by Dana Ramos
Frances Brunner-Bright and children Toby and Grace, against a Maison Jansen Louis XVI-style ebonized gray vein marble-top commode with two Argentine lamps framing a 1963 Alan Davie painting.
Antiques are like wine: After you get a taste of the good stuff, well, you probably want more. Maybe you’ll even start to read and collect, enriching your experience and appreciation of wine or antiques.
And so it is with Maison Jansen, the well-regarded design brand whose client list has included royals, designers and stars as well as those who enjoy living like them.
Begun in 1880 by Dutch-born Jean-Henri Jansen, the French company continued until 1989. Throughout the years, it grew internationally and encompassed a wide variation of styles and reproductions that appealed to the likes of the Shah of Iran and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. It is well-known that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis furnished much of the White House with Maison Jansen, which ruffled the feathers of those who would have preferred more Americana in the most famous house of the United States.
To learn more about Maison Jansen, I take a trip to Greenwich Living Antiques, 40,000 square feet of dazzling furniture, objects d’art and nearly everything else related to home decor. It’s located in the antiques district of Stamford, a roughly three-block area of huge centers like this one.
“But we are known as one of the premier places in the entire country for Maison Jansen furniture and decorations,” says Sam Pizzichillo, the owner and founder of Greenwich Living Antiques.
He’s tall with an easy-going manner that instantly dispels the cliché of a stuffy antiques dealer.
“Our basic calling card is the Maison Jansen Hollywood Regency style, which ranges from the 1930s through the early 1960s,” he adds. “And, of course, we carry a tremendous amount of their famous French look, the reproductions.”
As Pizzichillo leads me through the vast collections, I keep stopping to stare at wonderful pieces.
“Oh, that’s not Maison Janson,” he points out as I am captured by a stunning commode made of fine mahogany and gleaming bronze details. “That’s from a new collection I just acquired of Russian neoclassical antiques. It’s like looking at jewelry, right?” A perfect way of putting it.
Some boldface names that currently collect Maison Jansen and often visit Greenwich Living Antiques in search of new favorites include “Judge Judy, Regis Philbin, Tommy Hilfiger, TV personality and designer Nate Berkus,” Pizzichillo lists. “Diana Ross also comes in. And I get a ton of well-known decorators like Michael Smith and Lynn Skoras of Los Angeles and Bunny Williams. Ask anyone in the business — those are huge names in the designing world.”
I ask Pizzichillo about the sort of layperson who is usually attracted to Maison Jansen and what makes the line so special.
“Oh, all kinds of people love it,” he says. “Mostly anyone who appreciates excellent design and quality, a solid line that holds its value. That can be young people just starting out or older people redoing their homes. Because the furniture is basically timeless, it’s easy to mix and match with newer, more contemporary designs.”
As we continue through the store, I turn over some tags and am stunned by the prices — not because the furniture is so expensive but because it’s not. Pizzichillo smiles knowingly at my surprise:
“That’s right. The prices — at least mine — are no more than what most people pay for far less quality with new stuff. And the beauty of the Internet — you can go online and compare what’s out there and what pieces are selling for in various places.”
He goes on to note that he gets buyers from all over the world who shop directly off the Greenwich Living Antiques website.
“In fact, I’d say 80 to 85 percent of my sales are from the website. I’ll ship anywhere and everywhere,” he says.
Pizzichillo grew up in Brooklyn surrounded by antiques.
“My father and uncles had three stores in Brooklyn, and my family lived in one antique shop — actually lived in it, in a back room,” he says, adding that he now lives in a house on Long Island. “They learned by doing. They started out in rubbish removal and began to realize there was money just being thrown away.”
Sam remains the only member of his family who is still involved in antiques.
“I don’t like what I do,” he says, pausing for a polished effect. “I love what I do.”
Greenwich Living Antiques, 481 Canal St., Stamford, Conn. (203) 274-5130,
At home with Maison Jansen
I visit one of his clients and avid Maison Jansen collector, Frances Brunner-Bright, who lives with her young family in Waccabuc. As we walk through the house, she shows me some of her favorite pieces, including a lovely green-painted and parcel gilt table with patera carvings, on tapering fluted legs.
“That is one of a pair of little Maison Jansen tables,” she says, noting that it had once been borrowed for a photo shoot in a well-known national magazine.
Brunner-Bright’s two young children dash to and fro as they follow us from room to room.
“I love how the furniture is compatible with family life,” Brunner-Bright says. “They are truly useable pieces, not just here to collect dust.”
We move into a living room. “In fact,” she continues, “If you look closely at this ebonized commode, you’ll see some of Toby’s crayon-scribbled prowess. It will be joy to hand it along to him one day,” she says, laughing.
I pass my hand over the gray-veined marble top of the Louis XVI-style commode and imagine how it has survived generations of families with active children. Something this well-made will certainly last long enough for a few more.
Brunner-Bright remembers when she first fell in love with the line:
“It was 1997. I was at the Marché Paul Bert—the famous flea market outside of Paris. That’s when I saw my first Maison Jansen pieces—a pair of boudoir chairs. I was smitten but decided against shipping them at the time and have yearned for them ever since. That was the genesis of it all for me.”
Brunner-Bright, who is British but has lived in New York since 1995, carefully chooses furniture to create a traditional, welcoming home but isn’t afraid to mix a favorite sheepskin play-rug or bean-bag chair with a pair of cream and parcel gilt-framed Maison Jansen armchairs. Nothing is kept covered and she never admonishes the children — or cats — to stay out of certain rooms, or off of any furniture.
“I feel Maison Jansen pieces are refined yet workable for people with young children and pets,” she says. “It’s quite durable and useful yet adds a hint of glamour to my day.”
As with so many in the tristate area and beyond, Brunner-Bright visits Greenwich Living Antiques regularly — if not to purchase, then to sigh and admire the latest eye-catching acquisitions.
Getting Started: Tips from Sam Pizzichillo of Greenwich Living Antiques
1. Be sure to work with reputable dealers who stand behind what they sell and afford you the opportunity to return or upgrade what you purchase.
2. Dive right in — easy to do with the Internet. There’s a great site called 1stdibs.com — probably the foremost site to research antiques.
3. Avoid anyone who limits his guarantees by just a few days. You need time to authenticate and research.
4. Avoid cheap or inexpensive goods. Remember the adage: “If it’s too good to be true, it’s too good to be true.” Always go for quality, not price.
5. Go where the experts go. If knowledgeable antique collectors are frequenting a place, it’s a good sign.
6. Mix and match fearlessly. If you get the right stuff, it should work with pretty much anything anytime, anywhere.