Tucked away on the Long Wharf in Sag Harbor is a furniture store that’s more like an art gallery than a showroom.
That’s because Needful Things isn’t selling just any old furniture—it’s very specific old furniture.
Shopkeeper Diana White specializes in out-of-production Art Deco through mid-century design.
George Nelson, Vladimir Kagan, Gilbert Rohde, Paul Evans and Pierre Cardin are among the designers whose furniture makes its way into Needful Things.
Ms. White, who has a vast library on designs and designers and is constantly researching her finds, is especially proud of a Gerrit Rietveld dining room set she has on display now.
“It’s got a great story to it,” she said. The table and iconic chairs came from Andy Warhol’s Riverdale estate and not only did they belong to a famous artist, they were featured in his 1977 film “Bad.” She has a VHS copy of the movie to prove it, and said she’ll give the tape to whoever purchases the set.
Needful Things is now in its fourth year in business and Ms. White said in that time she’s discovered that most of her customers prefer furniture that can be identified, rather than something that may look good but has no story to go with it.
She found the Rietveld set in May 2007 at the Stamford Auction in Connecticut. In fact, Ms. White buys nearly everything for her store from auctions and estate sales. “I used to shop in Europe a great deal,” she said, but not anymore. “Ever since the Euro went up these dastardly rates, it’s impossible to shop over there.” Add shipping costs, and it left no room for profit.
But the exchange rate goes both ways, she noted, and foreign buyers are ordering from the Needful Things website more and more. Ms. White lists her stock on VintageandModernInc.com, which features not only what she has in the store at the moment, but what’s in storage as well.
She is currently working with clients in Australia and Romania who picked out furniture on her site. Now she just has to figure how to get it to them, she said.
However, most of her business is still done domestically, but Ms. White imagines that could change as the dollar declines in value.
Meanwhile, with the summer approaching, Ms. White hopes she has enough in storage to keep the showroom stocked. When a piece of furniture or a set sells, she brings in something out of storage or adds a new acquisition right away, so the offerings in the store are changing constantly. She also gives the showroom a major overhaul about four times a year, she added.
Though Ms. White focuses on a certain time period, newer furniture slips into her stock every once in a while too.
“I’ve tried bringing some new items in, but I find that my customers aren’t interested,” she said, so for now she’s sticking to out-of-production 20th century designs.
“I hope to get into the 21st century, because there’s some wonderful designers out there right now,” Ms. White admitted, citing Finland’s Tom Dixon and brothers Fernando and Humberto Campana in Brazil.
She actually did have a few Campana brothers pieces, but they already sold, she said. “I’m on the quest to find a few more.”
The older furniture in her store, because of its rarity, often goes for much more than it originally sold for. On the occasion that she ends up with something produced more recently, its marked down from its retail price in many cases, she said.
When she first started out, Ms. White lost money on some of the furniture she stocked. She tried to sell many items in a lower price range—’50s and ’60s kitsch—but found that it wasn’t what her customers were looking for. “My customer wants things to be on a certain level,” she said. “When I tried to be all things to all people, it didn’t work.”
She accepted it as a lesson learned, and moved on. “It’s wonderful to be in your own business,” she said. “All the good and all the mistakes; I’m not reporting to anyone except myself.” And even though she finds herself working seven days a week, its not like her last career, with 16 hours days, she said.
Ms. White, a graduate of New York University’s film school, was a set decorator for movies, television shows, and commercials.
“There’s probably not a product out there that I have not done a commercial for over the years,” she said.
She produced and designed a film, titled simply, “A Film,” which was the forerunner for contemporary food commercials, she said. “It’s in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art,” she pointed out. “It was groundbreaking because people had never seen food photographed this way.”
She’s also done set decoration for “Swimfan,” “Sex and the City” and “Spin City.” Most recently, she did the pilot for the television series “Ugly Betty.” She spent a lot of time in second-hand stores on that job, she said.
Growing up, Ms. White recalled, she was always fearful she would end up as a “bag lady.” Then, when she became a set decorator, and was shopping all the time in second-hand stores for furniture and other home or office accessories, she felt that she had become a version of what she worst feared.
But during her time in film and television she thought, “I never want to sit in a shop.” However, there she sits in Sag Harbor, at Needful Things. “I guess I should never say ‘never.’”
For now, Needful Things is open Friday through Monday, and Ms. White expects to add Thursdays in June. However, she said, the store will stay closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays—?when she’ll be found on the beach instead.