Steven Eklund ’96 and his wife, Hilary, appeared as the “In the Trade” feature in the August issue of Main Antique Digest. The author, Frank Donegan, noted the couple is among the younger antiques dealers he’s interviewed.
Aside from their age in the business, they are distinguished by the way they present themselves, according to the article: “The Eklunds think of themselves as antiques dealers but also as design professionals. That’s why they call their business Tandem Antiques & Design and not just Tandem Antiques. Steven said, ‘Antique dealer’ says fuddy-duddy and teacups. ‘Design’ is about a way of being, a way of living.'”
While they are only about 15 years in the business, they are not new to the world of antiques. According to the article, Steven “comes from a family where both parents are dealers. His father is Carl Eklund, a well-known country picker who lives six miles from the Eklunds’ home in Jefferson. ‘I grew up kicking my soccer ball against Schoharie Valley blanket chests,’ Steven said. And his mother, Deborah, is a principal in Fern, a long-lived funky antiques shop in Hudson.”
The article explains how the Eklunds manage their business quite differently from traditional dealers with 40 or more years in the business – including through savvy use of the internet.
Eklund earned his B.A. in mathematics and architectural studies from Hobart College.
The full article about their business follows.
Maine Antique Digest
In the Trade: Steven and Hilary Eklund, Tandem Antiques & Design, Jefferson, New York
In the Trade
Frank Donegan • August 2012
As the writer of this feature each month, I’m happy to occasionally interview dealers who are young enough so that they don’t have 40 or 50 years of stories about the business. In fact, Steven and Hilary Eklund just barely have 15 years’ worth of stories. That’s long enough so that they know the lay of the land but not long enough to make them slaves to some outdated notion of what the antiques business should be.
When it comes to the antiques trade, Hilary said, “We’re not the only younger folks, but there aren’t a ton of us.”
Perhaps the most notable thing about being young dealers is that the couple accepts the current business atmosphere as the norm. It’s a given. They are not nostalgic for a bygone era when there were serious collectors for every little thing, no matter how insignificant. (I bring this up after seeing a wall of Fostoria glass vases pictured in an article in The Magazine Antiques, May/June 2012 issue. Who would ever have predicted that?) They don’t expect their customers to be collectors. They don’t even expect their customers to know anything.
The Eklunds think of themselves as antiques dealers but also as design professionals. That’s why they call their business Tandem Antiques & Design and not just Tandem Antiques. Steven said, “‘Antique dealer’ says fuddy-duddy and teacups. ‘Design’ is about a way of being, a way of living.”
They see today’s antiques business as a merger of these two worlds. In their view, you can’t hope to survive as an antiques dealer without cultivating the much larger and currently dominant world of design. To work effectively in this new world, you don’t just simply put some antiques in the barn behind your house in Jefferson, New York.
As Steven said, “You’re not going to sell antiques in Jefferson.” The hamlet lies in the most rural corner of the already rural Schoharie County in upstate New York. The closest town of any size is Oneonta, and that’s almost 30 miles away. Yet, once upon a time, if your home was on a state road, as theirs is, a young couple wanting to sell antiques might indeed have opened a barn shop.
Instead, the Eklunds do a variety of things-some traditional, some not. On the traditional side, they set up at about a dozen shows a year; they share a shop in Hudson, New York; Steven has done some auctioneering; and Hilary does bookkeeping for a local auctioneer. (She said she got the job “because I know what the stuff is and I can spell.”) And they’re part of the management team of a Cooperstown, New York, show that had been on the verge of extinction.
They are completely plugged in as well. When we were looking for the correct spelling of a Scandinavian designer’s name, Steven didn’t look in a book. He pulled out his smartphone and found the guy’s name instantly. Of course, they have a Web site. They also sell on the Etsy site, which mixes vintage goods and new material. (Hilary said, “It tends toward mid-century smalls. It’s a great market for things like Dansk.”)
They post pictures of inventory on the Internet photo site Flickr, on the design site Pinterest (“It’s the next big thing,” Hilary said), and on their Facebook page. And Hilary blogs and tweets. When we last checked she had 3867 “followers” on Twitter, at least half of whom are involved in design.
Hilary said, “You get a twenty-something girl in Brooklyn who wants 1950’s kitchen glass. She can go to shows and shops, but she doesn’t have to.” Steven added, “The culture has changed; it’s gone away from antiques shows. Fewer people want to spend a day out doing that.” So people such as the Eklunds are putting their stuff all over the Web to reach that young woman who doesn’t want to go to shops or shows.
About her on-line activity in social media Hilary said, “The Internet has changed everything. I’m not sure what the endgame is, but with all these social media I’m making connections, and somewhere along the line something is going to pay off.” She added that no matter what comes of all this activity, “It’s better than dealers saying, ‘So we’re just going to get together and complain.'”
The couple exhibits at a mix of shows. They do Brimfield and Rhinebeck. They do the large but low-key Round Lake outdoor show north of Albany. They also set up at small local shows in Schoharie, in Ballston Lake south of Saratoga, and in Cooperstown.
Hilary described how they became involved in managing the Cooperstown show, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. “Three years ago the Cooperstown promoters were going around the Schoharie show saying their show was going to end. By the end of the weekend we were part of the management team.”
So far, the Cooperstown show in July appears to be holding its own, she said. “We’ve finally gotten our dealer numbers up now. Last year we had fifty-five dealers, and we already have fifty-five committed for this year. And, since it’s in a field, people can show up on the day of the show, so we’re thinking maybe sixty-five to seventy-five.”
When it comes to shows, the couple also exhibits at a couple of interesting outliers. Every couple of months, Hilary sets up at the Garage flea market on West 25th Street in Manhattan. “It’s a good place to liquidate,” Steven said, but it’s also, according to Hilary, a place where you can reach an audience you might not find any other way. She said, “You can take beautiful stuff and throw it out there, and somebody will see that it’s nice and fairly priced. I thought I was going to get a lot of twenty-something hipster kids. But there are a lot of middle-aged Europeans.”
And Asians. Hilary recalled a recent sale. “I had like a ten-dollar Italian ashtray. A man holds it up and says, ‘Chinese?’ I said, ‘No, Italian.’ He said again, ‘Chinese?’ I said, ‘No, IT-A-LEE.’ He said, ‘Chinese?’ I said, ‘Sure, Chinese.’ He bought it.”
The couple has also exhibited twice at the Antique & Design Center in High Point, North Carolina, during “Furniture Week,” the national venue for the new furniture trade. It’s near the Greensboro area, where Hilary grew up and still has family. She said doing the show has “put us in touch with decorators and designers. It opened my eyes to the new furniture industry. Even some of the high-end stuff is crap.”
Her objective in doing the show, she said, is to point out the virtues of antiques to designers. She’s thinking about conducting a seminar on the subject at High Point. “I’ve been getting this fire lit in me lately. I have an idea of putting new and old side by side so young designers can see that the old stuff is so much worth your dollar. You can talk to them, but they have to be able to see it.”
Steven said that they’d like to show how “you can take a modern thing and put it on a country table or put a country thing on a modern table, and they all look great.”
Hilary added, “I deal with young decorators and designers. They’re very sweet, but they don’t know anything. There’s interest and no knowledge.”
In fact, Hilary and Steven agree that lack of knowledge among buyers has been a major force during the 15 or so years they’ve been in the antiques business. There are simply fewer collectors and many more buyers who simply want a “look.”
“It’s much more trendy than it used to be,” Steven said. “It started with the shabby chic look.”
Hilary noted that at shows people rarely come into their booth looking for a specific type of item that they collect.
She described a recent “Tweet-up” at Brimfield that drew some 150 or so Twitter users together for cocktails. It was a rare chance for people who may follow each others’ comments in cyberspace to actually meet face to face. As a group, she said of Tweeters, “Their level of understanding of what stuff is, is so low.” Most are not dealers, and they don’t understand much about antiques or about the antiques business. She noted, for example, that the group “was amazed that we would buy something at Brimfield and then put it in our booth for sale.” Nevertheless, she said, “They have real influence” simply by virtue of their ubiquitous blogging and tweeting and posting pictures of things they “love” on line.
Warren Street Antiques, the shop in Hudson that the Eklunds share with three Albany-based dealers, allows them to reach even more of this type of buyer. “It’s another ball in the air,” Steven said. They’ve been in the large, warehouse-type space for five years. It’s an unpretentious place-no gallery look. “It always needs to be dusted,” Hilary said. “Our shop has a lower price point than other shops in Hudson. It gets picked relatively hard by other Hudson dealers and by people bringing things to New York City.”
The couple met in Hudson 15 years ago. Steven was a shop-sitter for dealer Howard Dawson, whose corner shop faced the green on the upper end of Warren Street. Hilary had lived in New York City for about ten years and was dissatisfied with her job in high-tech customer relations. “I had heard that the Hudson Valley was a great place,” she said. So she got on the Internet and decided to take a look at Hudson. This was in 1997 when, as Hilary said, “it was a pretty rudimentary Internet.” It gives an idea of just how long she has been plugged in.
She liked what she saw and loved browsing the shops. She began coming up on weekends and eventually took an apartment on Warren Street. In their early days as a couple, she would exhibit at the outdoor weekend flea market in the center of town. “We would set me up, and then Steve would go off to shop-sit.”
Hilary said she grew up “on the consumer side of the antiques business.” Her parents would buy the occasional antique but were not serious collectors. Steven, on the other hand, comes from a family where both parents are dealers. His father is Carl Eklund, a well-known country picker who lives six miles from the Eklunds’ home in Jefferson. “I grew up kicking my soccer ball against Schoharie Valley blanket chests,” Steven said. And his mother, Deborah, is a principal in Fern, a long-lived funky antiques shop in Hudson.
The couple said that their relationship with Carl shows how much the trade has changed. Hilary explained, “We used to bring stuff to Carl and say, ‘Is it good?’ Now he comes to us. Carl’s line is that he’s learning from us and buying things he never used to buy.”
Steven’s mother was instrumental in getting him the shop-sitting job that led to his meeting Hilary. He had graduated from Hobart College with a degree in architectural studies and certification to teach high school math. He was teaching, but his job was cut to half time, and, as Hilary said, “He needed quick money.”
Coincidentally, at about that time, Hudson dealer Alphonse Sutter stopped in to Fern and mentioned that Howard Dawson was looking for a shop-sitter. Without hesitating, Steven’s mother said, “My son will do it.” Suddenly Steven was in the antiques trade.
The couple has two sons, eight-year-old Simon and 12-year-old Anderson. So far, Hilary said she doesn’t know if Simon has any interest in the trade, although she noted that she recently overheard him say to a friend in an adjoining room, “Be careful, that’s an antique.” (She also said Simon shares a commonly held view about the life of an antiques dealer. At a recent school function, when asked what his father did, he said, “My dad doesn’t work.”)
Anderson, however, is already a dealer of sorts who has recently shown an interest in Asian material. Hilary said that when they set up at the small Lakeside Farm one-day show in Ballston Lake, promoter Pat Parisi rents a tiny booth to Anderson for $5. “He sells his yard sale finds. He’s been doing it since he was seven or eight.”
As for Steven and Hilary, they are always looking for new ways of doing business. Hilary said, “We’ll leave a show or leave an auction and pick it apart. We’ll say, ‘This is how we’d do it.'” As Steven said, “We’re open to opportunity.” That isn’t a bad outlook for any antiques dealer, even an old one.
For information, contact Steven and Hilary Eklund, Tandem Antiques & Design, Jefferson, New York, (607) 652-4798, (607) 435-1851, e-mail
Originally published in the August 2012 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2012 Maine Antique Digest