Best Of The East: China Is The Inspiration For Carol Silvestri's Decorating Panache
December 18, 2009
Carol Silvestri typically dresses in jeans, sneakers, a turtleneck and fleece vest. No makeup.
Yet she is responsible for many of the most high-style accessories and furnishings at the Design Center on Park Street in Hartford.
Wander through the shops at the Design Center and you'll keep spotting gorgeous Chinese antiques and antique reproductions that make for sophisticated accents in both contemporary and traditional decors.
There, in the window of the J. Namnoun Oriental Rug Gallery showroom, a massive, intricately painted bowl sits upon an antique Chinese table, ornately carved with birds, bats, wise men, foo dogs, flowing bamboo and cherry blossoms, all auspicious symbols of health, wealth and fertility, Silvestri says.
Scattered throughout Design Finds next door are porcelain pots and lamps, bronze lamps and sculptures, interesting antique baskets, chests and a dazzling screen, all imported by Silvestri, whose company is CS Antiques.
And in DesignSourceCT, you'll see a Bombay chest whimsically painted in zebra stripes, an old carved wedding chest converted to a wine cabinet, a nearly life-size terra-cotta soldier, and many other chests, tables, lamps and sculptures.
Silvestri, 44, whose background is in geology, wasn't able to work in her field during the years she lived in Taiwan.
"But I couldn't just sit around," says Silvestri, who grew up in Yonkers, N.Y., graduated from the SUNY Purchase and also earned a master's degree from the University of Texas at Dallas.
She began buying Chinese artifacts, linens and antique rice wine jars in Hong Kong to sell to other expatriates in Taiwan.
At the time, manufacturers of rice wine were shutting down the factories where it was produced in pots and shifting to stainless steel. Silvestri says that at one factory that was closing, she braved snakes, rats and bugs to choose many of the large pots and paid only about $2 apiece for them.
"It was gross," she says. "But they were 100-plus-year-old pots!"
As a geologist, she also became particularly fascinated by the minerals used in Chinese porcelains to achieve such rich colors and glazes.
At a talk about antiques in Taiwan, Silvestri said she met "an older gentleman" who turned out to be Wellington Wang, a celebrated collector of Chinese antiques. He became something of a mentor.
In her five years in Taiwan, Silvestri became increasingly knowledgeable about resources; for example, she says she has her lamps made in the same factory where some of the luxury line of Frederick Cooper lamps are made, "but without the name."
A mother of two daughters, Emily, 12, and Teresa, 9, Silvestri says Teresa was adopted in Taiwan. So Silvestri says she felt strongly when she left the Far East that she had to do something that would keep her connected to Asia.
"It's a passion that turned into a livelihood," says Silvestri, who now heads to China about four times a year, for several weeks at a time, to bring back container-loads of treasures old and new.
"I still do all my shopping myself," she says. "You have to see it. There's so much junk out there."
Many of the things she imports are in her own showroom on the second floor of the Design Center. It's a fascinating, haphazard jumble of hand-carved wooden rice scoops, traditional blue and white pottery, carved bird cages, reproduction Xi'an terra-cotta soldiers. Here's an early 20th century hand-carved bench from Yunnan Province. There's a 1920s armoire with burlwood doors. Every piece has a story.
The showroom has no lighting, heating or air-conditioning, Silvestri says, "so I'm able to keep my costs low. I'm one of the people who unloads the truck. This is who I am."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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