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The Art of Consignment Shopping

Written by Karen Marley
Imagery by Sandra Kicman

Some describe it as an obsession. Others say determination. Call it what you will, but there is a certain excitement that accompanies the final moment when the persistent tracking of an elusive target results in a capture. It’s the thrill of the chase. And it’s a moment that homeowner Valerie Albert experienced every time she found the perfect item to fill her French country home.
    Albert’s hunting lands were not the convenient stores filled with new furniture and catalogs. She preferred the fertile grounds of antique andconsignment shops, replete with furniture, artwork, rugs and stories. If you want an utterly unique home, richly layered with design and interest, this is where you go. True to her sport, the home is gloriously appointed and loaded with charisma. 

Home as Sport
Even the house itself was a find. When Albert and her husband, Joe Salva, purchased it 20 years ago, it was in shambles. Mice lived in the walls. Bats, dead and alive, occupied the ceilings. A woodchuck family staked its claim under the porch. But it had a remarkable stucco shell and a beautiful view of Chautauqua Lake.
    In the early 70s the home had been converted into three apartments. Albert still grimaces at the memory.
    “It was a cheap conversion. After 20 years of renters it was disgusting,” she says. 
    Albert and Salva knew they were facing a complete redo. With a trusted contractor, they finished one apartment, which became home base.
From there, they tackled the rest of the home, gutting everything. At times they’d come home and find no walls. They would take long breaks from construction, rally, then return to the process.
    “I think I watched  ‘Home & Garden TV’ one too many times. Thought it would take us a couple years,”  laughs Albert. “It took ten!”
    The home retained its three apartment units but lives easily as a single home. This arrangement allows visitors to come and comfortably occupy one of the apartments.

Designer’s Playground
For Albert, the project became a labor of love.  “I totally love designing. That house became a hobby,” she says.
    Ninety percent of the home décor came from antique and consignment shops. Albert did use a local designer, David Metzler, who helped with the layout and materials sourcing for the two kitchens’ cabinetry, sinks and counters. The apartments and the two kitchens are different but follow the French country genre. For instance, one has a marbled peachy-gray granite, the other has peach venation.
    Metzler also designed a massive two-story high fireplace. Above it, is an enormous, 20-foot by 4-foot oil painting from the 1920s, filled with cherubs and Greek figures in an Art Nouveau style. Albert found it in Buffalo and believes it came from an old movie theater.
    When Albert needed a chandelier of monumental proportions, she found one in the Hudson Valley. Dated to the early 1900s, the chandelier is one-story high (not an exaggeration), but it needed globes. Those took another two
years to find.
    One of Albert’s favorite discoveries is a zodiac mirror representing the Brutalist movement. She also loves what she found from Hertel Home Consignment with the help of owner, Michael Chamberlain: two relatively
new chairs perfectly suited for the downstairs apartment’s red walls. All interior lighting is vintage representing different periods and styles — mid-century modern, crystal, and even gesso. Visitors are never at a loss for something to catch their fancy.

Project Complete?
Never. Albert’s tastes evolve and she keeps the hunt going by re-designing, revamping, and editing. With the amount of buying and selling that she does, Albert says she’s practically a dealer.
    There’s another aspect of antique and consignment stores that cannot be overlooked. The human connection transforms the duty of design into an appreciation of experience.
     “These shops are usually privately owned. I love the interaction with the owners. My Saturdays became days of visiting old friends. I’ve been doing this for 20 years,”  says Albert.  

Hertel Home Consignment

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