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Building a Barn at The Winter Show

The best meetings to be in start with a blank sheet of paper. One meeting in mid-November of last year started as such, as we sat down to sketch out concepts for a booth at The Winter Show, which Bunny and Elizabeth had been asked to Co-Chair. 

Now in its 69th year, The Winter Show is a prestigious art, antiques, and design fair, featuring many of the world’s most renowned dealers in fine and decorative arts and typically hosted at the Park Avenue Armory. The event benefits East Side House Settlement, an organization serving the Bronx and northern Manhattan with programs that focus on education and technology as gateways out of poverty. 

Along with fellow Design Council Co-Chairs Alex Papachristidis and Stephen Sills, Bunny and Elizabeth were tasked with creating their own vignette on the show floor and incorporating pieces from The Winter Show dealers. Faced with a blank 12 foot by 12 foot box and a blank piece of paper, we resolved to build a barn to house our pick of fine furnishings from the group of world-class dealers. 

At the heart of this approach was the idea that pairing dissimilar items together in turn allows each to stand out on its own, especially when they are placed in an unexpected setting. Also paramount was a desire to inject the space with a sense of humor, a reminder that shopping for antiques can and should be fun and that your possessions shouldn’t be too precious to live with. Ultimately, it’s the contrast and the mix that makes the whole more approachable. 

Installing the wood panels and floor tiles

In laying the foundation, the first step was finding planks of old barn siding with a well-worn patina. The reclaimed white pine wood paneling we landed on was sourced from M. Fine Lumber in Brooklyn. A native of New England, eastern white pine was brought to New York City in the mid-nineteenth century and is now widely used as timber in the northeast United States. The boards were assembled into panels that made for easier installation once we arrived at the Armory.

The barn after day 1 of installation

In a follow up meeting, Bunny then had the idea to incorporate a large scale photograph that would trick the eye into believing you were looking out at a view beyond the barn. “What if we blew up an image of a pasture? Or even a horse’s ass, so it looked like it had just left the barn?”

Depictions of horses’ rear ends have been an ongoing, cheeky theme ever since Bunny gifted a painting of them to her husband John Rosselli years ago. “I wrote in the card: This is not what I think of you,” she says. This painting now lives in her own barn in the country, and a similar painting can be found in her New York apartment.

To frame the horse, we found a sliding pair of barn doors that matched the wood paneling. On either side, a pair of mid-century modern lucite and brass pedestals, on loan from 1 of a Kind antiques in New Jersey, support a pair of monumental French faience busts from Newel.

A pair of large, lively terracotta gatepost roosters, on loan from Hirschl & Adler, framed the front of the vignette. Sculpted by Wheeler Williams and dated 1932, this pair of gatepost roosters is the only known example by the artist in terra cotta (they were typically cast in bronze). The pair is believed to have belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Brooke Cadwallader of Stamford, Connecticut, which was illustrated in a House & Garden spread on their country home in the October 1948 issue.

The wooden chair, a rare Welsh, early-18th-century seat with a sinuous shape, was loaned to us from Yew Tree House Antiques. A very good example of vernacular design and workmanship, it’s right at home atop a sprinkling of hay. 

The large-scale artwork, Cosmic Fog with Peach (2015), is by Sung Hee Cho and was loaned to us from Tambaran Gallery. Made of Hanjo (Korean rice paper) and oil on canvas, it is framed in plexiglass. Deliciously textured and three-dimensional, the contemporary work stands out against the crudeness of the old barn siding. 

Floating in the center of the room, a 19th century English Regency style recamier from Newel dons new denim upholstery, which BWI Creative Director Jonathan Preece distressed by hand to give it a well-worn feel. 

Perched on top, a white Silkie chicken from Frank J. Zitz seems to have just jumped up to survey the space.

On the opposite wall, another contemporary piece makes a statement: A console table from Maison Gerard by Franck Evennou with metal, branch-like legs and an amorphous marble top.

Above, a large-scale 1940s Venetian mirror, also from Newel, is another wonderful contrast with the weathered wood wallcovering.

A botanical sculpture entitled Meadow Beauty made from copper and oil paint by artist Trailer McQuilkin, loaned to us from Adelson Galleries, sits on top.

The way this vignette came together very much ebbed and flowed depending on what we could find. When the goal is to pair dissimilar things together, across various styles and time periods, one piece dictates the need for another different-but-complementary one.  You don’t always find exactly what you’re looking for, but in the process of hunting, you can come across something so special that you want to build around that.

Once we’d identified the main pieces, it was time to have fun accessorizing with hay, sawdust, rusted metal objects, and pots with a heavy patina.

And of course, we couldn’t resist imitating American Gothic by Grant Wood with pitchfork in hand.

Workers installing the carpeting between booths just before opening night. 

In the monumental space that is the Park Avenue Armory, it was incredible to bear witness to the assembly and disassembly of rows of booths and each dealer’s approach to creating their own mini worlds within.

Elizabeth, Alex Papachristitis, Bunny, and Stephen Sills at the Opening Night Party.

We’re so grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in this year’s show. There is, and always has been, pleasure in the pursuit of shopping in person, whether at an expertly curated art and antique show or a sprawling market. Every outing educates your eye, and every conversation with a passionate dealer is a lesson in quality, but few rival The Winter Show. 

All photos by Reid Rolls or shot on iPhone.

Posted to Events & Entertaining on February 13, 2023

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