Step Inside a New Jersey Antiques Shop Full of Ephemera Spanning Three Centuries

blown glass decanters china on shelves
Stephen Kent Johnson

Larry Becker and Roger Crowley are educators as much as antiquarians. At Welbourne Robinson, the elegant little shop they opened last fall in an 1870s Colonial Vernacular house in Hopewell, New Jersey, they often bring out illustrated books on history, art, and style to provide customers with context for their 18th-, 19th-, and 20th-century European and American antiques. When visitors have questions about the provenance of an item—say, a French magnifying mirror, or a German églomisé silhouette portrait—the pair consult handwritten notebooks chockablock with factoids, which they keep in a Biedermeier elm-wood writing table. "We're discerning about what we sell, and want people to appreciate the quality and level of craftsmanship," says Crowley, who has a master's degree from the Princeton University School of Architecture.

While Crowley focuses on history, Becker creates stunning displays. For more than three decades, he was one of Manhattan's most exclusive florists, and his Upper East Side storefront was filled with handblown English and European glass vessels that were collected for his arrangements. When styling the vignettes at the new shop, Becker calls on his flower-arranging skills. "It's important that there is physical space between objects, and a balance between lightness and heaviness," he says. "With flowers, I have to be careful about proportion and size, making sure that they look comfortable. It's really about adjusting until things look right."

To his partner, Becker's instincts are unerring. "Larry puts objects into conversation with one another, creating collages with compositional balance," Crowley says. "He plays with them in a way that has nothing to do with history, that is very modern. We don't want to be stuck in some romantic past. We're saying these antiques can be alive in the modern world."

At the beginning of the pandemic, Becker shuttered his flower business and Crowley closed his design studio; they relocated from New York City to Hopewell, where they have been renovating a small 1930s Italianate villa for decades, and found a house in the center of town where they could open a store. "For young people, we're a curiosity shop," says Crowley, who is optimistic that a generation raised on midcentury modernism will come to appreciate the timelessness of antiques. "We hope to teach them and capture their imagination."

Here, blown-glass pieces from the 1700s and 1800s— including an English decanter (middle shelf, far right) and a flip glass (a flared, sometimes engraved vessel for making a drink called a flip) with a perfume flask placed inside (middle shelf, center)—commingle with 19th-century French Choisy creamware dessert plates. The two weightier terra-cotta-colored items, a mid- 19th-century Staffordshire chalcedony glazed jug and an Italian bust of Zeus-Ammon from the 1800s, accentuate the delicacy of the other ceramics and glass.

01 of 06

First Glance

doorway radial sconce with hepplewhite serving table
Stephen Kent Johnson

Crowley and Becker, who met as students at the Rhode Island School of Design, named their shop after Crowley's grandfather. Just inside its front door, a 19th-century American two-light radial mirrored sconce hangs above an early-19th-century Pennsylvania painted-pine Hepplewhite serving table. Beneath it is an English birdcage resembling a temple, also from the 1800s. The reflective sphere is a 19th-century blown-mercury-glass butler's ball, an object that allowed servants to monitor a dinner party's progress from a distance.

02 of 06

Modern Marriages

stang hand-colored flora fauna collages over table
Stephen Kent Johnson

Becker commissioned artist Sally Stang to create hand-colored pressed flora-and-fauna collages to fill 19th-century lemon gilt frames; the custom "Welbourne Gray" paint color provides a subtly shaded background for the works. The graduated composition draws the eye to a circa-1820 Biedermeier fruitwood- and-ebonized console table.

03 of 06

Future Antiques

fraktur wallpaper wood tin bird wall pegs
Stephen Kent Johnson

Pennsylvania Dutch Fraktur wallpaper complements painted-wood-and-tin bird wall pegs by Bucks County folk artist Mitch Michener. "They are future antiques," Becker says.

04 of 06

Browsing History

german walnut armchair dishware display
Stephen Kent Johnson

A South German walnut armchair with green-dyed horsehair upholstery, circa 1800, is paired with a Biedermeier elm-wood table with ebonized banding. On top are an early-19th-century French silvered-bronze adjustable bouillotte lamp with a tole shade and a pot of 'Phantom' petunias. A 19th-century German painting of a pair of pigeons is an unexpected pause in the horizontal line of shelves. The cabinets are painted in Rittenhouse Ivory, by Old Village.

05 of 06

Breathing Room

glass chalice papier mache snuffboxes
Stephen Kent Johnson

This airy composition, which allows for an equal focus on each element, includes a deep-amethyst Murano-glass chalice-form vase and a 19th-century American lidded blown-glass apothecary jar. A collection of papier-mâché snuffboxes occupies a 19th-century American graduated hanging shelf. On the right stand a 1700s Spanish brass candlestick and a 19th-century French magnifying mirror in an ebonized frame. An 18th-century engraved anatomical plate, Musculorum Tabula IX, hangs on the wall.

06 of 06

Beauty Parlor

ornate parlor elm woven cane seating
Stephen Kent Johnson

A rare suite of early-20th-century Vienna Secession elm-and-woven-cane seating, attributed to Prag- Rudniker Korbwaren-Fabrication, distinguishes the front room; the walls are painted a color named "Welbourne Brown," which was created by the owners. An unusually large late-19th-century German copper-blown-glass kugel (an egg-shaped ornament) hangs between the shop's two rooms, and a mid-19th-century American folk-art oil on canvas, an homage to William Linton's original painting Caius Marius Sitting Among the Ruins of Carthage, is displayed above a Gustavian Swedish painted-wood cupboard.

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