What are you packing for your trip and why?
Susan and Laura: This is almost an athletic event so, we try to dress comfortably and in layers. Forget the jewelry. It’s a good policy never to check your luggage, and less is, without question, more. After several trips dragging baggage down cobblestone streets, on and off trains, you quickly learn to pack less. Bring a good book, paperwork, labels and a camera.
What’s usually the first thing you like to do upon arrival?
S&L: We try to book our travel reservations so that we land in the early morning. We set straight to work after landing. We’ve learned the importance of sleeping on planes.
What can you share about your sources and how you found them? If you have tips, this can be instructional (such as explaining how to find a reputable dealer).
S&L: When buying in big cities or auctions, prepare yourself to pay more than you would at Fireside. Keep in mind you will still have to pay for shipping, which can really add up. We try to buy out in the countryside at house closures, fairs, small dealers and auctions to keep our prices as reasonable as possible. We travel far and wide in France, England, Italy and Netherlands. We can spend 20-plus hours traveling in a country buying antiques along the way, all the while being closely followed by our trusted truck drivers.
S&L: The thing we absolutely couldn’t do without are our truck drivers. They pick up our items and we make our way through the countryside. Jobs can be hard to find in France. Our truck drivers are happy to have a job to feed their families, and truly enjoy helping. We share warehouse space and trucks with some other businesses. One driver always has to stay in the truck to protect it while two others pick up your goods. One early morning while our driver was alone at a pick up, two guys attempted to attack him. He pulled out a baseball bat to protect himself and his station. His comment was, “I have a family to feed. They were not going to take my job away.” Our truck was full, and we would have lost everything. There is no insurance to be purchased until our items get on the boat for shipment! We would’ve lost a large investment had he not stepped up for us. We treasure our friendships with them. We depend on them, and they depend on us. Laura and I end up housing and feeding 3 or 4 of our drivers, and we dine together every night. When you’re traveling and sharing all your meals, the bonds and appreciation develop even through some language barriers.
What kind of experience or appraising eye should you have to avoid getting in over your head? Would you recommend a layman to go with a guide?
S&L: Relationships are a must if you want to buy at the right price. There is the French price, the tourist price, the friend price and the American price. Americans are thought to be wealthy, often pushy, rude and demanding. Make sure what you are being told is the truth. You should know what to look for with joints, backs, inside drawers, and original hardware all intact? Are the drawers and locks working with keys? Has piece received regular maintenance with a good patina from years of hand waxing? Is mirror glass original? Has marble been repaired? Never forget to consider any work that will have to be performed on the piece and add that to the cost. Another challenge is that you can’t buy without constant thought of price. In effort to keep our prices at Fireside as low as possible, we sometimes have to skip pieces that we love due to hidden costs in shipping and restoration.
What kind of arrangements need to be made beforehand with your shippers? What are some pitfalls or things to avoid when looking for a reliable shipping company?
S&L: Packing is critical as breakage can be devastating and irreparable. Be sure to keep all receipts and detailed paperwork telling you the type of wood, the age, country and description of each piece. The wrong dates or descriptions can subject you to large fines or your item seized during inspection before leaving the country and at U.S. Customs inspection. This paperwork is needed to leave a country as well its arrival to the U.S. We fumigate all our containers. It’s not required but it’s a good idea. Consider all these requirements to prepare for: ocean freight, insurance, broker fees, Customs x-rays, duty fees, and delivery fees. One thing to add is that big trucks don’t travel well down cobblestone streets and sometimes aren’t even allowed. Laura and I have had to resort to all kinds of trickery to get our finds to and from point A to point B. You have to be a problem solver. “Can’t” cannot be in your vocabulary!
If you find yourself with any free time, what do you like to do? Is there anything that helps soothe the craziness that is a long overseas work trip?
S&L: We always wait until we are through with everything to relax. Our biggest splurges are at the end of our work are good Champagne, a heavenly bed, a long bath and a great restaurant. We try our hardest for 8 hours of sleep before returning home. You want to stay awake on the journey home to lessen jet lag. While working, we stay with treasured antique dealer friends (through relationships we’ve developed over our 35 years in the business) and cheap hotels.