionalism we are spoiled by, check out this handsome pair of English benches that belong to our client. She had them in Fairfield, CT in a long hall and after 20 years and 27 grandchildren, they were pretty banged up, minus rush seats, and in bad need of tender loving care. Read through the punch list of repairs. All they are waiting for now is some touch up to the color and they are “Movin’ On Up to the East Side” (did you know the Jefferson’s building is on the corner of 85th and 3rd? Note: these benches are NOT going to Third Avenue. They are VERY Park and 73rd…)
Stair Restoration also has worked with M (Group) over the years as cabinetmakers on many of our own designs. The bookcase shown here was designed by Hermes to conceal a television and full-sized file drawers--all sheathed in Makassar ebony and detailed with old ivory (note: recycled, not! new! ivory). They also French polished the beautiful Cuban mahogany paneling in this library and restored the Ruhlmann card table.
In the living room of this apartment, its natural to focus on the Botero still life (Sr. Botero got his start with these early rotund fruits – they launched his career) but the chairs are also worth noting: super examples of Louis XIV giltwood glamour. Since we could only buy one, Stair Restoration made it a mate.
Colin Stair’s staff got this clock ticking again. The desk came to us via the Estate of Andy Warhol and is about as high Georgian as Georgian gets. And though we don’t recommend sending your kitchen chairs to Stair, Pancho’s Mughal throne in Manhattan did warrant the Stair treatment. It was recently glued back together and the paint touched up. (Incidentally, the cushion was made from an old Revillion mink coat a client gave him.
Pancho has been sheltered from the current financial crisis. I’ll be eating dog food before he does.)
With our proximity to Manhattan, our neck of the woods has more than its fair share of restoration experts. My porcelain man in Rhinebeck has miraculously reincarnated Ming vases, and our fine-art painting lady in Chatham is a genius. That said, Stair Restoration takes the “cottage” out of the restoration industry and pushes it onto the world stage. —Carey Maloney