Last month, during a particularly lovely and lively holiday lunch at the Cricket, an unexpected visitor stopped by. A young woman wanting to pay for her Cricket subscription. She stayed for a bit and chatted, we offered her a glass of champagne, and came to find that she is the owner of Gray House, the recently opened antique shop in downtown Manchester.
After lunch, Erika Brown and I ventured outside for a walk (back when there was sun) to drop off a borrowed book at the Manchester Historical Museum. En route, we considered doing a pass through the Stock Exchange, but Erika wanted to save it to do later with her husband Rusty Brown before their dinner date (which I thought was quite sweet), so we decided to pop into Gray House instead.
Located in a prime spot downtown where Union Street meets Beach Street, as it all turns to head into the heart of Manchester, it is simply a gray house. However, what lies inside is anything but. An enchanting and visually sumptuous world of beautifully curated wonders lies just behind its rather serious exterior. Fine antiques, textiles, art, books, and curiosities abound. The rather small space is filled, each and every corner, with marvelously curated vignettes of all manners and sorts. Once you catch your breath and take a closer look around, you will likely see, just to your left, sitting elegantly and quietly behind her desk, Cordelia Fasoldt, who is responsible for the wonderful experience you are currently having.
The sensibilities that inform Cordelia’s exquisite taste were perhaps born from her formative years abroad. Her English mother and German father met while working in Belgium. The two were eventually relocated to Pittsfield, Mass., where they had two daughters. However, when Cordelia was six, her family moved back to Belgium where she would spend the next 12 years of her youth, returning to the states at the age of 18 to attend college in Florida. There she studied English Literature and went on to complete a master’s in journalism after which she enjoyed a robust career in marketing and advertising for 12 years in Boston.
Then COVID happened. She and her husband decided to move from the city, settling into an antique home in Beverly Farms in 2021. With two younger daughters, now ages three and seven, working from home was great, until it wasn’t. After a year, being at home on a computer all day wore on Cordelia. It went from, as she perfectly described it, “… feeling like you had binge watched Netflix all day,” to actually making her feel ill; something had to change. She saw that the space at 38 Union had become available to rent and thought that, if ever she were going to open an antique store, this was the time and this was the place.
Yes, opening an antique store had been something Cordelia had quietly been thinking about over the years. Her parents were collectors which instilled in her not only an appreciation, but a draw to the discovery of the history and origin of individual pieces. An understanding of the business side of antiques came later from spending time with her in-laws who ran a successful art and antiques gallery in Camden, Maine for many years. Then, amidst the doldrums of COVID, she found that working with Kathy Marshall, a local designer, renovating her antique home in Beverly Farms, ignited the creativity that initially drew her to her career in marketing; it felt great.
So, she jumped. She rented the space on Union and Gray House opened in the fall of 2022.
“’Antiques store’ can be a loaded word. People think expensive, exclusive, snooty,” Cordelia notes, saying that Gray House is not the antique shop of old. “Antiques have evolved. Really, they have become more decorative. Warm and charming – like folk art.”
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I am an old millennial, and my generation does not really know how to go about acquiring antiques. I try to make them affordable and accessible. Offering pieces that can blend with a couple of different decorative styles. I like to mix origins, eras, and styles. I love the look of a mid-century piece mixed with a 19th century desk to creative a vignette. It’s fresh, relevant, and looking good for a long time,” she explains.
Her novel approach to antiques applies to shop rules as well; it’s not too precious. She encourages people to come in with their kids (really!). She invites them to sit on things, to give them texture and even a little more history. She has planted vintage duck figures around the store for little ones to try and find. Her 11-week-old puppy, Wally, was in the shop the day I visited, romping around and snoozing under the desk. She has also made sure that there is a little something for everyone.
Yes, you can find and invest in a stunning oil portrait, or a Victorian embroidered screen, but you can also find heavenly journals and beautiful matchboxes to punctuate your well-appointed space.
And Gray House is just that—a well-appointed space. One with a breathtaking richness and depth; inspiring a bit of wonder and delight. So, as we slog through to the end of February, and take on March, know that if you choose to stop by, to cross the threshold, to say hello to Cordelia and Wally, I promise—you will leave feeling a little less gray than when you arrived.
Gray House Art & Antiques, 38 Union St., Manchester, www.grayhouseantiques.com