Steamboat Springs It doesn't take much to make Michele Desoer's day.
The right reaction to an old chicken coop cleverly turned into a glass-topped coffee table can do the trick.
Any time a customer pauses and exclaims, "I never thought about using that for that purpose what a great idea!" Desoer is a happy woman.
Desoer is the former law partner from Los Angeles who moved to Steamboat and opened a new shop, FiddleFern antiques, at the corner of Lincoln and Eleventh Streets.
FiddleFern occupies a building that started life as a Co-Op gas station. The shop includes carefully chosen furniture pieces, eastern European bridal trunks, old books that reflect western history, and just enough western memorabilia to give a credible nod to Steamboat's history. Then there are the pieces like the chicken coop that reflect Desoer's flair for "reproposing" antiques that were originally meant for a very different purpose than home decor.
"It's important to let people know they can live with antiques and new items that compliment each other," Desoer said.
The shop's floor more closely resembles a beautifully designed furniture showroom than a dusty old New England antique shop with treasures heaped in corners. Every time a visitor turns around, something new is revealed in an antique wooden box or perched on a piece of furniture.
Desoer gives most of the credit for designing the showroom displays to her staff. They have mixed in just enough non-antique items table linens, soaps and candles to subtly suggest how a particular antique might fit into existing home decor. The design is constantly changing, because every time a piece of furniture is sold, everything that was once displayed upon it must be rearranged.
The collection reflects the feminine sensibilities of the staff that's natural. But a close look reveals many items that would appeal to masculine tastes as well. Desoer said she doesn't accept consignment specifically because she wanted to exercise complete control over the style evoked by the inventory.
"I didn't want it to be all western, because that's been done here," Desoer said. "At the same time, it couldn't be too cosmopolitan, because that doesn't fit."
FiddleFern also eschews the popular '50s and '60s retro look.
During her years in Los Angeles she balanced her work as a litigator working in the entertainment and employment industries with her love of antiques. She frequented an antique mall in Pasadena and spent weekends at Butterfield and Butterfield auction house. All the time, she was paying close attention.
"When you watch the auctions, you start to pick up on things," Desoer said. One thing she has learned is that when you find yourself bidding against private collectors, it's time to drop out there's no way she can purchase items at price points that allow a retail markup when she's going up against someone making emotional purchases.
Ultimately, Desoer left the legal world behind because she suffers from chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction syndrome. Even today, the disease limits her ability to work at FiddleFern. Most days she has gone home by 2 p.m. And she limits her trips to antique auctions because of chronic fatigue. Instead, she relies to a significant degree on antique "pickers," people who have developed areas of specialty and acquire antiques to sell to retailers at prices that still allow a retail markup.
Desoer has also succeeded in acquiring items in a broad price range that should allow anyone to find an attractive object. They range from old wooden picture frames for $5 up to the hand-painted 19th Century wedding trunks from the Czech Republic and Romania for $1,695.
Desoer understands that many people decorating resort condominiums and townhomes have limited space, and she keeps an eye out for nice furniture pieces that don't take up much room smaller hutches like a Czech piece that has its pressed glass doors intact for $1,695. There is a rustic Mexican dining table with blue painted legs for $350, a Midwestern pie safe priced at $950 and a smaller dresser for $275.
Desoer herself is attracted to old books not particularly valuable books, but old volumes that are reminiscent of another era. Many people purchase them not to read, but as furnishings, she said. Some of the other gems in the shop include period board games in near mint condition with all of the game pieces still in their boxes.
In addition to her legal acumen, Desoer brings an undergraduate degree in business administration to FiddleFern.
Desoer believes by combining sound business practices with carefully selected antique pieces, she can succeed on Lincoln Avenue.
"We're getting a nice response from locals as well as from second homeowners," Desoer said.
She has many more pieces available in storage than she is able to display on the floor at any given time, and encourages customer inquiries. Fiddle Fern will be closed on Mondays this fall. The shop is open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and from noon until 5 p.m. on Sundays.