Of All Places: Shop Above Cafe Hon Sells
Some Of the Finest French Antiques in Md.
Owners of French Accents Find Continental
Antiquities For Affluent Collectors and
Hope to Become Wholesalers
By MARK CHESHIRE
Daily Record Business Writer
With a passion for continental antique furniture cultivated in her youth, Danetta Cignarale went to Italy and bought a showpiece table a decade ago from a dealer who promised deliver within the month.
A month paseed, then two, and three -- and no table.
Cignarale had no recourse save persistent telephone calls from Baltimore, inquiring about the table's whereabouts. The dealer insisted he sent the piece, and that it must have been lost in transit.
Some years later, Cignarale was astonished on a return trip to the same shop to find the table, her table, standing very nearly where she first found it.
Now 35, Cignarale is finding decorative and collectible continental antiques for Maryland's most affluent and discerning collectors -- and ensuring the pieces get where they're supposed to.
"Clients have seen it, they want it, but they can't get it," Cignarale said, "We can."
Along with a partner, Daniel Garfink, Cignarale took the risk 16 months ago of opening a high-end, continental antiquity shop called French Accents in Baltimore, a marketplace that has traditionally favored American decorative pieces.
Filling a price point
According to expert collectors, the shop is unique. Thanks to growing client base, French Accents is prospering way ahead of schedule.
"What is unique to this area is the high quality of 18th century pieces French Accents is bringing over," said Mark West, an antiquities expert who works for several New York museums and designers. "Most shops here aren't willing to make the money and time investment. They buy second-rate pieces, and they don't want to put a lot of time into them."
Clients are responding likewise.
"When we worked out a plan for the store, we gave it a five-year window to succeed," said Garfink, 29, who intended to work as an attorney during the startup. However, the shop has gotten so busy already that he has had to give up the law to devote himself to furniture.
Garfink attributes French Accents' success to European connections who are able to search the continent, negotiate better deals and guarantee that the pieces get to the promised destination. His main connection was forged by pure serendipity.
"We were founded under the strangest circumstances, but we have sources like no one else," Garfink said.
After his second year at the University of Baltimore School of Law, Garfink took an internship with a local firm and quickly came to realize the law was not for him. He startled his parents with the pronouncement that he intended to go to Paris to study French linguistics.
One evening, the French family hosting Garfink had Laurent Breuillac, a Parisian antique dealer, to dinner. Struggling financially, along with the European economy, Breuillac implored Garfink to help him establish an American contact.
Garfink called Cignarale, who flew over to France. In June 1995, the trio formed a company that soon opened in a display space more than just an ocean from Paris: a small shop over Cafe Hon in Hampden.
In that unlikely shop are antiques that compare favorably not just with pieces in Maryland, but with those in Chicago and the mecca of antiquities, New York, according to experts.
"It is really high-end European stuff. Few others are aiming at such high quality," said James Adajian, and antique restorer with Adajian & Nelson.
The high quality and the resulting price tag -- the table lists for $14,000 -- may be obstacles Cignarale and Garfink have to actually overcome.
Part of the mission is education, Cignarale said.
"Americans tend not to understand the aging process for furniture. Most want the pieces to look like new."
To get the word out, Cignarale has employed a decidedly 20th century piece -- the Internet.
Since the shop's World Wide Web site opened about a month ago with pictures and descriptions of pieces, Cignarale has received inquiries from as far away as Austrialia.
"Ultimately, we hope to become a wholesaler to established dealers," Cignarale said. "But for now, we are many of our clients' last hope of finding what they want."
This article was originally published in the Daily Record, Maryland's Business and Legal News and is reprinted here with permission.