"You never know when you might see something," said Paula Bishop, owner of City Girl in the Country, an architectural salvage company in Antrim that specializes in sinks. "I am not afraid to knock on people’s doors if I see something in their yard. And I didn't realize at first that so many New England homes have their own junkyard in the backyard."
Bishop started in architectural salvage by picking up what she calls “treasures” and bringing them to a convenient warehouse on her property in Antrim. At first, she would be open on the weekend selling a wide variety of quirky finds, including sinks which tended to be fast movers.
But one day on her way home from Maine, she stopped by a shop that had sinks overflowing from the doorway and out onto the sidewalk, and Bishop knew she wanted to specialize in the same. And so, for the last 14 years, she has been all about finding old sinks and matching them with new homes.
"When I stopped at that store in Portland, I was looking for a sink for my mudroom," Bishop said. "I would acquire a sink I thought was perfect and then I'd find another. To buy more, I had to sell some of what I had. I did some research and I called it my ‘mommy business’ because I could do from home and list them on eBay."
While most New England Yankees are too thrifty, or already have a sink sitting in the backyard, Bishop was receiving orders from across the country, particularly California, and on multiple occasions Hollywood has come calling. When a set designer for a Jim Carrey film ordered a sink and then spent way beyond the purchase price to have it freighted out, Bishop knew there was a niche market for her sinks.
"My customers are predominantly women with a sense of style and authenticity who want a sink no one else has. They want a sink that is old and has a story to tell," Bishop said. "When I pick up a sink, I stop and talk to whoever is selling it about the story behind the sink. The sinks are battle worn, but still in perfect condition, plus just authentic and cool."
Bishop has always had an eye for one-of-a-kind items. She recalls going antiquing with her friends right after they finished college, and having them tell her that, no matter what it was she found, she had a predictable ritual of bringing it home, washing it up and caring for it.
That hasn't changed. Now, when Bishop finds a sink, she brings it home and washes it up before taking a flashlight to take a closer look for any dates or markings. Then she might wash it again and really get to know it before photographing and listing it for sale.
But not before, as she said, "Fretting over it and thinking if I can keep it for myself. I still don't have a sink in my washroom!"
Whenever possible, Bishop also tries to find out more about the sink she is putting up for sale. If it is a Kohler, she can comb through her stack of old catalogs seeking any details that might lend more information. Sometimes she might even call Kohler and speak to the archivist on staff, who is usually overjoyed that someone is interested in their information.
Most importantly, however, Bishop makes sure that all the details she posts about her sinks are incredibly accurate as her buyers are often planning an entire room or remodel around the sink.
Once sold, Bishop's next concern is freight shipping. Since the sinks are incredibly heavy, they require special care and often Bishop is on pins and needles from the time the sink rolls out until it arrives safely to its new home.
Although she has been honed-in on sinks since her son was little, when her daughter was born, she took a less intense approach to her work. Now that her daughter is three, though, Bishop said she is ready to start "revving up" her business once more.
"I would like to start making sink tables again, and look into remaking some of the sinks, especially those made of soapstone," Bishop said. "I am a business girl and I really like the business aspect. I like combining the aesthetic portion of the sinks with the business side, so I want to continue to do that."
"I also think it is important to stick with something, even when everyone tells you you're crazy or tells you no," she continued. "If you think there is merit, or you care about it, then you should stick with it.
“I sell sinks! There is satisfaction in seeing something through from beginning to end."
To learn more about City Girl in the Country, visit online at citygirlinthecountry.com.