Alex Correia is a current co-owner of White Star Antiques in Providence, RI. We wanted to learn more about the start of their business and how they curate the pieces in their shop to create the much-appealing White Star aesthetic. The following comes from the conversation we had with Alex.
PART ONE: THE BEGINNING OF A BUSINESS
I used to play music full-time. I toured all over in a band and it was really fun and I got to see a lot of crazy things. I would buy vintage clothing in the middle of nowhere, like in Nebraska or somewhere. I’d go into a shop and see a cool vintage Levi’s jacket and then I’d bring it back and I’d either sell it to my friends or I’d consign it at a store called Rick Walkers in Boston on Newbury Street. I’d be strapped for cash because when you’re a touring musician you don't really make a ton starting out. So I did that and then I moved to Providence, Rhode Island because it was really affordable.
Josh and Karen were living on the east side and they had a beautiful home and they were collectors. They would have decorators come into their house and buy items; so they would basically set their house up to sell privately to interior decorators and other collectors. It’s like a way to keep your collection going. You have to sell a couple things to get another couple things. It’s called “leveling out.”
When I met Mel, she was an antique appraiser and she worked at an antique store loosely managing it. I went in asked her out and she told me no. I was with all my friends from Boston so then she laughed and said okay. I was building motorcycles in Pawtucket as a hobby with friends in a communal space. But then I found a camper on craigslist for $300, like a 1950’s style airstream. So we bought it.
I sold my Harley that I had built and Mel sold her ‘77 Volvo. Then we put all that money into rebuilding this camper. It took me 5 months to rebuild it. It had solar panels, the whole nine. Then we bought a van, we bought a bunch of vintage stuff, we took the stuff we already had, and we left and drove for 6 months across the country. We just lived in the camper and sold at antique stores on the weekends. All week we would buy stuff and then we’d sell stuff in a city, make money for gas, drive to another place, buy along the way, hang out, sell, make money. We did that for 6 months and drove like 16,000 miles.
Mel and I knew Josh and Karen just from being in Providence and they became good friends of ours. When we got back they said “man, should we open a shop?” and we were like “yeah.”
We looked at spaces for maybe 8 or 9 months and we found this space we’re in now. When it came time to name the store, Mel and I said, “why don't we name the store White Star?”. That was the name of the camper. It was the White Star model and it had a little star emblem on the back. So we moved our stuff into the shop and it was like a new chapter, a new phase, and now it’s become much bigger than just Mel and I.
PART TWO: DESIGN
So it started. And we wanted to see what the reaction was — because interests change, decor changes, fashion changes. So we try different things. Modern is popular. People like Danish furniture and they like the minimalist look. We started to see that people wanted really nice stuff and over the past two years, the nicest items would always leave first. I think we realized that there’s a high demand for quality items that are timeless, well-built, have a lot of character, and that are just good. People don't want to go into an antique store and just buy that run-of-the-mill couch. They want a cool item that is going to hold its value and is desirable. So that’s what has kind of been fueling the business.
It’s like this living breathing thing — like how a person’s clothing style changes. The shop has done that and the underlying idea is that good design will pair well with other pieces equal to it. If it’s a good example of design from a period that we like, we put it in here. You'll see a table from the 1920’s next to a table from the 1850’s with some chairs from the 1920’s with a couch from the 1950’s with a coffee table from the 1970’s.
Context is important and that’s something that we talk about. When you're building projects or designing , it has to flow, and negative space is important too. You can’t just jam a bunch of information on a page the same way you can’t just jam a bunch of chairs together. They have to breathe and you have to be able to see the angles and the lines. Space is important because, although someone would sit at a drafting table tilted, we would drop it down and use it as a dining table and put chairs next to it so people can visualize that. But you can’t clutter it with chairs because then you don't see the best parts of the table and the characteristics. We want you to be able to understand that. It’s about vignetting. It’s merchandising. It’s what I think a lot of other shops lack…
PART THREE: GOOD CHEMISTRY
Anybody who’s creative might run into this issue where you can’t teach someone how to be creative. You can give someone the technical tools they need to learn — like you can show someone how to mix paint, how to change the fluidity of paint, how to apply it, what brush to use to get certain lines — but you can’t teach them to paint like Monet. You can’t teach someone to have a creative eye. The curating is based on our tastes. I could have someone shadow us and hopefully they pick up on the styles we like, but it’s difficult. We’ve talked about potentially hiring somebody but it always comes back to being able to trust that they're going to understand or be interested or know why something is good. Because art is subjective. I might think this is a great painting and they might not. They might think it’s ugly. Which is okay! That’s what’s great — to be able to have those conversations.
We talk about it all the time, that we’re amazed that we’ve been able to do it this long and that it’s working because in any work environment the stars kind of have to align. If you’re apart of a creative department and this guy who had a certain flare moves and you get another guy, you lose that flare. So with the shop, it was definitely good that everybody got along. I think it helped that we had a lot of meetings and that we shared some drinks and hung out. We always go, “Yeah man, I'm going to help you because it’s for the greater good,” and that’s our mentality. As long as we support each other like that, it’s gonna be all up from here…
PART FOUR:A GENUINE PRESENCE
We want to put good examples in here because the items you select are a reflection of you. When you sell something to somebody, you want to stand behind it. Some shops might try to be deceptive. They'll be like, “Oh you know, Pope John Paul painted this with his mom last week and I went to his house and got a tour of the Vatican…” But we don't do that. We put in things that are ready to go. They don't need work and they're not broken. You can take it, put it in your house, love it unconditionally, and have a relationship with it and we stand behind that. I try to express that and we show people that we do curate everything and we love every little item in here.
A lot of people come in and think we’re like four times as big as we are because we’re getting new stuff in everyday. We’re a small intimate space and things move quickly. But we’re doing well enough where the business supports itself. We’re happy we can live comfortably, you know? We’re not like driving Maserati’s, but we also don't really want to be. We just want to run a cool business and have fun.