Among his personal collections, antique store owner Chris Clement counts a variety of items, including tortoise shells, reindeer antlers and interesting taxidermy. He also loves vintage and antique oil paintings, from portraits to still lifes and landscapes, to abstract and contemporary art and photography.
“One of my favorite things is a 1940s landscape of a slough or brake near Scott that’s full of water lilies and lotus that I was always obsessed with as a kid, every time we would drive by,” he recalls. “It was painted by a Lonoke artist, but I knew the subject as soon as I saw it.”
His favorite items mirror some of the antique and vintage pieces he carries in his shop, Clement, on Main Street, in SoMa’s burgeoning arts and culture district.
The space overflows with ornamental mirrors, architectural pieces, globes, glass, antique and vintage lamps and chandeliers, rustic furniture and paintings.
“I don’t necessarily specialize in any certain style or aesthetic, or even time period. It’s truly what catches my eye,” he says. “It might be something I don’t even usually buy, but if the ‘look’ is there, whether it’s a certain patina, or craftsmanship, or even just plain unusual or a ‘wow,’ I’m in.”
The Little Rock native was raised around Scott, Keo and England, which rendered a childhood he fondly recalls. “We farmed and I grew up in the country, and I had the woods and the bayou at my disposal, but we were so close to town that my family made sure I was exposed to things like the Arkansas Arts Center,” he says. “I truly experienced the best of both worlds.”
His inclination for “junking” was nurtured early on, as he regularly accompanied his grandmother Clement on trips to antique and thrift stores. He kept it up through college at Sarah Lawrence, where he studied American history.
During high school and college, Clement worked for the late Susan Pfeifer at the Design Center in the Heights. He later worked in the media, including a stint from 2000-2002 as managing editor of At Home in Arkansas. Then in 2005, he took his retail knowledge and his innate love for design and decided to open his own shop.
“It just seemed natural,” he says. “Let me stress I had no formal training for this, but I loved it and people told me I had an eye for it. I started doing this on a shoestring, with the philosophy that I wouldn’t buy anything I didn’t personally like, so if I got stuck with it, I wouldn’t mind looking at it!”
He and John Bell had mutual friends, and Clement had always loved Bell’s space in Hillcrest, Sweet Home Furnishings. When he heard that the space next door to Sweet Home was available, Clement ran his idea by Bell to combine their businesses under one roof.
“It started as a convenience and affordability issue,” he says, “but it then grew into a really great business relationship and friendship, too. I literally could not do any of this without John Bell. He’s got a fantastic eye that is complementary to mine but also completely different. And he’s also a fine and visual artist in his own right. I feel extremely fortunate that things fell into place as they did.”
The two represent separate businesses, but are able to share retail space, plus the workload of staffing and running the shop. “We can buy and pick and restore or whatever else needs to be done in the background on the days when we aren’t in the shop,” Clement says.
This past November, when their Hillcrest building suddenly sold, the duo moved their store to South Main Street, on the corner of Main and Daisy Bates. “The owner of the building, Cassie Toro, did a great job restoring it. It’s a light-flooded, inspiring space, and I’d want to be here even if we didn’t have a shop here,” Clement says.
With more parking, regular weekend foot traffic, 600 additional square feet and a new customer base — in addition to their regular customers who followed them when they moved — Clement and Bell are enjoying a welcome surge in their respective businesses.
At the new space, Clement says they can display things that wouldn’t have fit through the door at the old location. Everything from canoes, to signage, to a set of antique, 10-foot-tall French etched-glass doors.
“Business is good, and we are thriving on the diversity of our new neighbors and friends. I also love the collaborative feeling of SoMa. The other business owners are constantly referring people to us, and vice versa,” Clement says. “There are so many people invested in, and beginning to invest in, the success of this neighborhood. Of course it’s always a bit of a risk with any new location, but as soon as we moved in, we felt at home here, and that we have made the right decision.”
Picking With Clement
Soirée: What are the most unique items you’ve come across?
Chris Clement: In western Arkansas, I found a set of vintage china designed by Jean Luce, who created plates and cups for the most exclusive cruise lines in the 1930s and 1940s; an illuminated glass world globe from Germany, complete with zeppelin routes and showing countries in their possession that weren’t even theirs at that time; a pair of 1940s Murano lamps in a dusty central Arkansas storage building.
What have been some of your best days in business?
The lucrative ones! Seriously, some days it isn’t just about the sale; it’s about finding a connection with a customer or another dealer that makes you glad you do what you do. When we were still in Hillcrest one rainy afternoon about a year ago, business was slow, but I was sitting on some fabulous furniture, laughing and talking shop with a dealer friend, and some other good friends who own an estate sale company. That was my moment to step back and realize how fortunate I am. I never could’ve imagined a “work day” like that when I was still in an office.
Do you pick antiques and art locally?
I know it’s kind of cliché to say that Arkansas is full of lots of artistic talent, but I have pieces I’ve bought from Gallery 26 or UALR students and faculty that I will always treasure. We’ve got fantastic resources here, honestly. You just need to educate yourself a bit, figure out what really “speaks” to you and then go for it. Unless you’re Alice Walton, don’t ever buy art as an investment. Buy what you love and want to look at.