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The Times Shopper: Denver

Antique Collectors Net a Profit From the Past

June 26, 1988|JENNIFER MERIN | Merin is a New York City free-lance writer .

Denver, the highest major urban hub in the United States, boasts a variety of superlatives for consumers.

The Mile High City has more sporting-goods stores per capita than any other American city, including the nation's biggest--Garts Sports Castle, 1000 Broadway, (303) 861-1122. Denver also claims the nation's largest bookstore--the Tattered Cover, 2955 East 1st Ave., (303) 322-7727--as well as the country's biggest self-service laundry--Smiley's, 1080 E. Colfax Ave.

Recently, Denver added another superlative to its list. Stuart-Buchanan, 1625 Wazee St., (303) 825-1222, is the largest retailer of antique European furniture in the Rocky Mountains. The store opened to the public in May. It is the latest outlet in Stuart-Buchanan's chain (additional shops are in Aspen and Vail, and a smaller shop is elsewhere in Denver).

Refurbished Buildings

The new store occupies two huge 19th-Century brick warehouses in Denver's up-and-coming Lower Downtown section. These buildings (one has five stories, the other has four) were gutted and redesigned for showrooms, workshops and offices. During renovation, about 50,000 bricks were removed to allow for open balcony showrooms around an interior courtyard. A trompe l'oeil painting hides the staircase to upper floors.

Stuart-Buchanan has a strong client base in Colorado, but about 50% of the company's business is with out-of-state customers (including well-known folks such as Rupert Murdoch, Goldie Hahn, Paul Anka and Jill St. John), who find it worthwhile to come to Denver to buy because the shop offers a vast selection of merchandise, including restored and/or rebuilt antique originals, decorative pieces, and their own line of antique-compatible designer furniture.

The company takes as many as four out-of-state interior design jobs at a time. To facilitate shipment, Stuart-Buchanan maintains several trucks and provides free delivery on out-of-state purchases of $20,000 or more, or will split the cost of shipping if that figure is $10,000. For lesser purchases, the company will deliver at a fee or arrange shipment through United Parcel Service.

The new store is spacious and attractive. Antiques are displayed in settings that are museum-like, except that buyers and browsers may pick up and inspect decorative objects and sit on all the chairs and beds.

A gentlewoman's bedroom, for example, has an array of English antique furniture and accessories, including an 18th-Century bed ($4,000) dressed in Buchanan plaid, slant-front desk ($5,000), chests, chairs and accessories such as an antique silver comb and brush set, leather riding boots and crop, mirrors and books, for a total price of about $30,000.

A gentleman's study features a huge double-sided desk, swivel and wingback chairs, bookcases and, for accessories, a leather campaign chest, a zither with an American eagle decoration ($500) and the complete works of George Eliot (24 books, leather-bound, $995), all for an elegant and decidedly Ralph Lauren effect.

Owner-manager-designers Stuart Hough and Tangy Buchanan (a brother-and-sister team) jokingly complain that their model rooms are hard to maintain because customers keep buying individual pieces of furniture and accessories. Of course, there are plenty of replacements to be drawn from upstairs galleries with rows of armoires ($1,500 and up), desks, chests, chairs, beds ($700 and up), tables ($600 and up), benches and more.

Unusual items include an almost life-size wooden rocking horse (made between 1830 and 1845, similar to one owned by King George III, for $6,500), a Normandy grandfather clock dated 1775 ($4,750), an 1850 French horse tricycle (a wooden horse on three wheels that you pedal to move, $4,000), a French cherry sleigh bed from 1815 ($2,000), a Swedish four-door painted cupboard dated 1729 ($8,995), late-19th-Century children's beds, a brass-and-straw umbrella stand ($2,250), a Victorian bird cage dated 1850 ($2,750; it houses Stuart-Buchanan's pet doves, which are not for sale), a set of five majolica oyster plates (dated 1850; $1,000) and a red-eyed wooden carrousel rooster made by Spooner in 1880 ($9,995).

The walls are covered with 18th-Century European oils and French painter Louise Cottard Fossey's (1904-1981) post-impressionist landscapes of the South of France. Stuart-Buchanan also has a selection of Victorian "wool works" (about $1,800), yarn pictures of flags, naval vessels and patriotic slogans.

Not every item requires a major investment. Stuart-Buchanan's French Market has hand-stitched American vintage quilts (35 to 40 to choose from, $500 to $800), 1860s Victorian porcelain eggs ($25), 1880s painted walking canes with bone handles (from $150), and contemporary glassware, pottery, bed linens and decorative straw hats.

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