For a short period of six days three times a year, during the months of May, July (it just re-opened off yesterday and closes Sunday July 15th) and September, the tiny town of Brimfield, Massachusetts comes alive as thousands of antique fanatics prowl the grounds for those one-of-kind pieces. My first trip to this whirlwind furniture shopping adventure was last May and I was ready, or at least I thought so. I came loaded with my wheeled grandma cart, my camera, snacks to get me through the never-ending days and caffeine to keep me awake and aggressive for close combat shopping. I was designing the interiors of a historic Brooklyn townhouse for an adventurous couple and they had the spirit to explore the unknown that Brimfield had to offer.
We arrived before dawn to get in line for the first show of the day. It was difficult to pull myself out of bed that early, but the nearest hotel I could find was still 45 minutes away from the show. Before going further, it's important to note how this festival is organized. The town is really small -- only about 3,500 people. It seems that it only exists for the antique show. The antique show is controlled by families, with each family lot hosting a different market each day; some starting as early as 6AM, some starting as late as 10AM.
I finally arrived to a reasonably full parking lot at the show. I was shocked to find a line gathered outside the first show that would rival a slew of teenagers waiting to see Justin Bieber. People here are true addicts or "professionals," arriving much more prepared than I was, trekking in much more extensive antique hunting gear (wagons, for example) to collect all their finds.
After anxiously waiting for the gates to open and finally entering the grounds, we met the antique dealers. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but a significant amount of them were straight of out A&E's "Hoarders." Nestled near their trucks, the dealers move from field to field throughout the festival, packing up and dumping their wares out onto each field. I felt that same nervous energy that I feel at sample sales, but this was so much better because it was raw. There are no bouncers or security guards like at a Catherine Malandrino sale; it felt like an African safari, except instead of hunting for a rhino, I was hunting for the perfect headboard.
The cast of buyers and our direct competition included my favorites: New York decorators dressed in their antiquing uniform, which consists of perfectly rolled up pants with desert shoes, a worn leather tote bag and a flannel shirt that you might see worn in Williamsburg on a Saturday night. We also encountered entourages of young and eager visual merchandisers from Ralph Lauren, who were loaded up with bags of cash and brightly colored sheets of stickers to mark their newly acquired props. During my first meeting with the competition, I ran into a One Kings Lane antiquer at a dealer booth who was eyeing the same headboard as I was. My One Kings Lane competitor had already made an offer to the dealer for the headboard, but the battled turned fierce as I offered a higher price. We ended up being outbid, but as we were leaving the booth we spotted great fireside chairs. I'm sure we overpaid for them as we were coming off the high of a competitive bid, but they are fantastic. Like everything at Brimfield, the chairs had to be recovered in new fabric and needed new stuffing.
For my own apartment, I spotted a fabulous chair that was quirky enough for my sensibility: a hand chair, though my specimen was a far cry from the coveted hand chair sculpture by Pedro Friedeberg in gold. After a tough negotiation, a delivery favor, and a can of glossy black paint, my hand chair is one of my favorite pieces.
As the festival drew to a close, my client and I evaluated our damage. We purchased enough to be content, at least for another year. Despite walking around farmland for three days (over 14 hours each day), and despite having little food and even less sleep, you know it's all still worth it if you find that one special piece that no one else has.
Check out my finds from the festival and happy hunting.