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The Treasure Seeker
House & Garden, August 2005

Authentic. Elegant. Quirky. In the rarified world of top-flight antique dealers, that describes New York’s Amy Perlin, who is also discerning and curious. Add the tantalizing scent of her signature beef bourguignon served with polenta, and the description also fits her house in the Hamptons.

As a hunter of cool is to popular culture, Perlin is to the gracious life. She finds objects few others can. She mixes them for an effect that reflects her passion for antiques and the people who love to live among them.

Perlin’s cottage is a welcoming place that suggests nothing of the effort Perlin put into it, or the business that made it all possible. Like her, it adapts, it comforts and above all, it is real, filled with the “presents” she buys herself each birthday, each reflecting the maker and her sensibility

“The best furniture is made by artisans, a person with an artistic background who knows what proportions should be” says Perlin whose self-gifting in the living room includes a nineteenth century French marble bust of Minerva and a mid-twentieth century Rene Gabriel sofa. “I don’t care that it is twentieth century, I love it for the shape, the materials.” That perception is one of the things that makes her taste unique, says Michael Smith, a Los Angeles designer. “She has an idea of looking at furniture, and looking at things, almost as sculpture.”

The living room also reflects what he calls Perlin’s “edit,” a style that makes her who she is. A triangular nineteenth century English specimen wood table topped with a perfume bottle crafted into a lamp keeps the peace between the crisply-edged sofa and a Louis XVI chaise. Just beyond a mid-twentieth century French oak bench that Perlin uses as a table, there’s more seating, a Venetian Rococo bergere. A console table serves as the bar. On it, an eighteenth century etched Swedish vase plays against an eighteenth century willow Irish tankard which holds pride of place under a tableau anchored by an eighteenth century octagonal Venetian mirror. The common thread? Perlin’s imprimatur. “It is the way she puts things together that makes it distinctively Amy,” says Smith.

The room, like the house, “is filled with things I bought from people I like,” Perlin says. “I’m not a formal person at all so I don’t care if it is crowded,” which explains the two walnut 1940s stools from Barcelona tucked under the console: they’re not inventory, they’re extra seating.

It's Perlin’s 24/7 work ethic that leaves her too little time in her cottage because she’s so often scouring Europe. Glamorous? Maybe. In France, she learned to drive a truck with a stick-shift because she couldn’t find anyone else to transport her purchases to the docks “in a timely manner.” She has cultivated her sources to the extent that she knows all the important things – birthdays, the names and school progress of children. “They’re my friends,” she says. And they respond by sending photographs of newly found items to her cell phone in the middle of the New York night.

Her fascination with European furniture began during her junior year abroad in Italy. When she returned to the United States, and when she married, her interests in antiques cross-pollinated with the flowering of her entrepreneurial self. “I had registered for beautiful antiques,” she says, and on a trip to London, she saw a teacup priced at $50 that she knew sold for $250 in Manhattan. “I saw this could be a business. I got into dealing because I wanted to do something other than be a wife and mother.”

When her marriage dissolved, she took out a loan and started small in Bridgehampton. “No one believed in me,” she says. “I couldn’t afford to live in the Hamptons, so I had to drive from New York every day.” She could barely afford the shop’s rent. She advertised by posting flyers in local stores, and customers had to walk through another shop to get to Perlin’s tiny space. That was the summer of 1992. It rained a lot, and people who mattered - Bill Blass, Chessy Raynor and Mica Ertegun - shopped a lot. Many became friends. That fall, she opened a Manhattan shop. It is now about 10,000 square feet and the Bridgehampton shop is hers alone. The designer Albert Hadley says of Perlin today, “She has unique knowledge, a great eye, and great taste.” But she still works two antique shows at the same time. “I have been a hustler,” she says. “When you’re doing something you love, it’s not hard.”

Indeed, she never seems to stop. “It is impressive to be quickly e-mailed color photographs and to be sent heavy bundles of photographs with each new collection from Europe,” says John F. Saladino who values Perlin’s loyalty. He recalls Perlin taking him by the hand through her Manhattan shop one Saturday “which was a great interruption in the little free time she has.”

Her downtime at the cottage hard-won and she revels in it. In her kitchen, two distinctive French chairs allow spectators to sit back and encourage the chefs. “I like to cook, and I like to serve,” Perlin says. “This is my only opportunity to relax and entertain because I work so hard in Manhattan.”

The dining room, with its antique Neapolitan rock crystal chandelier, just looks formal, and Perlin happily tucks eight around the solid mahogany round table. Two eighteenth century mannequins from Aix-en-Provence, watch the proceedings.

Only in her small pure white painted bedroom, with its sloping ceiling, does Perlin fully wind down. The nineteenth-century French Louis XV-style commode suits a beach house – the pulls are carved seashells. The wrought-iron bed was to fold flat for an Italian priest who traveled frequently. A late nineteenth century fur rug from Russia and circa 1900 wool Osaka carpet in creamy yellows and reds cover the wooden floor. Tucked under the eaves, the ultimate refuge, is an eighteenth-century Venetian leather desk chair. It is authentic, elegant, quirky “curvy where it should be straight” Perlin says, and, perhaps most important, like the rest of her cottage, “it is comfortable.”