KANSAS CITY, Mo. “I admit it. I’m a hoarder,” said Annie Hurlbut Zander, who often gets messages from antiques dealers telling her they’ve got something weird she needs to see. “That’s kind of what happens when you get a reputation for oddball stuff.”
Zander is a Yale-trained social anthropologist and archaeologist who owns the clothing company Peruvian Connection. And this altar to hard-worn patina – from the rare Bolivian shaman’s poncho to the exotic African antelope preserved more than a century ago and the silk sofa that looks as if it were upholstered around the same time – is the home she shares with her husband.
Everywhere, layers of textiles, vintage photos and other eccentricities engage the attention but somehow never seem to clash. Over there, under glass, is a hand-woven Peruvian swaddling wrap adorned with beads of carved monkey bones. Elsewhere are utilitarian bowls and baskets, turned to show off their chips and cracks to best advantage. The more they were used, surely the better they were loved.
This overwhelming array of strange and quirky antiques that mix and mingle across eras and styles makes sense once you get to know the inhabitants.
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Zander, who grew up on a nearby farm, admits to having a chronic case of hunting-and-gathering wanderlust. And Rick Zander, her husband, is a songwriter and lyricist who was once a master woodworker and contractor, restoring old homes in the area to their earlier glory.
He calls himself the chief schlepper.
“I used to joke when Annie would come home with a bag full of rocks,” he said, “that she needs a museum director much more than she needs a husband.”
The couple, who are both 62, met nearly 30 years ago, when she was considering buying and restoring a mangled Queen Anne Victorian here. Rick Zander rarely did appraisals on such houses because they never seemed to turn into real jobs. But in this case, the real estate agent insisted that he meet the “single” buyer.
At their first meeting, Annie Zander said, she was uncharacteristically flustered after one glance at his Paul Newman eyes. “It was so embarrassing,” she said. “I kept staring at my feet.”
Three appointments later, he convinced her the home was beyond repair. Within a year, the two eloped and bought a 1919 Craftsman house they shared with Jane, his daughter from a previous marriage, now 33, and later Balie, their daughter, now 21.
In 2002, they bought this 1929 house for nearly $1 million. It seemed like the ideal place for them and all of their stuff, he said.
“We loved the rooms and the layout,” he said. “But then we went and refinished every surface.” The renovations, they said, cost nearly $150,000.
Part of the problem was that the house was too staid and traditional, at least for her.
“Unimaginative,” she called it.
So they painted the walls and stenciled the wood beams, using a piece of colonial wallpaper she had torn out of a room in Peru that was being redone. The screened porch became a dining room, where they paired an 18th century French table with chairs they found on eBay that had upholstery faded by the sun: Some were yellow, others pink. In other words, they were perfect in Annie’s World.
“I hate reupholstering anything,” she said.
“To me, this is like a refuge – a textile and cultural refuge.”
Balie admits to being “creeped out” by a certain “terrifying” chandelier and a dark-toned Alice-in-Wonderland painting that she says is even uglier, although her father adores it.
“My mom got lucky,” she said. “She and my dad have very similar tastes. Our house may have a lot of older artifacts and a pretty mature style, but it has always been balanced out by how warm and friendly and generous my parents are. My friends always want to hang out here.”
Recently, Annie Zander has expanded her aesthetic by opening brick-and-mortar stores in half a dozen U.S. cities where her company has the most catalog customers. It was a logical way to extend the reach of the brand, she said, but her family and friends suspect it’s more than that. The stores, they say, offer another creative space where she can exercise her interior design muscle.
To furnish the newest one, which opened in London in October, she enlisted the help of Gwen McClure, an antiques importer. McClure also happens to be a retired FBI agent and former specialist in al-Qaida, but this job intimidated her in an entirely new way.
“Annie’s aesthetic is so refined,” she said. “And I was spending her money.”
Last summer, the two went on a three-day buying blitz in France, bringing back 129 pieces for the King’s Road store. At one point, McClure remembered, Zander let out a loud “Uh-oh.”
Another object had just spoken to her: a huge, carved walnut sofa with silk-patterned upholstery that was worn through in various places and gave off the musty aura of time spent in a bordello.
McClure assumed that once her friend got it back to Kansas City, she would have it recovered before installing it in her home.
Not a chance.