WOODBURY — Gary Sergeant is in his element at his newly opened antiques shop at 289 South Main Street in Woodbury center, with the afternoon sunlight streaming in from a number of windows, which seems to add to the subdued ambiance of the space. He is filled with enthusiasm, feeling a bit like a kid he says, despite being a seasoned 48-year veteran of his profession. After all, he is back with a shop in Woodbury after working for a number of years at prestigious antique shows and selling directly to private collectors, museums and galleries around the world.
Sergeant and his wife Deborah share a mutual interest in creating a livable environment through antiques and decorative arts. Deborah’s contribution is supported by her keen eye and her background as a fashion and prop stylist in New York City, as well as her many years as an interior decorator.
Opening a shop in the year of the COVID-19 pandemic was an iffy proposition, but when the space became available, Sergeant couldn’t resist. The traffic flow is enormous and the shop is highly visible to anyone that passes through what is known as the “Antiques Capital of Connecticut.”
“When the space became empty, I knew I had to have it,” said Sergeant, an authority on American, English and European antiques and whose reputation in the industry is impeccable. “I have had my eye on this spot for years. Actually, things have been going well. We have been drawing people in and I’m optimistic about the future.”
The shop is tastefully arranged; the pieces are spaced so as to allow each to show itself in its full splendor. Sergeant renovated the interior, work that included painting the walls with a soft gray, a tint called, ironically enough, “Litchfield Gray,” quite appropriate for the county in which the shop is located.
Sergeant sits at a long table with matching benches on each side in zebra wood and in the manner of George Nakashima, a noted 20th century modernist, surrounded by magnificent pieces of all periods. They include tables, chests, chairs, sofas, lighting fixtures and paintings, one of which is an early work by noted American artist Andrew Wyeth.
Sergeant is called upon quite often by collectors, museums, designers, auction houses and fellow dealers who recognize him for his unique ability to source significant decorative and fine art for their specific needs. He considers his “broad-based, diverse network of resources and deep knowledge of distinctive and important decorative art” his most valuable assets. “I’ve worked hard to create a shop to attract buyers who need one or more pieces that add character and function to their homes. I also work closely with designers to help them with their clients’ projects and to add confidence to buying useful and authentic pieces,” said Sergeant.
“I study and research pieces to find their provenance and significance. I don’t just look at a piece as an antique, but rather as a story that I want to pass down to my buyers. An antique, he believes, should indulge the senses and create a deep appreciation in the person owning it.” Sergeant has always had an interest in history. What better way to express that interest than connecting with the past through objects created over the course of time.
“A lot of what I learned, I learned through osmosis,” he says. I was fortunate to have been blessed with some of the best teachers (including 20th century dealer icons including Israel Sack, Clarence Prickett and Val Jacobson)in the business. I made mistakes along the way, every dealer does, but you learn from them. What has kept me excited about what I do — and antiques in general — is that you are always searching for that perfect piece.”
In his 48 years as a dealer, Sergeant has owned and operated leading galleries in Rumson, New Jersey, Charleston, South Carolina, New Preston and Woodbury. He is a long time member of the Art and Antiques Dealers League of America, the oldest and most prestigious antiques association. He is also a vetted member of The International Federation of Art and Antique Dealers Association, the principal international confederation of 30 leading art and antique dealer associations, which binds its dealer members to adhere to reputable standards of quality, expertise and integrity. He is also a member of The Antiques Council, which also mandates the highest ethical and professional standards in the industry, and he has been invited numerous times to serve on the elite vetting committees of high end antiques shows and events. Sergeant graduated with a Bachelors of Arts degree in History and Fine Arts from Albright College.
Sergeant has built up strong professional, and sometimes friendly relationships with his clients, some among the Who’s Who of their fields. His purchases are, or have been in the personal collections of Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, Henry and Nancy Kissinger, Carolyne Roehm, Harrison Ford and others. He has been featured in numerous trade publications and shelter magazines such as Architectural Digest, House Beautiful, Veranda, Greenwich Magazine, and notably on the cover of House & Garden with a feature article profiling his own home.
International dealers and designers often call on Sergeant for his opinions, advice and counsel. Leading high-end interior designers such as Bunny Williams, John Saladino, Michael Smith, MAC II, Mark Hampton and others have purchased antiques for their global projects and clientele. In addition, Sergeant has sold to numerous museums throughout the country, including the Chicago Institute, Connecticut Historical Society, Wadsworth Athenaeum, Albany Institute, and Winterthur Museum, and is a prominent and sought after presence and exhibitor at numerous top antiques shows and events throughout the U.S.
“The relationships you build with your clients are the most important aspect of sustained success,” he says. “You need to establish a sense of trust. Could I get a little more for a certain piece that I sell to a longtime client? Sure. But I want to be fair and I want the client to be pleased with the piece. If he or she is then they will return to me for other pieces.”
His acumen at noticing a unique, indeed, historic, antique that may get overlooked by others is another strength of Sergeant. He tells of a piece that turned into a real find after he did more than due diligence.
“It was a tea table that was being marketed as being made of cherry wood. I did what I call a micro-analysis of the wood and found that it was cedar from Bermuda. It was a Queen Anne table and a masterpiece. That knowledge made it much more valuable and special than originally thought. Anything form Bermuda is very rare hot right now. You have to train yourself to do the work to find out the exact provenance of the piece, where it was made, what it is made from and by whom. That’s what makes it valuable and those aspects sometimes get overlooked.”
The vagaries of the antiques and art industries are not lost on Sergeant, who has seen more ups and downs in his business than he might care to recall. “Antiques are like stocks, they go up and down and you have to watch the market to know where it is headed. You look for patterns and trends in buying and try and anticipate where things are going.”
While Sergeant has nothing personally against modern furniture, some, copies of pieces made hundreds of years ago, he says the real thing will always be desirable to him. “Some of the reproductions cost as much as the original piece. Wouldn’t you want to have the original if that’s the case? It has the provenance and creates a meaningful purchase and ownership for the buyer.”
Sergeant laughs when asked if deep down in his soul he is a collector or a dealer. “If I wasn’t a dealer I would be a collector. It’s difficult to part with some pieces but that’s the business.” He then says somewhat wistfully, “If I could have back, say 20 pieces that I sold that would really be something. It would make quite a collection.”
It is likely Gary Sergeant will never reacquire those special pieces, but he will continue hunting for the “perfect piece” that is out there, just waiting for him to discover.
G Sergeant Antiques is open Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday from noon to 4 p.m., and by appointment. Visit www.gsergeantantiques.com, or call 203-266-4177.