“That’s a New York State leg,” says Tom Luciano, proprietor of Time and Materials, one of Hudson’s many antique shops. We’re sitting in a cafe in Phoenicia, and he’s pointing across the room at a cobbled table, with shiny, apparently recent screws attaching 19th-century legs to a top that was probably made from an old barn door.
In cafes, antique shops, yard sales, and attics alike, Hudson Valley furniture embodies the area’s history, from the colonial Dutch period to the heyday of the Catskills hotels. With the housing market beginning to turn around, furniture prices are still low but about to climb, says Luciano, so it’s a good time to buy. And every piece contains a history lesson.
“This ‘pear’ turning relates to 17th- and 18th-century Dutch woodwork, often repeated in New York legs.” He indicates the smooth, ovoid shape, with narrow rings and rectangular blocks above and below, characteristic of New York craftsmanship. Each state had its own characteristic design. In New Hampshire, the entire leg was often carved, ending with a taper.
Next to the table is a bentwood chair with Art-Nouveau lines, a style common in Catskills hotels. Its frame has been painted a streaky orange, and the seat has been recovered in red. “Made in 1910 or 1920, either by Thonet or J. & J. Kohn, Austrian furniture makers,” says Luciano. “Probably bought at a yard sale. With a bit of resurfacing, this would be a beautiful piece.”
The Catskills still have plenty of memorabilia from the peak of the hotel era from 1850 to1950. Iron bedsteads, arts-and-crafts bungalow furniture, metal lawn chairs, and period fabrics have a nostalgic kick for baby boomers who visited the resorts in the 1960s, when the old furnishings were still in place.
Crafts from Woodstock
Overlapping with the hotel period, the Byrdcliffe arts colony begun in 1902, produced handcrafted furniture, pottery, textiles, prints, photography, and paintings, while establishing Woodstock’s identity as a haven for free-spirited creative people. Founded as a utopian community in reaction to the dehumanizing effects of industrialization, Byrdcliffe continues to serve artists. The products of its first half-century still filter through the region, often ending up in the hands of Jim Cox at James Cox Gallery in Willow, a few miles west of the Woodstock hamlet.
Cox holds up a turquoise pot made by Byrdcliffe artist Zulma Steele. “She called her line ‘Zedware’ and signed each piece with a ‘Z’.” He turns over the pot to show the letter etched in the bottom.