I represent the disappearing middle class that lives in New York City, is of a certain age and who now must retrench from a rental building that’s no longer affordable. According to my doctor — an optimist — I will probably live till I’m 89 years old or so, and if he’s right, I will outlive my money by quite a few years. Ergo, DOWNSIZE! AND DIVEST!
Since I live in a nice, one-bedroom in an old building, I will have to find a tiny studio — a bit of space — somewhere, somehow, in the city I love and have always known — born here, must die here, etc.
At the moment, I envision a decorative tent poised under the 59th Street bridge, armed with scented candles (all I can afford), and my Aubusson rug underfoot. But before I can downsize, I must divest!
That means selling antiques and collectibles that I hauled back from Paris, London and Florence during a fashion career heyday that afforded me two expenses-paid trips a year and time for haunting antique shops and flea markets in between fashion shows.
I love my things, and have “parting syndrome.” My divesting effort started with a visit from a representative from Doyle auction house. A zip in-and-out meeting occurred, with the focus on my French cassolets, gilded bronze candlesticks from the late 1700s, and on a French clock, circa 1814, made by the clockmaker to the Louvre, with provenance. I named my clock “Alliette,” after a French friend. It has been with me 25 years; I wind it once a week. I love her. Parting syndrome.
I purchased these two beauties on a perfect spring day in Paris, memorable for a fashion show in a lovely Beaux-Arts building with a garden where breakfast was served, and outstanding, since it was the opening collection of a new designer, Christian LaCroix. Then I was off to the Paris Opera to see Rudolph Nureyev dance. The finale that day? Buying my clock and cassolets. They are still mine.
The problem with the business of divesting is that, these days, collecting trends tend toward the contemporary — French is not so desirable, and offers equate to about half of what I paid. To face this impending loss (I haven’t sold anything yet), I’ve supplied myself with therapy: At least half a brownie a day, and the irrational purchase of lottery tickets several times a week to reinforce my natural optimism, and to give me hope.
I’ve learned that most selling is done online these days, and a lot of stores and estate buyers won’t visit you unless they can first view your treasures. You lure them to your premises with pictures. I am in the process of doing that now, with mixed results.
An offhand visit from Mr. Flowers, the owner of a small store, sartorially resplendent in camel-hair coat, English style, confirmed that I was out of sync with current trends. My possessions were too European and not sufficiently modern luxe, or the look of the moment. He offered me $200 for assorted costume jewelry pieces, which I declined as I could not part with some of them. Besides, they are worth more.
On the positive side, I just found an estate buyer. I had sent a photo of a small, glass-topped side table, and he liked it. I must now send more pictures in hopes he will ultimately visit and then buy something. From here on, my Mac will be busy, blasting out pictures of my wares.
I don’t know how this will end for me. Will trends change soon enough that my possessions will take on renewed cachet? And why hasn’t Downton Abbey moved things in my direction? I wonder what Mario Buatta thinks of all this — the Prince of Chintz must be upset.
If I win the lottery, I’ll ask him to dress up my new apartment. We could spend a lot together, and a spread in Veranda magazine could help move the trend in our direction.
For all those divestors out there hungering for a sale, here’s my advice: Network with everyone you know or have known. Research stores and auction houses online. And email as many pictures as possible. Set your price so you can negotiate to your benefit. With any luck, you’ll make the sale.
I’m still hopeful that the new season of Downton Abbey will inspire younger buyers to appreciate the beauty of eras gone by, and to develop a taste for that glorious past, of which I have some.
And in the end I hope to stay in New York, far removed from the vision of a decorative tent under the 59th Street Bridge.
Phyllis Kay is a native New Yorker. A former fashion industry executive, Kay has lived in her current apartment, on the Upper East Side, for 10 years.