Shop Talk

Jake Baer of Newel

As told to Adrienne Gaffney
February 21, 2018

The Manhattan-based Collective dealer on taking his family’s storied firm into a new age

My family has run Newel for four generations. I went to school in Manhattan since I was in third grade and when I wasn’t playing chess or sports or something like that I was always at the warehouse on 53rd Street or with my dad at the showroom, just running around. So from a young age, I was always there. But really it was my freshmen year of college when I spent the summer working with our carpenter here, Jamie, that I really learned the ins and outs of the business. I call him the magician because he literally can fix anything, it’s really incredible.

We can adapt to all the styles and periods. That allows us to be more agile with the marketplace.

Newel's 9,000-square-foot Manhattan showroom and gallery. Photograph by Hope Lourie Killcoyne
Newel’s 9,000-square-foot Manhattan showroom and gallery. Photograph by Hope Lourie Killcoyne

That summer, I got my hands dirty learning how to restore merchandise, how to reupholster a couch, and developed a passion for this whole industry and every single piece in the showroom. Like flipping over the chair and seeing what the nails look like. I’m able to tell how old a piece is just by doing some of these basic things. I got that through working with Jamie and my father, as well.

Our niche is that we don’t really have a niche. A lot of our biggest competitors aren’t in business anymore and the reason why is because these dealers were so focused on one area. Oh, you’re an English dealer. That’s all they had. If English doesn’t do well… We approach our collection like a mutual fund. We can adapt to all the styles and periods. That allows us to be more agile with the marketplace. Right now we’re seeing such an influx of people wanting antique period furniture, which we have a lot of, and we’re having our best sales year in history.

A hammered brass sculpture by artist Robert Lee Morris, titled “Large Double Stack.” Photograph by Hope Lourie Killcoyne
A hammered brass sculpture by artist Robert Lee Morris, titled “Large Double Stack.” Photograph by Hope Lourie Killcoyne

We also have a robust rental side of the business. That’s actually how Newel got started. We were a prop house for Broadway shows. Right now, we’re doing the new Martin Scorsese film The Irishman and the new Woody Allen movie, too. Working with production companies has allowed us to have a little bit of a competitive advantage over some other dealers, and it also allows us to have an open mind when we purchase. We can be a bit more creative.

We like to be eclectic, but more than that, we like making people feel like when they come here we have at least one of what they’re looking for. Last week, we had one of our sources come to us with André Arbus cabinets, coffee tables, and Leleu sideboards. All these amazing designers. We kind of struck gold. We probably get about ten different emails a day like that—people trying to sell us stuff. But we also do sourcing trips, of course. We have a whole wicker collection from a farm in Pennsylvania. I love wicker so much, it’s one of my favorite types of furniture. I also love Majorelle, the curves on the wood. Art nouveau is definitely making a big push right now.

At the same time, I’m a big environmentalist. I think a lot of us in this business are. Buying used furniture is protecting the environment. I think many of our clients know this; for one thing, we do a ton of work reupholstering old chairs. Sometimes just a tiny refresh can give a piece new life.