The License to Shop: From Designer to Dealer
There is a revival going on in the small Columbia County town of Millerton, New York, a few miles west of the Litchfield, Ct., border. Among the new businesses is the shop, Hunter Bee. Turns out the first name belongs to Kent Hunter, veteran graphic designer, former partner at Frankfurt Balkin and current partner of Post + Beam. Hunter recently settled in Millerton with his partner Jonathan Bee and took over a shop on main street that features American country and industrial pieces to mid-century design classics with quirky folk art and the occasional found object thrown in for interest. During a recent visit, I asked Hunter about his new life after graphic design.
You spent the better part of your career as a graphic designer – much of it a partner at Frankfurt Balkind. What caused you to give it up? I don’t feel like I’ve left design. To me the greatest joy of the profession is the variety of projects and disciplines. I’ve always loved interior design and have been fortunate to work with some great companies marketing to architects and designers. So this is a logical evolution in my mind. The shop is just a new outlet for my design – I get to feed my collecting obsession and art direct “stories” with the shop displays.
I understand you did it in stages, but how difficult a decision was breaking your ties with New York? My partners at Post + Beam have always known this was “Plan B” and they’ve been great about giving me flexibility with schedule. And technology has allowed us all to work remotely. Plus, I will still work with long-time clients such as The Guggenheim and be involved in consulting. Of course New York is only two hours away (thank you Metro North) and I plan on getting my “fix” regularly.
There is a kind of expectation that retired advertising people open inns or antique stores, were you worried you’d be doing something stereotypical? I suppose my partner, Jonathan and I are even more of a cliche – gay antique dealers – with a dog named Garbo. But we’re loving Millerton, have made wonderful new friends and are having a great time.
The store is beautiful. And in addition to rarities, you also exhibit and sell contemporary art/design, including heads by Seymour Chwast. How would you say your graphic design background influences your retailing? Thanks. We have quite eclectic tastes and want keep the design mix of vintage, contemporary, industrial, and folk art. It makes things interesting. Seymour’s painted tin characters watch over us from a high vantage point. I love his work and am thrilled he allowed us to exhibit them. We’ve also done well with a sculptor named Cynthia Consentino and her “Girl With Gun”
I think most graphic designers are avid collectors (and secret hoarders of ephemera). I’ve always had my obsessions – everything from folk art dice to Warren McArthur furniture. And there’s a graphic sensibility to most of what we buy. I love old signage and anything type or advertising related.
Along those lines, what would you say defines and / or distinguishes Hunter Bee from other antique stores? Good question. I think we make people smile when they walk around and find something that sparks a memory or offers a new way of seeing the familiar. I suppose its our quirky eye that separates us from the fancy guys.
Okay, is this more, less or the same fun as being a designer? The fun part is the license to shop. Then we really love styling and “art directing” the shop and sharing our passion for design. Which is what I’ve always enjoyed about graphic design. Great clients and customers are those that share your passion and curiosity.