SHEFFIELD -- Along the southern edge of Berkshire County, brushing up against the Connecticut border, Sheffield is a small quirky town that has a distinct style all its own. Settled in 1725 and incorporated in 1773 -- the first in the county-- Sheffield is often referred to as the antique capital of the Berkshires. In many ways the town itself is like a carefully preserved rare find in an antique store.
From its quiet main street to its signature 1832 Old Covered Bridge (burnt down in 1994, but rebuilt four years later), the town offers an unusual collection ofcuriosities. One of them is Cupboards & Roses, a store that sells imported 18th- and 19th-century Swedish painted furniture and folk art.
Selling items that possess a very specific aesthetic, the store, owned by German-born former New York advertising executive Edith Gilson, sits next to the even quirkier The Magic Fluke Company, the nation's largest ukelele manufacturer.
"I just love Swedish and Scandinavian design," Gilson said. "The furniture looks so light, it feels light. It uses a lot of light colors because Swedish weather is so stark most of the year. These pieces brighten up a room."
Gilson's admiration for and interest in Swedish antiques runs deep. Born and raised in the Bavarian mountain country in Germany, Gilson hitchhiked through Scandinavia as a teenager, and she said that the artwork and aesthetic sensibilities of the region always appealed to her.
She made her way to the United States, and any "Mad Men" fans out there may recognize her as something of a Peggy Olson. Starting out as a researcher, Gilson worked her way up the corporate ladder to become Senior Vice President for Strategic Planning at the J. Walter Thompson Advertising Company.
"The world was different then. You worked hard, had creative ideas, and you could then be promoted and work your way up," Gilson said. "It's not like that anymore."
The first female vice president at the famed advertising company, Gilson eventually wanted a slower career and life pace, and decided to make the move to the Berkshires full-time, where she already owned a second home. In 1988, she founded the antique store, blending her sharp business sense and love of Swedish antiques.
Over two decades in the antiques trade, Gilson said much has evolved in the way she runs her business. She once had to make frequent flights back and forth from the United States to Europe in order to acquire items for the store; she now makes a lot of her purchases online. Similarly, much of her store's business has gone virtual -- many orders for her items are placed online instead of in-person.
"I originally thought that people would be against the idea of ordering online -- I thought they'd want to touch and hold the items for themselves," Gilson said. "But now they go on our website, and can zoom in on items and see them from every angle. Buyers are more educated more, they know what they are looking for, and know what they are seeing."
Key for the digital conversion of Gilson's business is the work of Julie Kane, her assistant who has been with the store for almost a decade.
Kane, who runs her own consulting business, said she and Gilson have an easy collaboration.
"She has what we call in the business, ‘a good eye,' " Kane said. "She knows exactly what she is seeing, she knows what to look for."
Kane doesn't have an art history background, but said her years with Gilson have given her a sense of exactly what kinds of items to look out for. She curates images on Gilson's website and Facebook page.
"We work well together. I have grown to understand what she wants to communicate in a photograph of any particular piece," Kane said.
For Gilson, her communication skills and understanding of visual presentation that she honed while in the marketing world perfectly complements her work in the antique trade.
"I discovered that I'm very visual. I have a good sense of proportion when I look at things," Gilson said.
What she particularly enjoys are the graceful, feminine curves of Swedish clocks, or the lived-in look of chairs and tables from the region that are often painted in soft, light hues.
In many ways, her store brings back memories of Europe. Now living in Great Barrington, Gilson immediately thought of home when she came to the Berkshires.
"I always felt deja vu in the Berkshires," Gilson said. "It's very Bavarian when you see the leaves and the countryside -- until you look up in the sky and don't see the towering mountains. There are no Alps."
If you go ...
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