Searching for the perfect piece of antique furniture can mean scouring lots of shops and coming up empty-handed, but that’s not the case for clients of Matthew Baber. His antique business, Savoir Vivre, has adapted to suit the modern shopper.
It started with hosting antique pop-up-shops, then with a retail location in Louisville. But what people seem to prefer is what he calls a “personal concierge shopping service” where he sources hard-to-find items for established customers across the country.
“The way people have bought has changed,” he said. “I’m texting them a photo when I find things and people are buying more in real time.”
Even the business name Savoir Vivre was created with intention, referring to the idea of knowing how to live well.
“It’s about making a gracious home to enjoy with friends and family,” he said. “That could mean luxurious bedding, fine lamps, restored crystal chandeliers or table linens.”
“People make fun of me for being old fashioned and loving things from another era,” he said, “but quality really matters to me. When my client calls for me, they want me, not someone screening emails. It’s white glove service.”
Holding his business to that standard means he’s constantly looking for the next great find.
“Almost every day — and I travel a lot — I’m out shopping,” Baber said. “You never know what you’ll find in a day.”
In January, he bought an antique Waterford Crystal chandelier, but it was missing prisms that couldn’t be purchased just anywhere. Then, while shopping in Indiana, he found exactly the crystals that were needed to restore it. In a small-world fashion, the crystals came from the same hotel as a serpentine chest he’d previously acquired. The chest and the completed chandelier are now compatible focal pieces in the same room of one of his clients.
Chandeliers are one of Baber’s favorite items to seek out, and, he said, you never know where they might turn up. He recently found a 24-arm bronze chandelier that was custom-made in Venice and hung in the 18th-floor ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City. It was found in a man’s barn in rural Tennessee.
“We had to track down all the information,” Baber said. “We found the auction records and pictures from the ballroom.”
How does a kid from Owensboro grow up to become an antique whisperer who finds extraordinary items all over the world? Baber credits his eccentric past.
“My life has always, fortunately, put me in touch with people who did interesting things,” he said. “I’ve always admired people who had many interests and pursued all of them passionately. I was always interested in beauty and quality, and my parents and maternal grandparents made sure I traveled.”
Baber said his background in design is eclectic, including food and entertaining and yet another part is interiors.
“It came together with antiques as an open door,” he said. A door so open, he’s never had to advertise but has relied on word of mouth.
With regular clients, he knows what they like and what to look for when he’s out shopping.
“I know what they may want for a collection or gift or room in their home,” Baber said. “When I see something that could work for them, I send them a photo right away and begin a conversation.”
Baber said he’s only had two people ask to see a piece prior to purchase.
“I offer judgment and trust,” he said. “They know I’m only going to offer things that I’d buy for myself.”
One of the best parts of finding antiques is the stories that go with them. He’s found silver dome servers that would have been used in a royal household, and art commissioned by the Louvre as a duplicate of a famous painting, so they could take it on traveling exhibitions while keeping the original safe.
“I have one client who says ‘even if a piece doesn’t have a story, make it up!’ he laughed.
Mostly, Baber said he just likes to see what he can discover: “It’s like going to the store knowing you’re having company, but you don’t know what you’ll make for dinner until you see what looks good that day.”
For a peek at Baber’s adventures, visit his Instagram.