World Pieces

World Pieces

According to Akil Tanriguden, proprietor of the upmarket Re-Unique Art & Antique Center in Old Saybrook, a certain magic happens when someone enters his shop. “Say you come in looking for a statue of Buddha. If you stay just 10 to 15 minutes, all the Buddhas in the store will speak to you. Ultimately, the one you really want will show itself.” In my case, at least, it was my brain doing the talking. “I want this, and this, and this, and I can’t go home without that”; “you just spent half a month’s rent on Christmas gifts, no way.”

On a budget or not, Re-Unique is a riot of genuinely beautiful and special objects: antiques, artworks, furnishings and cultural icons displayed with both careful organization and freewheeling imagination. I loved a gorgeous brass 1893 Russian samovar that has been exhibited from Cappadocia, Turkey, to Nashville, Tennessee, stamps from its travels pressed into the brass. Another favorite was a magnificent eagle, wings spread so wide they almost touch, carved out of a single piece of ash. From a nostalgic perspective, I found myself drawn to a painted yellow birdcage, circa 1965, that during my childhood had held live birds at Malley’s, the New Haven department store.

I also coveted a chestnut French lady secretary from the early 1900s petite enough to fit in my apartment and a selection of tabletop objets d’art: a sculpture of faces representing the seven deadly sins, a mother of pearl stained-glass table lamp from Egypt, decorative vintage chess boards and a wooden Ferris wheel populated by Día de Muertos figurines. One piece caught my eye before I’d even entered the store: a giant metal sculpture of famed New England artist Norman Rockwell, smoking his pipe and perched on a rope swing in a fanciful painter’s pose.

Re-Unique opened in 2016, a few years after Tanriguden and his wife, Cindy Usluca, relocated to America from Turkey, where he worked as chief engineer for Bridgestone Tires. Usluca landed a position as a client revenue analyst at the New York City office of global law firm Baker McKenzie, while her husband went into retirement mode. “I ultimately told him that he needed to find something to do, because he was bored,” she says. “He needed more stimulation than just creating great meals for me when I got home from work.”

They realized that Akil’s lifelong passion for antiques and collectibles might make a worthwhile business. “We brought all our furniture here from Turkey, then decided we should downsize,” Usluca says. “We had collected so much our house was just overflowing, and we wanted to see these items go to good homes.” They put everything on sale in a storefront a few doors down from their present location and did so well that they moved to this larger space in 2019. As the business flourished, Usluca became fascinated with it herself. “Now I’m here on Saturdays with him, cleaning the store, doing the bookkeeping and designing the displays.”

Tanriguden, she says, “has an excellent eye. He goes antiquing almost every day, either before he opens the store, or he might close early in pursuit of a find. He’ll see something on a shelf or sitting in a corner and either buy it on the spot or FaceTime me to ask what I think. Usually, I love it.” Tanriguden notes that dealers often come to him. “I rely on friends in the business who know me and my taste. If they come across something they think I’ll like, they’ll give me a call.”

He’s known to buy items out of the blue as well. While I was in the store, he bought two Japanese porcelain lamps from a seller who’d come by hoping for a price on some family heirlooms. What pleased him about this find was that, although the lamps dated to the mid-1950s, they were created in translucent 18th-century Italian Capodimonte style. “Re-Unique” indeed.

Collections are loosely displayed in sections, both geographic and thematic. The front of the store is devoted to European treasures; others to Moroccan, Latin American and Asian. A section of nautical collectibles, abundant with vintage model ships, is popular with visitors who have summer homes in the area. They tend to be among Re-Unique’s most reliable repeat customers, as are those who admire Usluca’s inventory-design style and come for advice as to how they can apply her sensibility to their homes. “I never touch or move anything,” Tanriguden says. “It’s all my wife.”

An art gallery occupies the back of the store, where you’ll currently find works by East Haddam’s Ineke Dorjee de Raad and Clinton’s Phyllis Bevington as well as 20th-century Lyme artist Elsie Miller (1894-1984), who long worked under the gender-mysterious name ede-else so as not to be categorized as a “woman artist.” Also striking were two theatrical cutouts illustrating productions of Mme. Butterfly and La Bohème, originally displayed in 1986 in the foyer of Radio City Music Hall, and a wire sculpture of a French cafe scene by famed metalwork company Curtis Jeré.

A more specific cafe scene played out in the store as I was served a cup of Turkish coffee. “I’ve made so many friends in this store,” Usluca says. “People come in, we start talking, perhaps even sit in the Moroccan section to converse.” Or they can just quietly try to take it all in, one fascination at a time.

Re-Unique Art & Antique Center
891 Boston Post Rd, Old Saybrook (map)
Tues-Sun 10am-5pm
(347) 925-0187
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Written by Patricia Grandjean.

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