Italian heiress is selling her treasures in Virginia
BY JOANNE KIMBERLIN
Sep. 01, 2018
NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — The treasures are being unpacked at an antique shop in Ghent - fine artwork, furniture and silver, exotic artifacts and curios galore. They're the final trappings of an old aristocratic Italian family. Heirlooms no longer wanted by their heirs.
If ever there was a poster child for the trends hurting the antique market, Laurie Randolph - and her top-notch hand-me-downs - just might be it.
"Here I am, 70 years old, and my kids don't want any of this stuff," Randolph said. "They'd rather have something from Pottery Barn or Ikea."
She shook her head and shrugged: "I've just got to let it all go now."
Randolph, a twig in a family tree sprinkled with counts, dukes and princes, has been keeper of the trove for decades - a collection that swelled to pack three storage units as relatives kept passing away.
Her offspring - a son in Virginia Beach, a daughter in Washington - are far from alone in their modern tastes.
"Millennials don't want antiques," said Lana Wolcott, owner of Antique Design Center, where Randolph's inheritance is steadily filling its own room.
Wolcott, who's been in the business 40 years, said longtime customers are circling back as they head to retirement homes.
"People who bought things from me 30 years ago are bringing them back to me before they move to Harbor's Edge," she said. "I hear it over and over. Their kids don't want it."
It's not just millennials. Dark, heavy furniture - coveted for centuries and a hallmark of the antique industry - is simply out of style or too big for today's pared-down rooms. Even smaller items aren't finding homes.
Wolcott waved a hand in the direction of Randolph's inventory: "There was a time when I could have made three or four calls to interior designers and all this would have disappeared within a week. You just don't see some of these things in this country. And every bit of it is quality."
One would expect no less from aristocracy. An ivory bejeweled case made for calling cards. A hairbrush heavy with solid silver. Landscapes with the brushstrokes of master painters.
Randolph is the last in her line with any real memories of the Old Country ancestors who passed along these worldly goods. She spent part of her childhood in Italy, where her roots, on her mother's side, are sunk deep into the northeast corner of the country - a bloodline of Lazzaris and Pachos recorded as far back as the 1500s.
One was awarded the title of "count" for supplying Venice with fighting ships during a 1640 war with the Turks.
As was the custom, nobility married nobility, adding assorted other titles and spawning a well-heeled, well-educated clan of financiers, engineers and adventurers who lived in palatial villas and trotted the globe.
Along the way, they collected some really cool tchotchkes. A bowl unearthed from the ashes of Pompei. A 17th century Germanic puzzle lock box. An ancient Roman oil lamp. An ivory ornament carved for a kimono.
"They really got around," Randolph said. "They were truly an international family."
But fortunes eventually dwindled. Political upheaval. World War I. Stock market crash.
Randolph's parents met on the eve of World War II in the south of France. He was an American naval officer. She was the daughter of a family that had already traded its sprawling estates for apartments crammed with every valuable possession they'd managed to hold onto.
After all, one generation has always guarded what it can to hand down to the next.
With time, it all funneled Randolph's way. Part blessing, part burden. Lucky to be the recipient of so much. Responsible for carrying on its safekeeping.
Over the years, she's tried to cull. Dispersed what she could to willing relatives. Held auctions for items she could bear to see go to strangers.
"I live in a 1,600-square-foot rancher in Williamsburg," she said. "I squeezed my favorite things in there and the rest has been in storage."
She can't begin to tally those fees - 20 years or so of climate-controlled units. "What else could I do? I've been the steward."
But now, there's a break with tradition. On top of preferring their own decor, the next generation isn't prone to collecting family keepsakes and rarely buys anything with "forever" in mind. They grew up in an era with an unprecedented pace of change.
Randolph has been as pushy as a mother dares.
"I've asked my children - sent them pictures - 'Would you like this painting? Do you want this chest?' It's always the same answer. 'No, Mom.'"
Randolph has come to understand. She recently cleared out her own house after her husband confessed he felt suffocated by "all my things. I went to bed crying that night, but he was right. Every wall, every surface was covered. It was just too much."
To help with pricing, Wolcott has called in some expertise: Natale Russo, a local antique dealer from Sicily.
"It's unbelievable to see such an estate in this area," Russo said. "It would be hard to find things like this even in Italy so well preserved."
Prices range from $10 for a porcelain cup to $8,500 for a 350-year-old butler's desk.
Natalie pointed out the craftsmanship in that desk. And the heft of a $1,600 silver tea set. And the detail on a $295 cherub sculpted 200 years ago.
"This collection," Russo said, "brings me joy."
Russo has hope for the industry. Furniture trends have been cyclical for awhile now, from the space-age designs of the 1960s to the waterbeds of the '70s to the lacquered finishes of the '80s.
And there'll always be people who like the old pieces, even if it's just to mix them with new.
It's not the best time to sell; prices are down across the market.
It's not the best place to sell. "Norfolk is a 'hot dog' town," Wolcott said. "All prices are negotiable."
Whatever the proceeds, Randolph isn't sure what she'll do with the money. Maybe take a trip with her husband. Visit some of the old family places overseas. Breathe easier in her newly decluttered home.
It's bittersweet. The end of the road for a legacy lovingly amassed. The shedding of a long-shouldered weight.
For her, these objects are steeped in stories.
See that black mark on that table? Left there by an uncle - "a dear man" - who fell asleep with a lit cigar.
Those small holes in that fine painting? The fault of two Lazzari boys firing a "parlour" gun.
These 18th century crèche figurines? Restoring their garments using period fabrics was her mother's pet project.
Are Randolph's ancestors turning over in their graves?
She can only hope not.
A particular moment in Wolcott's store help soothed those concerns - when Randolph saw a mother and child select a small painting to take home.
"I felt better after that," she said. "All these things are going their separate ways, but now they'll be part of someone else's family. Someone else's story."
Information from: The Virginian-Pilot, http://pilotonline.com