Newport is a walking town. It’s also a biking town. Or a scootering town. Whether you’re on foot, on two wheels or on the Newport Trolley, definitely make some time to wander the historic streets of downtown. You’ll find we’ve got more historic homes and more 17th century buildings than any other city in U.S., and the architecture can keep your noticing eyes busy for well beyond a weekend. And when you’re ready, get yourself to Spring Street, right above Queen Anne Square in downtown Newport and enter into the world of the Drawing Room.
It’s there you’ll find proprietors Federico Santi and John Gacher and their labor of love–an antique shop brimming with sculpture, light fixtures, art, and ornaments. You’ll also find LGBT art, literature, and cultural pieces worth knowing.
Newport Out visited the Drawing Room and Federico generously gave us a tour and shared his perspective on life in Newport. Check out some excerpts from that interview (edited for length and clarity) and photos from the shop below.
Newport Out: When did you open the store?
Federico: We opened the first store in 1985 on Stone Street, if you know where that is. And here we are many years later, being one of the last antique shops in the city. There were 42 (antique shops) when we moved here. 42 separate, individually owned, antique shops.
Newport Out: So what made you guys say “let’s open one up” with the 42 others?
Federico: We were buying and selling antiques prior to Newport and doing mostly shows. Having owned a big house in Fall River (Massachusetts) that we furnished correctly, when we sold the house we had a ton of furniture. The house in Fall River was 10,000 square feet so it was big. We moved to a 1,400 square foot house in Newport. So from 10,000 to 1,400 — we had a lot of stuff!
Newport Out: Do you have any antique pieces here that you’re the most proud or excited about?
Federico: [points to desk] That desk in front of you. That’s a pretty wonderful piece of furniture. It’s a late 19th century, french, very high style, and very well made. It’s also a rare piece, and we restored it. When we got it it was sort of the color of this [points to darkish brown piano] it was pretty dark. So we had to take every piece of ormalu off of that and clean it by putting it in a cleaning solution and putting it back on. It took about three days to restore the piece of furniture but it’s a great desk and it makes a statement. When you come into a shop and you see the owner sitting behind a desk like that, you’re going to get a vibe of a place that’s nice.
Newport Out: What about that room over there, I know you have some books on gay culture is there. Is it popular with visitors?
Federico: You know we get so many gay and lesbian visitors in our store that we have our own personal library upstairs. So, we clear out stuff from there. And also we buy homo erotic art, like the original artwork in the frame. That was owned by a guy named Dicky Banks who lived here. He’s the artist. He was a socialite painter so he painted all the Bellevue Avenue women but also painted for himself this type of imagery and especially representatives or dancers from the New York City Ballet. So when he died he left his personal portfolio, it was discovered in the house and the new owner’s son took the portfolio, which consisted of about 500 pieces, and went to Provincetown trying to sell it. But nobody knew who Dicky Banks was out in Provincetown. So he came back to us, two years later, and for $100 more sold us the whole collection. So we shipped that stuff all over the world because it some really great pieces.
Newport Out: Newport has a history of being a place–along with the rest of Rhode Island–for religious freedom. Those are its roots. Do you think that’s translated to freedom of sexuality or gender identity in Newport?
Federico: Yes. I’ve never had a problem with any city counselors or city government people. When we first moved here, nobody did memberships for gay couples. They just didn’t know to do it. So I remember, filling out an application for the Preservation Society. They had family membership. I called them up and I said, “For family–my partner and I, a guy”, and they said “Oh, that’s not problem, that’s fine.” And that was in 85’.
The Drawing Room is located at 152 Spring Street in downtown Newport, RI. Check them out online at www.drawrm.com and stop in for a visit new time you’re in Newport!