By: Paul Weideman
Published online: Wednesday, December 05, 2012
Appeared in: Home, Santa Fe Real Estate Guide
Edition: December 2012 Vol. 15 No. 9
Hundreds of beautiful, vintage doors and furniture pieces from Mexico fill the cavernous rooms at Antique Warehouse, now celebrating its 20th year in business in Santa Fe. Betty Kaye Gilmore and Michele Graveline established the business on Aztec Street in December 1992. For the past 17 years, the two — who grew up together in Deming and were in the same class in school — have operated out of nearly 9,000 square feet at 530 South Guadalupe Street in the Santa Fe Railyard.
“When we started, we didn’t have as many doors,” Gilmore said, “but we’ve always had the same basics: doors, tables, benches, trunks. People love the trunks. They’re easy to use for so many things and they look great.”
The vast selection of doors date from the early 1800s to the early 1900s. The majority are mesquite — a hard, dense, insect-resistant wood — so they’re good both indoors and outdoors. There are also some that are made of sabino (Mexican cypress) and pine. “Most of them are the paneled look with the clavos or hand-forged nailheads, and most come in sets, but we also have singles that tend to be gates.”
Once in a while at Antique Warehouse you come upon a piece that’s decoratively carved or painted, but the owners prefer the more rustic, natural wood doors and furniture, typically assembled using solid mortise-and-tenon joinery.
“The earliest functional pieces, which were mainly tables and benches, tended to have more ornate carving,” according to descriptions at antiquewarehouse-santafe.com. “As styles evolved, attempts were often made to mimic the styles in vogue in Europe and featured more prominent design appliques. Moving from the cities of Mexico to the countryside, the designs became more basic—to simple square legs and very little carving.”
The Mexican ranch-style furniture found its way into homes in Santa Fe long ago because the pieces integrated well with the city’s casual lifestyle and the look and colors of the adobe architecture.
“We have worked on tons of houses with architects and designers and contractors,” Gilmore said. “Often if it’s contractors and architects we see them early in the process for sizing doors.”
Some of the doors are quite tall, and some of those have normal-size doors within them. Many of the largest doors once provided entrance to sizeable haciendas and government buildings.
The business also stocks shorter and smaller doors that can be used for linen closets, entertainment centers, or to make headboards for beds. A long, ramped hallway is lined on both sides with scads of narrow, paired doors and wooden shutters. In one corner is a collection of old iron gates and grilles, available for a more decorative architectural look.
You will sometimes run into new pieces, like the nesting side tables of hammered copper and wood.
“In the old days we didn’t worry so much about accessories because it was mainly architectural pieces, but we’re selling more furniture and accessories in this day and age,” Graveline said. Now they carry large, colorful Talavera jars; armadillos carved out of onyx; and beautiful hand-beaded eggs by the Huichol Indians of Nayarit, Mexico.
There are also desks, small stools, saddle seats, tortilla presses, wooden boxes, and donkey pads. “These look great on the wall,” Graveline said. “One California designer used these saddles, upside down on a barn wall for coat hooks.”
There is a collection of large, wooden morteros — mortars that were used with pestles (manos) to grind coffee and grains. People who buy these use them as planters, maybe a drink cooler, a magazine bin. The morteros are from Mexico, as is everything in the shop.
“We don’t do manufacturing,” Gilmore said. “All of our doors are old. But there are exceptions. We use old doors to make dining tables and gates to make coffee tables.” Many of these boast handsome clavos and wonderful black-steel straps. One has decorative, stamped-steel banding inset around the side edges.
“Here are some benches where we’ve found really wonderful planks and we add new legs,” she pointed out. “We have a workshop in Guadelajara.”
The selection of wooden benches tends toward the very substantial. “A lot of our furniture is heftier because it is the old ranch furniture: more rustic wood than the more refined,” Gilmore said. “What we carry is more about the character and beauty of the wood, so we have a lot of gorgeous mesquite. Many of these benches come from ranches, haciendas, and government buildings, as well.”
One really big one — almost 17 feet long — is made of sabino, a wood with a gorgeous butterscotch color. It’s made of single planks for the back, seat and foot rest, and is one of the more expensive pieces: $14,000.
“It is from the colonial era, one of a kind,” Graveline said. “A lot of the colonials pieces from Mexico mostly are already with collectors and if we’re lucky enough to find them, we’re dealing with people who know what they are.”
How much is known about where such pieces came from? Is it a matter of provenance, as with art antiquities?
“No, we might just know what state it came from,” she said. “Maybe that it came from a hacienda in San Luis Potosí, but usually not more than that.”
Antique Warehouse is one of Santa Fe’s success stories, lasting through the recent recession. “The last few years have been a challenge, since we’re directly tied to the building industry,” Gilmore said. “We are cautiously optimistic about the future.”