“A Greenhorn in Antiqueville:
For Unique Pieces,
Summerland is a Great Place to Poke Around.”
By Rachel S. Thurston
Food and Home Magazine
I’m not the type of person to casually drop words like “Mizuya tansu” or “shabby chic” over lunch, nor have I ever been accused of leaving out copies of Architectural Digest to impress my dinner guests. I do, however, know a thing or two about shopping, and I recognize a fine antique when I see one. When I went to get the skinny on antiques in Summerland, I wondered what I could say about antiques in the renowned town that would be novel. I mean, let’s face it, Summerland is known for two major things: ghosts and antiques.
What else is there to say about it, right?
Wrong. In fact, it turns out to that many of us take the town’s treasures for granted. After speaking with store owners and employees throughout town, several truths about Summerland’s antique shops become apparent: the prices are sweet, the antique selection is surprisingly diverse and a staggering number of high rollers pass through its doors.
“Summerland is the last bargain place in the world,” claims Richard Weiss, who co-owns The Gentlemen Antiquarians with partner Michael Olivas. “This is a treasure trove for people who know fine things; you can’t get them any cheaper than in Summerland.”
Many merchants confide that a vast number of dealers and decorators drive in from the big cities to stock up on merchandise and then return home to raise prices. Joe Harrison, of The Urban Hunter, divulges, “If 75% of our business is wholesale, that means the people in LA are paying a lot more.”
The town’s selection is eclectic and diverse. Few stores can be described as having specialties, but none can be accused of lacking character or style.
“They all bear out the personalities of the owners and their expertise,” observes Socorro Winter, owner of Heather House Antiques along with husband Gil, who specializes in china, sterling, glass, porcelains, and smalls. You can find antiques to please the most discriminating collectors’ tastes, and prices range from one dollar antique postcards at Antico II to an 18th century American Highboy priced at $38,000 at Mary Suding Antiques.
Santa Barbarans might also be surprised by the high rollers that shop in Summerland. Before the travel fund scandals, former First Lady (now Senator) Hillary Clinton and her mother-in-law visited Summerhill Antiques (with an entourage of Secret Service agents looking on) and bought a bronze. Bea Hyp, co-owner of Summerhill Antiques, closes her store down for one wealthy client who flies in from Dallas on a private jet for regular shopping sprees with girlfriends. One client came all the way from New York to visit ruth Ann Risvold’s store, The Antique Chase, which features country-style French and English antique accessories and was mentioned in one of Rachel Aswell’s nationally-renowned decorating books, Shabby Chic.
In addition, many decorators, designers, and dealers of distinction use Summerland as one of their “secret” sources.
“We’re amazed by the ‘movers and shakers’ from the design and architectural world that come through here,” says Sandy Christian-Miller, owner of Christian-Miller Antiques. True to unspoken code of confidentiality found within the antique world, merchants decline to drop specific names, concerned that they’ll divulge a professional’s source. “We like to keep names a secret of the trade,” Christian-Miller says of the merchant-client relationship.
I was still curious about the other reputed aspect of Summerland: its ghosts. “Are the antiques haunted, too?” I kept asking store owners. Most merchants laughed at the question or gave me strange looks. A few humored me: “I haven’t had any ghosts crawling out of the furniture,” one merchant said with a sparkle in her eye, “but I can’t speak for the other stores.”