At Home With Humor and Whimsy

Jolie Kelter and Michael Malcé welcome friends — and shoppers by appointment.

Michael Malcé and Jolie Kelter, who had been collecting antiques individually for a long time, collected each other at a big antiques center on Second Avenue in Midtown Manhattan, when each had a booth there in 1971. 

Ms. Kelter was interested in early-19th-century to 1940s jewelry. Mr. Malcé had been in business from the age of 19 when, with his mother’s help, he bought the inventory of an antiques dealer on West Eighth Street in Greenwich Village and set up shop. He started with antique toys and banks and went on to Mickey Mouse watches and other antiques, including rare children’s books and American Indian artifacts and drawings. They decided to join their booths at the center — and the rest is history.

Taking a trip to Shupp’s Grove in Lancaster County, Pa., they were attracted to quilts, especially Amish quilts, which were not of particular interest to many dealers at the time. Quilts eventually became one of their most “graphic and successful” collections, they explained recently, and a few are now in collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Folk Art.

Mr. Malcé and Ms. Kelter had a shop on Bleecker Street in the Village for 28 years while living on Perry Street and going to East Marion on the North Fork on weekends. They sold furniture, rugs, folk art, and jewelry, and were the first dealers to sell tramp art and among the earliest proponents of outsider art. 

After 2006, when many of their friends had moved to the South Fork, the couple bought a 2,000-square-foot, two-story house on 11/2 acres on Scuttlehole Road in Bridgehampton. A chicken coop, which is now their shop, dates from 1900. It had been made into a guest cottage in the 1960s. A mid-19th-century one-room schoolhouse was moved there in the 1940s and is at one end of the 1960s swimming pool.

Until recently and for many years, they shared space in the Kinnaman and Ramaekers store on Main Street in Bridgehampton with two other dealers, using the chicken coop for storage. They have now consolidated their collections, and their lives, in their house and back yard. 

Ms. Kelter and Mr. Malcé have an eye that attracts other collectors. Is collecting an art? Do some people have an intuition about what could become popular one day? Is becoming an antiques or art dealer a logical solution to collecting too much?

Fans have followed them from shop to shop and know what to expect when they get there, Ms. Kelter said. The couple used to spend a month in Santa Fe looking for additions to their wares, but now prefer to go to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico.

“I don’t think I have an intuition regarding what might become popular,” Ms. Kelter said. “I always bought what I liked. I never was interested in traditional furniture, antiques, or formal furniture. I loved the homemade touch and was attracted to country furniture and accessories that were made by hand. I loved the old weavings. I especially appreciated American Indian artifacts of all kinds.”

Of Mr. Malcé, Ms. Kelter said, “Michael was born with inherently great taste and style. He came by it naturally. He also was a great window-display person and people always loved our windows at the store.”

They also have an eye for embellishtment: In their house, even the trim around the kitchen door and windows is transformed into wallpaper by the stickers found on the fruits they buy. In between the house and the pool is a patio made from two truckloads of railroad ties they bought in New Jersey. They also used railroad ties to build a fence on the perimeter of their property. And there is a tree dotted with attached telephones.

The house has vignettes, still lifes, and cozy corners filled with whimsy, from the master bedroom in which every object is about love, to the room that has two doors with green Lucite knobs that had been in a rooming house. Friends who visit have painted a decorative pattern on the stairs and a trompe l’oeil door complete with screws. One friend carved a throne out of a tree trunk on the north side of the old schoolhouse.

Family photos abound and each room has a theme, many with Victorian paintings, heart motifs, and folksy carved frames. “Michael and I always bought what we loved as though we were buying things for our personal lives,” Ms. Kelter said. 

What they collect and sell, and what they live with, ranges from patchwork quilts to folk art to kitschy, framed merry widow bustiers, to Native American artifacts, to a table made of spools and a “memory” table made of broken fragments of china to Adirondack frames, and everything in between. Jewelry, however, is the “one steady item in all the incarnations” of their shops. And let’s not forget the framed page from a sock salesman’s catalogue. “We had a multifaceted business and it was just tons of fun collecting,” Ms. Kelter said.  

A chicken coop is now a shop with eclectic wares, including a huge baseball, jewelry, folk art, signs from old-time stores, and a framed catcher’s vest.
Above, collectible decoys and ceramics are shelved indoors.
Left, a lamp in the master bedroom has a vintage shade; the bedspread contrasts with hand-applied stripes on the wall. Right, 19th-century portraits and a distressed mantel create a comfortable mood in the dining room, with a hand-painted kitchen floor at left.
A friend may have had the Olympics in mind while painting a trompe l’oeil runner for the stairs.
Supermarket food stickers on the kitchen window trim is a zany and surprising embellishment.