By Emily J Weitz
Zooming down 27, heading east, there’s a little patch of Zen that breaks up the frenzy.
A reclining Buddha, a massive Ganesh, and a giant Buddha head mark the entrance of the Furniture Garden in Water Mill. And as you turn down the driveway, the stone Lakshmis and the Thai Buddhas that line your path welcome you in. The people who make their way off the road and into this space often encounter intense emotional connections that they might not have bargained for. Many of the figures, sculptures, tables, and benches, all of which are imported from Bali, evoke a strong reaction.
“Sometimes people come in and are overwhelmed,” says Deanna Annis, owner of the Furniture Garden. She recalls people saying things like “I can’t speak” or “I’ve never been in a place like this.”
That reaction attests to the fact that each of the pieces is carefully selected because she was personally moved by it.
“I go twice a year and stay for a long time. I am on the road from nine in the morning to six at night every day. I’ll go to 15 places during a day and pick two or three pieces.”
And Deanna goes off the beaten path. Since the first time she went eight years ago, she has gone to Bali 16 times. She speaks Bahasa, the national language of Indonesia, and works directly with artists.
“I go to one big local market in Bali where I’m usually the only American,” she says. “That’s where I buy my Buddhas and some smaller things. But for furniture and stone I spend a lot of time in Batubulan, where they specialize in stone carvings. I go off the road to the factories where they’re being carved. I’ve established that over many years.”
Annis works with 60 different artists in Bali, but the genius behind much of the furniture in her showroom goes by the name of Jakfar.
“He had been working at one of the big galleries in Bali, designing everything and getting paid very little,” Annis recalls.
This was about five years ago, and she was just setting up a small gudang, or “factory”.
“If you saw it, you would laugh at me for calling it a factory,” she says. “Anyway, he said he wanted to work for me. This was made by him,” she points to a wide teak dining room table. “And these chairs, and that beautiful stool… He’s one of my main suppliers.”
Annis also has a business associate, a woman in Bali named Putu, with whom she feels very close.
“We went through the same drama in our lives,” she says, referring to her divorce. “She was one of the wealthiest women in Bali and was left with nothing… Now I couldn’t do our business without her.”
Annis has given up her gudang, but Putu has one, and that’s where Annis stores her treasures until they’re ready to ship. Then everything is loaded into a 40-foot container and shipped here, which takes a month.
When you walk into the Furniture Garden, it almost feels like you’re walking into an ancient temple. But the majority of the pieces are actually newly constructed. Much of the material is made of recycled teak (old houses that have been taken apart) or from the teak plantations that are common in Bali. But there are some antiques as well, including the authentic Bali bed, a gorgeous four poster with ornately carved head and foot boards.
“There’s a great sign in Bali,” Annis recalls. “Antiques: Made to Order.” She smiles, for a moment slipping into a mini reverie about the place that has clearly captured her heart.
Because of Annis’s passion for what she does, it can be difficult to watch things come and go. One of the pieces that has been with her from the beginning, a large Buddha statue that stands at the entrance, was just sold.
“This beautiful woman came in and I felt an instant connection,” Annis says. But the woman fell in love with the Buddha Annis hadn’t thought of selling. “I told her that was the one I loved.”
Annis named an admittedly high price, but one she felt reflected the value, of the Buddha to her. ($20,000 is in a different league from the $1500 you’ll spend on a magnificent table at the store).
“She called me and told me she had made the decision to take it,” Annis recalled. “I was speechless. I almost started to cry. But I am a businesswoman. And if I had to pick someone to have that Buddha, it would be her. It was an energy thing.”
It was as if she was giving up a living thing, a companion, the way she talked about letting go of her Buddha.
“My Buddha picked her,” she says. “It’s time for him to not be looking at the traffic going by, but to go to a spectacular estate in a majestic setting, overlooking the ocean. What more can I want for him?”
Perhaps that’s what makes each sale so personal and each item in the showroom so special. “It’s the touch, the feel of the furniture,” Annis says. “You can absorb what it took to make it all. It’s all made with a lot of love and caring, and picked that way. That’s the story of my business.”