Friday, September 9, 2016

Mindy Papp

By Sian Ballen & Lesley Hauge
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch


“We bought a cliff, a swamp and a garbage dump so our second check was to the garbage man to come and take away three million oil cans and car batteries and a pizza sign that was ten feet long.” Thus began Mindy Papp’s adventure with building her property, Netherstillworthy, in Bedford. The daughter of the late antiques dealer Florian Papp, Mindy, together with her late husband, Guy Durham, spent years painstakingly putting together three different as-authentic-as-possible English cottages. The center cottage is carefully styled as an 18th century cottage; on one side is a blacksmith’s dwelling and on the other side, a Victorian cottage. The couple camped for two years (“we smelled,” says Mindy) while building the first liveable stages of the whole although the first night they slept in the bedroom it was minus a roof. Together they hacked off corners of slate roofing tiles from Vermont to make them look, in Mindy’s words, “skew-wiffy” and not too perfect. So much masonry was involved in the construction that different stone masons “got tired.” There were to be no 90-degree angles, no flat walls and all the ceilings were to be shaped. For us visitors, the result suggested a kind of real life fairy tale and as we walked through the different parts of the house, at one point Jeff, somewhat bemused, asked, “And what century are we in now?”

So you live here basically alone – what’s that like?

I’m never alone. I really have to tell people—I don’t want to say get rid of—but I have to declare alone time.
View through the garden gate to the croquet court and the campsite under the shadows of the trees.
The walk along the garden wall with a long view of Netherstillworthy revealing the three adjoining cottages each with their own rooflines and slate styles.
The garden wall with kiwi vines, apple trees and tay berries flanking the stone walkway with the raspberry hedge on the other side.
The arbor seating area is shaded by kiwi vines.
A barrel pump fountain collects rainwater and functions as a reservoir for the plants in the pots nearby.
The garden console table by David Howell does double duty as a sturdy work and potting surface as well as a serving bar for get-togethers.
The natural history window houses a collection of bird nests, shells, and unusual found natural objects from the surrounding woods.
A rose arbor was trained over the garden and front door porch. The columns come from the family farm buildings in Durham, North Carolina.
The sitting area in front of the pub bay window doubles as an outdoor living room year round.
The vegetable garden just beyond the teak benches offers delicious nibbles including cherry tomatoes in summer.
Looking past the rose arbor to the outdoor sitting room.
The big, flat natural stones at the corner of the croquet court used as coping also offer both seating and a walkway.
The walk and stairs to lead to what Mindy calls "Mt. Teddy" with its own pathways and rest benches.
The herb and vegetable garden includes many gifts of plants from neighbors and friends.
I was expecting a rather grand house filled with rather grand antiques because you’re Florian Papp’s daughter—but this isn’t grand or formal at all.

I’ve always taken home Florian Papp rejects—and by that I mean things that I thought were very visually interesting and that had a story to tell. I thought they were being neglected. And then people come over and they sell! I’ve always sold furniture from my house.

If you’re in the antiques business, do you still get attached to objects or is it just a question of selling them on and finding something else?

For me I grew up doing do-si-do. My father always said the real rich part of falling in love is what it has to say to you. I remember when I lost my husband, God I saved like, every shirt and I never washed the last turtleneck he wore, and [then] I realized ultimately the things that I hold dear are not things that can be on a hanger or in a room—it’s the experience of when he wore that turtleneck or how he looked. And I feel that way about objects. I can’t own every single table we buy and sell.
The pub sitting room with Tudor style paneling, shaped ceiling and antique beams. A Dutch East India Company trunk divides the room.
The fire surround is a Tudor period piece. The photograph, "White Egret Fishing," is by Clark Halstead.
The high shelf above the Tudor style paneling holds a brownware pottery collection. 
Secret doors in the paneling open to reveal another small chamber which leads the way to the master bedroom.
Chairs from Mindy's collection include an early 18th century side chair with original needlework and an Orkney Chair.
Looking from the pub sitting area towards the pub counter and dining table covered with an early 19th century kilim carpet, a gift from Shaw Kinsley.
The bookcases hold Guy Durham's collection of poetry and lyric prose in the pub and the pillows are from Matthew Smyth Design.
The Chelsea Editions crewel work drapes in the large bay window were suggested by Jed Johnson long before the house was built.  
An antique kilim is draped over a refectory table.
A 17th century Dutch brass chandelier is centered over the sitting area.
I’ve heard other antiques dealers say something similar. But you clearly love your house and your property. Was it a kind of little-girl-dream you had of living in an 18th century cottage?

I think it’s because I spent so much time in England. I basically spent summers there. We took an old farmhouse in Devon every summer. My family was part English and we had relatives there. My father had a lot of relationships with people there and my late husband went to school there. My closest friend is English and my goddaughter is English.

Did you want to move into the family business or did it just sort of happen?

I was in advertising—I was an art director for television mostly. I was doing exciting things like “Three temperatures—one detergent!” and making up jingles for diet cola. My father had a heart attack on the plane coming back from England and I came home to try and be helpful. I had just taken a new job on the West Coast and then I realized how fragile the situation was. I realized that I wanted to be around for my parents.
The paneled archway, collected long before the house was built, leads to the pantry and bar.
Looking down the long hall through the diamond pattern fire-and-draft screen to the pub.
The pantry and bar area were joined together from reclaimed barn and floor boards.
Looking towards the kitchen.
The kitchen sink island has a Vermont stone surface and is flanked by stone columns each with a series of stone shelves holding kitchen brass and copper ware.
Craig Winer's "A Swag of Glass" hangs above the copper kitchen sink. Wood shelves and cupboards hold spices, vinegars and other foodstuffs.
All the kitchen cabinets are made from reclaimed timber.
How did you learn about the business?

I’m super-close to my parents. My father was very strict with me—because he realized he was running out of time and I was super-respectful to him. I went to the auctions by myself and then in the afternoon, I was his secretary and driver. He gave me a stack of books and said, “Memorize them.” Then he would quiz me.

Did it come to you naturally or did you have to work at it?

I think you always have to work at it.  I think the things that really turn me on the most are the things that reveal their maker. That’s why I said in this house, I want everything to be touched by a human hand.

Isn’t that part of the definition of an antique?

Yes and no. One of the things I’m least interested in is serious signed furniture. It’s too tightly-wrapped. I think it’s important to study it. It commands my respect and appreciation but it’s the last thing I want to wake up to every morning. I like things that are like us. And I want it to speak to its moment in time and to speak to the person who made it, that person’s understanding of materials, that person’s understanding of negative and positive space. Furniture is sculpture.
The family bulletin board, originally tucked under the cupboards is taking over the wall. Layers are continually added as the family grows and as so many moments need remembering.
Above the kitchen fireplace with forged iron crane and spit, hangs a tin tray painted by Mindy's brother, William Papp, son of Florian Papp founder of the firm in 1900.
Home for a small flock of society finches in the kitchen bay window frames the bird feeders hanging just outside.
A young male society finch who was bred by Mindy.
The tumble of the everyday dishes rest on, in, and around the reclaimed wood cupboards.
Looking across the kitchen bulletin board collage, the narrow Victorian door opens to an outdoor dining porch.
The outdoor dining porch has a collection of tables that can be used in numerous configurations.
A view from the porch with the small Brooklyn-made iron wall fountain.
The stone chimney centers one of the many stone sculptures tucked here and there throughout the house.
A smaller table on the dining porch overlooks the forested valley below.
A 50-foot cliff falls to a green valley and a small pond that attracts plenty of wildlife. Riders belonging to the Bedford Riding Lanes Association also use a trail that runs through the property.
Yes, you seem to be talking about it more like an artist than a dealer.

I think you have to do that. Anytime that we’ve handled pieces that don’t meet that criteria, it’s just duty. It’s called “let’s be commercial.”

Where are you now as far as that goes? The store is closed.

Free at last! [laughs] Honestly it hasn’t made sense for us to be in that location, easily in the last ten years. When you walk by Florian Papp, you’re not thinking about what I care about. You’re thinking about Louis Vuitton shoes across the street or jewelry. It’s just a different mindset now. When we were surrounded by art galleries and Parke Bernet, which became Sotheby’s, people were in that ‘hood very often for a specific reason. If you were a young couple, you could come in and change your baby on a Georgian partners desk and walk out with something for a couple of hundred dollars that was real.

Did anyone ever actually change their baby on a Georgian partners desk?

Oh, many times.
Back inside the pub the paneled window seat with pillows by Matthew Smyth Design.
The hallway to the mudroom flanked by the natural history window.
The poetry bookcase spills over with pictures, collected objects and gifts from friends including a pair of pottery stirrup cups in the form of a fox and a hound.
A detail of the natural history window with its bird nest collection which includes several delicate hummingbird nests, feathers and turtle shells. The nature window also holds gifts from friends and neighbors including presents from the designer and friend, Thomas Jayne.
Stained glass from Oxford hangs in the hallway window along with found and collected objects.
The hallway lantern illuminates a pen-and-ink sketch.
In the hallway hangs a portrait of an "English Gentleman" complete with family armorial crest.
What was your dad like?

Super strict.

You keep on saying that – give us an example!

Let’s just say when I was growing up my curfew was like, when it got dark.

And your mom?

She was always my father’s aide-de-camp. She worked in fashion and also did modeling, so she had a beautiful eye. She was a very warm person. When she was in the gallery, people loved her. She would talk about the furniture in a non-academic way.

So how do you actually feel about the doors shutting?

I can tell you exactly. My sales from January to May, every single one of them, I  [either] knew the person or it was internet-related. So why am I spending all that money on a store? I personally would love to have a store—I’m a shopkeeper—but I’m just not sure it warrants that kind of business anymore.
Alice's room, which belonged to Mindy's late mother and matriarch of the firm and family, has a cozy window seat for reading and a small York Minster stone fireplace from England.
Alice's bed is tucked into a shallow niche lined with bookshelves.
The window seat is flanked by 17th century Tudor paneled doors.
An 18th century British oil painting depicting an English tea in the garden hangs above a small faux bamboo desk.
The mudroom is in constant use throughout the year.
Oak paneled door leads down to the Undercroft.
The winding stairway down to the Undercroft.
The shaped ceiling of the Undercroft creates a cozy feeling in an otherwise large room which can and has shared many functions including a dinner for more than 30 guests or a dormitory for young members of the pony club.
The vaulted ceiling meets shaped niches at the side walls, all lit by hand-forged iron sconces and standing lamps designed by Mindy.
Several niches are pillowed as couches but can double as beds with the bases designed as large pull-out drawers that hide another mattress.
The end wall of the vault has an Arts and Crafts forged iron fire surround from upstate New York. A chalk drawing by Mindy's niece Madison, hangs alongside the surround.
Mindy found plaster reliefs and used them as artful elements on the faux, rough stone walls.
The large sliding doors offer sweeping views and glow at sunrise with morning light.
A corner of the Japanese spa with a deep soaking tub and steam bath.
The long view down the vaulted Undercroft with a set of Tudor style chairs, antique birdcage, and a lazy Susan center table.
So what’s your take on the fact that the demand for so-called brown furniture is on the wane?

It’s all about juxtapostions. Axel Vervoordt has done it for years. You take a period room and put in clean upholstery and then place a piece of good pottery. My whole [Manhattan] apartment looks like that.

What do you think of The Antiques Road Show? Are people only interested in how much things are worth or are they fascinated more by the story and the historic detail of an object?

I think [the story] is a by-product but I do think that we’re all curious and we all grew up with the treasure hunt. So we all hope. I mean I just went to this worst old-fashioned antique shop. It’s an old barn that’s been there forever and I challenged my brother. I said, “It’s going to have all sorts of junk” and it did but I said, “Okay let’s play this game. We have to find something that we could definitely sell—you have to find something that you know is saleable and that you could make a profit on.” That’s part one. Now you have to find something which you think holds the promise.”
View from the top of the stone tower stairs with leaded glass windows and hand-forged iron railings by Bill Fitzgerald of By Hammer By Hand.
The niche at the top of the stairs is filled with stuffed animals that belong to Mindy's grandchildren.
Mindy's step-daughter, Sarah's bedroom with a four-poster bed and antique quilts.
Sarah's sitting area features a Louis Vuitton trunk that doubles as a coffee table found by her father and Mindy's late husband, Guy Durham, on 74th Street just before the garbage truck arrived.
A portrait of Sarah by Suzanna Boxembaun hangs above a Hepplewhite sideboard.
A long view from Sarah's bed to a Georgian slope front desk that was used by her father, Guy Durham, in his ad agency's office. Later on he used the desk to write his novels at Netherstillworthy.
The four-poster bed is hung with simple white eyelet curtains from The Vermont Country Store. The pair of Metropolitan Museum shop marquetry panel (reproductions of the famous Studiolo from the Ducal Palace in Gubbio) were a gift from Mindy's brother William.
The office features a beautiful beamed ceiling. The artwork is by Sarah and godson Henry Howells.
Old stone steps lead into a delightfully rambling garden.
The armillary sphere was an acquisition inspired by fellow Bedford resident, Stephen Sills who has a remarkable collection of garden ornaments.
The master bedroom hallway centering a Charles II oak chest and another hand-wrought iron railing by Bill Fitzgerald of By Hammer By Hand.
The decorative paneled front of an early oak chest echoes the paneling in the pub sitting room.
A comfy couch and wing chair with Chelsea Editions fabrics are arranged around the fireplace.
A massive fireplace of just three stones with two uprights found on the property, was inspired by a Landmark Trust property in England.
An early 18th century English oak lowboy with ambitious detailing, cross banding and pierced carving, stands next to a wing chair. On the wall above hangs a filigree gilt paperwork picture.
A row of closets in the master suite with a peek at a corner railing of the loft above.
A beamed niche frames the bed. At the foot of the bed is a leather-and-nail studded chest.
Mindy's bath and dressing room with a vase of collected feathers on the corner sink.
A corner of the bathroom used by Mindy's late husband, Guy Durham, with its full-length English tub and pine hanging shelf filled with soaps, scrubs and antique shaving mugs.
Did you find something?

Of course I did!

What did you find?

Okay, so the things that I could sell were two green glass cornucopias with a twist on a stem. They were only $40 and I said I could sell them easy for $440 no problem! All day long. And then I found this cookie jar which was like a Toby jar. It was made yesterday, well 20th century … Sherlock Holmes and it had a pipe and a magnifying glass with a handle. You could take his hat off. In fact I should go back and buy it. It makes a real statement about its moment in time. The person who digs that up in a time capsule, they have to know who Sherlock Holmes was and they have to know about cookies. You have to know about smoking a pipe. That object has a lot to say for itself.

And how much was it?

Ten dollars.