Inside Robert McNutt’s Antiques Collection

May 1, 2012

McNutt was born in El Paso, Texas, and moved to Ottawa at age six. In Grade 9, he started working for antiques collector Eric Cohen; he followed Cohen’s Vancouver Architectural Antiques here in 1994. He’s always buying, rarely sells—he acquired his first piece at age 10: a little silver key rack for $1.75. He still has it—“I guess I have a separation problem with this stuff.”

The dining room of McNutt’s crowded Main-near-Broadway apartment received the same intensive reclamation work as the bathroom, sitting room, and kitchen (whose ceiling McNutt redid with intricate tongue-in-groove wood panelling). The newest items in this room are the crystal glasses on the table (from the 1960s) and the 1940s rug; everything else averages around 1912.

“People almost have to come in here and see all this to understand me.” McNutt shops daily for food (he has no refrigerator—just a cooling cupboard), recycles fervently (“Everything today is so disposable; I want things that will be around for the next 100 years”), brings his own Birks silverware to diners and (his fave) the House of Dosa, and buys antiques rather than mundane purchases like clothes. He’s blessed with a photographic memory and strong peripheral vision—last year he nabbed $165 in change off the pavement.

He’s handy with tools (he rebuilt this table to seat eight): “You have to be, to take care of all these beautiful things. Because you have to use them. You can’t just buy them and lock them away.” In the basement of the building, he’s filled 1,500 square feet with extensive collections of doorknobs, radiators, newel posts, chandeliers, and much, much more. Speaking of chandeliers, the one above the dining table (from the 1880s Aesthetic Movement) cost $1,750, plus another $3,200 to restore it from period catalogues (another collection).

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