English & Continental Furniture & Decorations

In Conversation with Mary Helen McCoy

NEW YORK, NY -- Doyle is honored to present property from the inventory and private collection of Mary Helen McCoy in the upcoming auction of English & Continental Furniture, Silver and Decorative Arts on June 11, 2020. A native of Birmingham, Alabama, Mary Helen McCoy grew up in an environment rich in culture and the decorative arts. Her mother and grandmother exposed her to European and Southern traditions at an early age, which nurtured her love of beautiful things.

McCoy began her antiques career in 1987 at Wardemond Galleries in Birmingham as the manager and buyer. She established her own business in late 1990, after a seminal buying trip to France during which she fell in love with French antiques. Over the last three decades, McCoy has become one of the foremost dealers in French antiques in the South. She has amassed an extensive library and embarked upon high-end design jobs which include privately procuring antiques and art for clients.

Specialist Peter Lang spoke to McCoy ahead of the auction to dive deeper into her passion for French antiques, ask her advice to antique collectors, and discover what’s next for the renowned dealer and interior designer.

How did your upbringing and education lead you to start your business?

Both my maternal grandmother and mother exposed me to the arts at a very young age. My grandmother grew up in one of the most historic cities in the world, Constantinople (Istanbul), and like many Greeks left that area in the first part of the 20th century. She arrived at her new home with knowledge of a cultured civilization. As such, my grandparents encouraged my mother to pursue a liberal arts education. I became involved in civic cultural groups because of my grandmother and mother. This left me with a thirst to educate myself in the decorative arts. Like my mother before me, I was very active with the Birmingham Museum of Art as a member of the board of trustees. Now, I’ve spent over three decades as an antique dealer and almost as long specializing in French antiques.

What prompted your interest in French furniture, in particular?

I was exposed to both English and Continental antiques growing up but preferred the beauty of the forms and exquisite details carried out by the French. This includes exceptional pieces from the French provinces such as the Bourgogne, Alsace, Provence or the city pieces from Bordeaux, Nîmes, Grenoble, Lyon and so forth. As a result I began to study and have accumulated an incredible library.

How did your business influence your personal collection? What is different in your personal collecting?

My personal collection and my inventory are one in the same. My favorite pieces have always been from the Hache family of Grenoble. Their work is considered top quality to the Parisian masters of the same period. I had the opportunity to learn and study from the world’s top expert on Hache and we had a most unique bond.

What advice would you give to antique enthusiasts who are starting or looking to add to their collection of French furniture and decorative arts?

My advice on collecting is to first educate yourself. That education should begin with historical research, in particular about events that influenced the decorative arts. Second, one should seek the advice of trusted experts in that particular field. Third, teach your senses how to recognize quality - to touch and see the age along with the flaws (which sometimes can be positive). Go to the most renowned and carefully-vetted decorative arts fairs held. Buy from experts who are members of or whose stock has been evaluated by CINOA groups such as NAADAA, AADLA, SNA, BADA. Attend auction house previews and carefully seek the advice of the expert who has examined the article you are interested in. Ask questions and do not be afraid to pay good money for quality. Buy the best you can afford and do not look back. Enjoy your collection because it is a part of you.

What new projects are you working on now? What’s next for you?

I’m currently working on a French country house, or mas, in Alabama. The owners called me in to assess the furniture pieces they collected while the house was being built. During the process, they decided they wanted me to bring the collection to a higher level and I’ve brokered most pieces from my sources in France. I’ve also introduced them to beautiful French decorative arts including wonderful 17th and 18th century faience. The most fun has been working with a long-time relationship I’ve had in Paris, my iron and bronze Atelier, creating  modern-inspired forms to join with the traditional.

I’ll never stop working. I’ve found the consultant/broker business model more interesting and creative. I am able to use the skills I’ve accumulated from my years running the business to help clients, including architects and interior designers, locate everything from a French tile roof to the perfect commode (chest) for their projects.

As for interior design, I’ll continue working with my most loyal clientele - those I’ve had the privilege of working with for three decades - and exposing them to the best I can offer expressly for their homes and tastes. I look forward to working with a new age group, designing for their lifestyles and helping them identify the best quality. Writing and teaching are on the horizon, which I look forward to - my goal is to leave a small bit of what I know behind for others in order to keep interest in the French decorative arts alive.

Property of Mary Helen McCoy Fine Antiques and Interiors | Auction June 11

The upcoming auction is sure to create excitement in the antiques and design fields, and two influential figures shared their thoughts about Mary Helen McCoy in advance of the sale.

New York dealer Clinton Howell said, “She has served as an extraordinary ambassador to the world of the French decorative arts, recognized by her peers who nominated her to become a member of the Syndicat National des Antiquaires. That is no small honor for a dealer that does not live in France. She has earned the recognition by her peers that few get and even fewer deserve. She deserves this recognition wholeheartedly.”

Prominent interior designer Robert Couturier commented, “Mary Helen’s pieces are what I admire and like as they are perfect, original, elegantly simple but not simple by lack of something but simple by choice, sophistication and refinement. I have been lucky to buy some pieces from Mary Helen, which I now live with and will for the foreseeable future.”

View Lots & Place Bids

Portrait of specialist Peter Lang
SVP/Director, English & Continental Furniture & Decorative Arts
English & Continental Furniture & Decorations
View Specialist Profile