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These have been strange times for businesses around the world, and antiques & art galleries have been no exception. A challenging early spring was followed by a booming summer — one that in areas like the Hamptons, has proven to be endless. A relocating population suddenly in the market for new furnishings (and entire home offices) has meant an unexpected shift in business priorities and a very new customer base. 

To get the lay of the land, we spoke with Sheila White, who founded Southampton-based Stellar Union with her husband William Schefferine in 2004. Experts in mid-century modern design as well as contemporary art, the two moved from Williamsburg to the Hamptons over 15 years ago and watched the area grow and change, particularly this year. We spoke with White about what it’s been like to run an art & antiques gallery during a pandemic, how the year-round population explosion has affected the Hamptons, and how things have evolved in her world since the Williamsburg art scene of twenty years ago.

How has the design community in the Hamptons been weathering the storm of the pandemic? How have things evolved over the year?

Designers in the Hamptons have been experiencing a boom since the pandemic, starting in March. Usually we see mostly designers and architects preparing summer homes in the early part of the year. This year, the real estate market has surged in both sales and rentals as people migrate from New York City. Customers are either sprucing up for families that need to redefine their summer homes or for the expanding rental market. 

The population in the Hamptons has exploded this year, with many more year-round residents. How has that affected business during the pandemic?

We’ve seen lots more new faces this summer and fall, albeit masked. Even after the summer, people are stir crazy and are ready to shop or just browse. They’re wanting to connect, and may stop by just to chat. 

Have you seen more customers shopping your virtual avenues like Chairish over this year? Do you think the current situation will have a lasting effect on the way designers shop for vintage and antique pieces? 

The online marketplaces, already popular, are experiencing more traffic since the pandemic. Still, it’s equally split among those who want to let their fingers do the shopping and those who need to see it in person to buy it.

What kinds of products have been moving this year as opposed to last year? 

Demand is for pieces that are functional with character – desks, lamps, occasional tables, art – and for both vintage and contemporary painting and sculpture.

What do you expect to be big design trends next year?

Unique items that add character and warmth, as well as style. I’m also thinking a lot about color, texture, and pattern. 

What do you see coming next for your physical location? How do you see that evolving in 2021?

We’re in a good place for 2021. Phillips Auction House has opened just steps away, and we have Hauser Wirth Gallery on Main Street. Our place is always evolving — it’s one big canvas to us.

You bought and renovated your current space in 2015. What was that experience like, and how has Stellar Union changed since then?

We love our location, especially since we have a short commute. Living and working in the village of Southampton, just a mile away from the beach, is ideal. We always wanted to renovate, update, and modernize to match our aesthetic, as well as get the big pieces through the door! The place just feels more like a gallery.

You and your husband both originally come from the Brooklyn art world. How has it evolved over the years?

In so many ways, it’s hard to fathom. When we moved to Williamsburg, there was only one restaurant and a couple of bars. We lived in a huge loft for a tenth of the price of Manhattan. We all went to the same art openings to meet and exchange ideas. It was much more of a community, where everyone knew each other. Taxis were nonexistent, except for a few that took pity on a desperate Brooklyner and drove them over the Williamsburg Bridge, then raced back. The best thing for me was the light and open sky, since buildings were mostly four stories or less.

Gradually, restaurants and galleries started to open. Friends talked about a great restaurant they just went to that was just around the corner from us. Real estate prices went through the roof overnight, along with a population explosion. All of a sudden it was a safe place to raise children. Who knew?

You specialize in contemporary art but also mid-century design pieces. How has the huge popularity of mid-century design impacted your business?

We started our business in Williamsburg in 2000, holding loft sales on the weekend. The emphasis was always mid-century. Modern styles have always been popular with the New York art scene for as long as I can remember — probably because initially it was inexpensive. We’ve always preferred the clean lines and unfussiness of furniture that can complement the art.

All images courtesy of Stellar Union

November 30, 2020

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