Antiques dealer and garden designer Michael Trapp gives us a tour of his breathtaking West Cornwall, CT, property and explains how it and his business came to be.
“In 1990 there was nothing here, only fields and open space,”says Michael Trapp about his West Cornwall, CT property. Now, 26 years later, it is a series of intimate garden spaces and detailed interior rooms that appear to have existed for centuries. “It’s all a grand illusion,” he explains dramatically. Trapp is a master at using antique materials and ancient furnishings to conjure a different place and time.
He started his career as a dealer in antiques and architectural fragments, but also runs a
successful interior and garden design business, taking on many projects a year. He specializes in the unusual and unexpected, and has established a reputation for original, timeless work.
Like most antiques dealers, Trapp finds himself with far more merchandise than he can use in his own projects and shop, but he buys extra inventory. He travels the globe frequently and sends several containers home each year. “If you don’t buy it when you see it, you’ll never see it again,” he quips. “You can’t sell from an empty cart.” Not a worry there it seems, as Trapp recently purchased another property in Sharon, CT, primarily because it had a barn he desperately needed for storage. “Aladdin’s cave is bulging at the seams,” he admits. Fortunately, Trapp has a brick-and-mortar shop at his West Cornwall property (open weekends or by appointment from March until December) as well as an online store where he sells some of his finds, such as antique textiles, garden objects and furniture. Recently, we visited with Trapp to find out how he has achieved so much.
Please tell us about your background. How did you get started in the business?
My family lived in France when I was little. My mother was a gardener and it was easier for her to take me along to auctions than to get a babysitter. Those are some of my earliest memories. When I was a bit older, we moved back to Ohio and I got involved with the flea markets. People said my things were so good I should take them out East, so I came to New England.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
My style is classical with a twist. Most everything I live with and sell is a one-of-a-kind, but that’s not a requirement.
What inspires you and your work?
Travel and the experiences associated with it are my primary inspirations. My favorite destinations are Europe and Asia. I have visited Indonesia every year for the past 12 years, and I buy all over Southeast Asia. But I’ve never been to Sri Lanka—it’s my bucket list destination.
Your shop has a cabinet-of-curiosities feel. Give us some examples of the types of items you sell.
I have lots of ancient textiles like tapestries, tribal carpets from Iran, indigo and cotton ikats, ceremonial sarongs from Sumatra and Buddhist monk robes from Burma. I also specialize in garden objects like stone urns, French and Italian terra-cotta pots, iron and stone tables and metal basins from Spain. I sell natural history items such as giant clams, butterflies, fossils and bones, and unusual furniture like Indonesian teak and Swedish chests.
How are interior design and landscape design similar for you? Which do you prefer?
Both are all about balance, proportion and texture. I enjoy both as long as it is interesting work, but I end up doing more landscape design because it is easier to manage. Interiors are extremely detailed and time consuming, so I take only a few interior design jobs per year.
Tell us about some of your favorite projects over the years and what you’re working on now.
I really enjoyed an old estate on Shelter Island for wonderful clients, as well as a historic property on the Hudson. Right now I’m in the middle of designing an apartment and roof garden in Manhattan, a landscape job in Millbrook, NY, and a new construction property involving both interiors and landscape in Warren, CT.
What do you enjoy most about this area of Connecticut?
The absolute beauty makes me feel so privileged to live here.
One word that describes you: Curious
Your top design tip: Trust yourself
What you’d be, if not in the design world: A chef
Your next trip will be: Indonesia
Favorite restaurant in the area: Falls Village Inn
Favorite cocktail: Scotch on the rocks
People would be surprised to know: I was an Eagle Scout
Favorite color: Deep red
Favorite flower: Orange parrot tulip
Your guilty pleasure: Coffee in bed every morning
Your style icon: Diane de Poitiers
A home should be filled with: Love
Favorite item in your home: My cats
Favorite item in your shop: The textiles
Best design book: Robert Kime’s latest [self-titled] book