At the head of the small village of New Preston, Connecticut is Plain Goods, a shop housed in a prominent Victorian building called Pavilion Hall. Built in 1897 for summer residents to gather in, the building is symmetrical and balanced with a cupola and inviting porch. “The upper level would host dances and theatre performances, and movies would be screened,” co-founder Michael DePerno explains. “Over the years, this building took on many different lives. It was also used as a post office.”
In 2015, Michael launched Plain Goods with his partner Andrew Fry, in a cottage across the street from the current shop. The pair met a year earlier and their backgrounds are complementary; Andrew has a fashion PR and marketing background, while Michael opened his first retail shop in Soho, New York in the early 1990s. He also works in interiors and is an avid collector of antiques. They expanded to their current, two-storey shop shortly after, offering an array of antiques and vintage clothing, as well as contemporary pieces and items from their own line. “I know the word curated is so overused, but the spirit of the shop is very nuanced and textual and layered. It’s a place where you can get a perfect umbrella or the most beautiful coffee mug, or classic hair barrettes from France,” Michael says. “From a very early time in my career, I always had this idea of collecting my favourite items, really scouring the globe for each perfect piece.”
The name Plain Goods ties into their pared-back, considered product offering. “Simply reducing things down to form and function. Ensuring everything is always beautiful. We think you should buy well, buy less; we want the shop to reflect the spirit of bringing people back to a simpler time, when things were made with care and integrity,” Michael says.
Andrew adds that you won’t find many trends in the shop. “I think many of the items purchased will be kept for many years. And you won't be able to tell which season it was purchased from.” When choosing items, they ensure they will work all year round, year after year. “When we're out shopping, be it in Europe or at an antique show, we often agree on which pieces align with our aesthetic,” Michael explains.
The shop is a considered backdrop to the pieces they select. When the pair bought the building, they elected to have it put on the state register and the National Register of Historic Places, to ensure it is protected for future generations. They took to work restoring it carefully, preserving what they could of the original beadboard panelling and replicating what was missing. They lingered over old, grainy photographs of the building to guide their project and ensured all elements were of the highest quality – the ground floor windows are made from hand-blown glass, sourced in Germany.
“The space itself is such a beautiful shell, it creates this historical yet modern backdrop to everything we do. There's an atmosphere here,” Michael says. The restoration project took ten months to complete, with Andrew and Michael popping in from over the road to ensure everything ran smoothly. Now, each night the cupola glows with light, acting as a beacon at the top of the village. The bench in the porch invites visitors to sit, and think for a while.
Their thoughtful approach to both historical buildings and objects is palpable. It’s illustrated by Michael’s ardour for antiques ‒ does he ever have trouble letting go of certain pieces? “You must have a sense of me because I do have a hard time,” he says. “It's about going through an internal process when you've collected things, deciding when it's okay and right to let something go.” They tend to put things out in the shop in waves, to avoid cluttering the space.
The pair carefully restore antiques, using vintage fabrics that they collect to reupholster or create slipcovers. “Then the case goods often get re-polished and repaired, the lighting all gets rewired with silk cord plugs, and we make custom shades. It's a lot of work!” Michael explains. Their customers often come in for a piece of clothing and end up leaving with an antique, or vice versa. “They cross over often,” Andrew says. “People will often come in looking for a set of chairs for a dining-room table and walk out with a trench coat.”
The picturesque setting of New Preston is infused with a creative mood. “Historically it's been where a lot of artists and writers have lived, such as Alexander Calder and Arthur Miller. It's a quiet crowd,” Michael muses. “There's also this very international feeling here, we have such a wonderful mix of clientele. I think with that comes an appreciation for creativity and ingenuity.” Just up the street is Lake Waramaug, and the shop sits right against the East Aspetuck River. “It’s a beautiful river with waterfalls, steep rocks, it's physically beautiful.”
In their spare time, Michael and Andrew walk their two whippets, Fennie and Periwinkle, and go to the local flea market. “It's great fun, and you never know what you're going to find,” Michael says. Andrew recommends visiting The Owl, a wine bar across the street with a stone terrace overlooking the village. “But a lot of the time we are in the shop,” Michael adds. “We really enjoy working with our wonderful team, without them we would be lost.” Together, they have built a clientele base that loves to spend time there. “A lot of people just come in to say hi, it's become a melting pot for a lot of people to just pop in.” In the coming year, they are going to focus on their own product line. “We’re going to make things that people will really want to have in their wardrobes, staple pieces that are elevated,” Michael explains. “Pieces that have soul and integrity to the craftsmanship.”
Interview by Alice Simkins.
Photographs by Ellen McDermott with Bridget Sciales.
A curated selection of the TOAST collection can be found at Plain Goods in New Preston, Connecticut.