Story written by Bill Fallon.
Thanks to the phenomenon of Broadway’s “Hamilton,” Federalism — as an elegantly tapered style, at least — has never been more au courant.
But then, The Federalist knows all about that. For 20 years — the last five months under new ownership — the tony Greenwich store has been supplying its far-flung clientele with quality turn-of-the-19th century reproductions that reflect a passion for craftsmanship. The result: You can have all the cachet of “Alexander Hamilton slept here” without any of the discomforts.
The three-room store, occupying 4,000 square feet of an appropriately Federalist-style building on East Putnam Avenue, draws on polishers, carpenters and carvers in the U.S. — Massachusetts is a production hotbed — and light makers in Florence, Italy, where the store gets its chandeliers and wall sconces. (Light fixtures account for about 40 percent of the store’s business.)
“The ‘wow factor’ is the product integrity and the authenticity of the product and the brand,” says store manager Russell Raiteri. “Craftsmanship — the lost art, the timeless tradition — was relevant in its day. And it still has its mark everywhere you look today. The craftsmen who supply our products are not so much about money. A lot of their pieces rise to the level of artwork. This really differentiates The Federalist from another store that tries to reproduce a Federalist item.”
Adds co-owner and CEO Jennifer Charlebois Martin, “It really comes down to quality. We’re not a lighting and furniture store. Our products are all handmade and all custom. For us, the product and its quality are so important.”
Pointing to a glass-and-metal lighting fixture, Christopher Martin, Jennifer’s husband and fellow co-owner, says, “Some of these finishes cannot be reproduced in a factory. The pieces are authentic, not something you would find in a showroom. It’s all about the fit and finish, where you don’t notice the welds and where the heavy pieces may actually be hollow tubing that, because of its finish, looks heavy. The bar for our suppliers is high.”
The Martins live a mile from the store. Christopher, an accountant and lawyer by training and profession, is principal of the Stamford-based law firm Martin LLP. Jennifer worked for 25 years in the financial industry.
Christopher and The Federalist’s third co-owner, David Santora, are responsible for the one-, five- and 10-year plans and for the marketing initiatives of the store, which was founded by John Ehrlich, who sold it last May.
“You might think these pieces are only for an 18th-century home, but we’ve discovered there is an eclectic appreciation of them,” Jennifer says. “A lot of designers will mix modern and mid-19th century. We hear from designers and architects about the appeal of furnishings from different periods.”
Raiteri, a New York City transplant, cited “authenticity” as key. Indeed, the pie-crust tables appear to be waiting for James Madison himself — one of the authors of “The Federalist Papers” on the Constitution, along with Hamilton and John Jay. In another space, a thicket of headboards and footboards possesses the simplicity and heft of the American forest primeval.
That they are modern defines “counterintuitive.”
Both Jennifer and Christopher say The Federalist is about buying a story — a sideboard bonded with dowels or a copper-gone-green light fixture or even an 18th-century-style oil painting. A client who owns a Dallas penthouse recently bought seven light fixtures that, unlighted, blazed with metallic colors.
“Do you see the red highlights?” Jennifer asks, pointing to a detail. The light had been hand-rubbed 22 times.
Those who have made The Federalist’s stories their own are legion and nationwide, with the Sun Belt being the main clientele. Federalist pieces are in the White House, which is built in the same neoclassical style, and Augusta National Golf Club. Locally, the Greenwich Country Club has bought some of the store’s furniture and light fixtures. In Manhattan, the InterContinental New York Barclay on 48th Street and its parent InterContinental Hotels Group PLC are clients.
The buying usually begins with a visit to the website — what Christopher calls “the entrée” that leads to a phone call.
“Generally clients buy via brand and reputation,” Jennifer says. “They buy sight unseen — no touch and no feel. But they know that nothing walks out unless it is personally inspected.”
Russell ticks off common characteristics of the shopping experience that include discussion of details like finish and size.
“The website is a way to be introduced to a piece, see it and call for more information,” he says. “It might involve the scale and shape of a mirror. That’s how we build relationships.”
Although pieces arrive constantly, Jennifer says each package is like a holiday gift, exciting to unwrap.
“I am in awe of what this individual has done,” she says of each craftsman.
Nicholas Pinnella, a sales associate, oversees shipping, which, with a smile, The Federalist calls “fulfillment services.”
“Shipping is one of the most important aspects of the business,” Jennifer adds. “Clients want it in the best condition possible.” Craters are hired for big chandeliers.
“All their products are outstanding,” says customer Kathleen Montgomery of The Plains, Va., who has bought indoor and outdoor lighting fixtures at The Federalist. “They have no competition.”
The Federalist is at 95 E. Putnam Ave. For more, call 203-625-4727 or visit thefederalistonline.com.