‘I Love Knowing the Backstory of a Piece’
Standing in a line snaking through London’s Battersea Park 15 minutes before the Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair opens, Daphna Peled is as focused as she ever was lobbying before the Senate.
‘My mom and I go to certain dealers first and you have to make decisions fast. That’s probably the most hectic it is at that fair. You’d be amazed how many sold stickers you’ll see within two hours.’
The Georgetown Law School graduate opened British antiques store Pillar & Post over a year ago with her mom—a career 180 spurred by a President who never was. Daphna was an established lobbyist for the cable industry, but as the 2016 election neared, time with her young son appeared to be in jeopardy.
‘I thought, Hillary’s going to win and the Senate’s going to flip. I’ll be a Democrat lobbying Senate Democrats, and I’m going to have to work so hard that I’ll never see my son. I left my job that October, and of course that never happened, but I’m really happy to not be in politics given the current climate.’
Instead, Daphna turned to home décor. She took a few design classes and decided it wasn’t for her, but felt inspired by the British style she’d come to admire during the 15 years her parents lived in London.
‘My parents moved back to the U.S., right around the corner from us in Georgetown, and I wanted to spend more time with my Mom and share our love of the English aesthetic. There are a lot of terrific shops in DC but they tend to focus on French and Swedish antiques, and not so much English. What also inspired me was doing it in a way that’s not like the old musty antique shop where you walk in and everything’s piled on top of each other, but instead looks like how someone lives and mixes things.’
The idea felt like a great one, but Daphna knew nothing about the business of importing. She took a trip to Hudson, New York, and spoke to a shop owner who suggested she find a customs broker. The broker walked Daphna through the process, and by the end of the meeting, she knew Pillar & Post was feasible.
That January, Daphna and her mom attended a tradeshow in Atlanta. They’d also considered carrying American brands, but left with the realization that they didn’t want to sell things everyone else could buy in the States.
With a clear focus on British antiques—save a few French tables and Italian bar carts—they went to the Decorative Antiques & Textiles Fair for the first time, and came home to shop for spaces. After looking at three vacancies in Georgetown, they fell in love with the fourth just a month later.
‘This Book Hill space was the perfect backdrop for the character we wanted to bring across in the shop. There was a fireplace, we uncovered a window in the back—it was perfect. Things started moving really quickly.’
Since then, Daphna has discovered there’s no formula to buying and selling. Dressers tend to sell well, but generally, she looks for something special, interesting, and Amazon-proof. Each new shipment arrival is ‘like Christmas morning.’
‘When we go to these antique fairs in England, my Mom and I pick out pieces we both love. We each have a veto ability. Once in a while you can insist you want something, but usually we have to agree on it. And I don’t just talk the talk. I love these pieces; they’re in my house. We hope everyone will like them, too.’
Daphna loves learning the backstory of each piece, from the post office cabinet in the back of the shop, to the 19th century dumbwaiter, and the rotating landlord’s table currently in the entryway.
‘The landlord would sit at the table and collect rent and spin the table around, putting the rent in different drawers. I love that story. A lot of things are bought at old estates and all of them have a story. These pieces have held for hundreds of years, and they were all used for a purpose.’
It’s that timeless quality that appeals to Daphna, who describes the British aesthetic as classic and stylish, but not overdone. For a long time, brown furniture was considered dated, but Daphna says that trend has turned in her favor, and is particularly popular in Georgetown.
In addition to high-ticket furniture, Pillar & Post—inspired by the cockney expression for ‘host’—also carries contemporary British artwork and modern accessories to create the feeling of being in an actual home.
Daphna says she’s developed a great relationship with many clients and designers, some of whom now ask her to keep an eye out for a particular item during her next buying trip.
‘That would be a nice future part of the business. Sending someone a text in real-time asking if this is what they’re looking for. A little like personal shopping.’
From the bustling London fairs to the independent Cotswolds shops, British dealers know Daphna well and offer her a deal. She says those relationships are a meaningful part of the business.
‘I follow the dealers on Instagram, and they even helped me with last year’s holiday window competition. They’re English, so they’re so, so nice.’
Postcard-perfect countryside shops may seem a world away from Capitol Hill, but Daphna says her years communicating with constituents and ‘shoe leather lobbying’ left her well prepared for the antiques business.
‘I worked with members of Congress the same way I work with customers and designers. It’s all about how you best represent your brand and tailor it to the audience you are working with to meet their needs. You just get out there and get it done. My family does it all for this business. My mom does the accounting and HR, and my dad handles the IT. I track inventory, place the orders, work with the shipping company and customs broker—in addition to business licensing and going to the storage facility. In any career path, that’s been my mentality. You are your best representative.’
Daphna enjoyed her work as a lobbyist, but says Pillar & Post combines her love of England, home décor and design—plus her 4-year-old’s love of tearing through the store. It’s her little piece of Mother England over 3,000 miles away.
Full of old stories, and new ones yet to be lived.