Meet the Dealer: Kathleen Ernst

Today we are talking with wonderful Stars Antiques dealer #89 at Splendid, Kathleen Ernst. Kathleen has nearly 30 years experience with antiques and is well-known for the gorgeous 100 years plus old salvaged stained glass windows that she hauls to Portland from the United Kingdom. Make sure to stop by her space to find yourself some unique pieces for your nest!


Here is a fun Q&A we had with Kathleen:

How did you get into antiques?
I got into the business by accident, literally. My son had a tractor accident when he was young. I had been working in the art department at a liberal arts college at the time and resigned because the accident was so serious. God watched over my son and after a year in a wheel chair he was walking once again. I took a deep, thankful breath for my son’s recovery and fighting spirit. I naturally fell into the antique business allowing me to stay home and became an antiques dealer as antiques had always interested me. Owning my own business gave me the luxury of setting my own hours and being home for the kids when they were younger. I started traveling overseas for business once they’d grown.

My mentors were my eldest sister Linda who has been a dealer for years and my first business partner, Jonelle. Jonelle invited me on a buying trip in the mid-1990s to England as her assistant and took me under her wing to learn the business of importing. Quickly she realized I was a good buyer, committed to the business and asked me to become her business partner. We opened a 3 story shop together that lasted nearly 10 years. We’d fill 40 foot marine containers 3 to 4 times a year with older vintage and antique furniture and architectural elements. Priorities and situations have changed and I only need to maintain the one space I’ve now at Splendid.


How long have you been a dealer? Do you work alone?
Way too long, 30 + years–but that’s a good thing! With age comes experience, they say? I do work alone most the time, but am not afraid to ask for help if needed. I have one of my best friends from Richland, WA that helps me occasionally. The seasoned dealers seem to make themselves available, helping out when they “see we need help” at the antique malls–watching out for one another. I’ve been selling furniture and heavy architectural elements for a long long time with some wear and tear on the bones, but so far holding my own. I’m still loving the business and the hunt. Hard work, but very rewarding!


What would you say your specialty as a dealer is?
I L-O-V-E seeking out the antique salvaged items that a homeowner or contractor can incorporate into their homes or homes away from homes, that’ll last another 100 years. I enjoy looking for late 19th century to art deco era pieces, especially today when the older pieces are getting more difficult to come by. That pushes my buttons to become more “diligent” in my buying true antiques or older vintage elements. I love antique stained glass windows and larger transom windows–they are my speciality. I’m one of the larger retailers in the NW selling these salvaged elements of the past. England has a program to replace the 100 year old windows with new painted stain glass or plain double paned windows, so some of the frames are rotten and I either have the frames replaced overseas before shipping or I make the frames myself. I also offer a custom service of changing the size of the old windows or combining windows purchased by customers to be installed into their house with precision.


What is your dream vintage score?
I guess some of the century old pub signs that used to hang on the outside of pubs throughout England as you would see today–a huge strawberry, a huge copper ball for a lawyers office and spectacles for a eye doctor stands out. Also, wonderful old crowned chimney pots that came off cottages channeling smoke as a chimney would here in the States and iron cottage gates that customers can install in their gardens. Elements not found much nowadays. In hunting for elements of the past I love the smile it brings to our customers. If they’ve smiled and sought you out to say “thank you”, then you know you’ve done your job.


Do you collect some specific things for your own home?
My collections consist of a few pieces of French furniture and unique items that tugged at my heart which are in a few oversized, open cabinets scattered throughout my cottage. I never collect one of anything. I do confess in coveting the garden antiques though. I kept one 19th century crown chimney pot, a few finials and roofing elements for my garden and a hand-carved early 19th century stone corbel off a building near Bath that was salvaged by a company that supports SALVO. This is a organization that makes certain that elements are legally salvaged and I like buying from dealers who belong to this group.


Any vintage shopping tips?
Shop and sell frugally. If you’re in the business, you’ll stay in business for a long time buying frugally. There is a time and place to haggle over the price. Don’t panic buy, but don’t pause too long or the item may very well go home with someone else. If you’re a customer, buy what tugs at your heart and what will fit in your home.


How do you like to unwind?
With close friends and family who seem to make certain I stay out of trouble by going on hikes, renting beach houses, camping and sleepovers. I love to work on my historic house and in the garden. I love traveling! I have been blessed with the opportunity to travel and I love to share the travel fun with family and friends. Life is short–I’ve always jumped at opportunities that incorporate traveling if possible.

What are some of your favorites place to eat, visit or shop in Portland?
I believe its called Ruth’s Chris–it’s a steak house that my son and daughter-in-law took me to recently. Yum! My pocket book takes me to places like Pot Stickers or I love McMennamin’s.


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