After World Travels, a Journey Inward
After World Travels

Get ready to once again appreciate the better things in life. Plan to consider what makes the good life truly good. That is the word from someone who should know.

As Susie Maley prepares to exit the world of imported and exotic antiques, she sees a new twist coming for interiors that depend on finds like ornately carved altar tables, Swedish pine country desks and Buddha busts.  

Maley, one of metropolitan New York’s better-known purveyors of imported accessories and furniture, is getting out of the business after 15 years, but her retrospective look at the market she has come to know is a telling one.


The warm and hospitable Maley is owner of Ark Antiques in Moonachie. It’s been a place of plenty when it comes to those who chose to decorate their homes in the antiques of far-flung places. Interior designers and individual buyers have for years found those hard-to-get items here. Most recently, those places have been China and other Asian locations, but items from Scandinavia, mainland Europe and Africa are also among the Ark offerings.

Ark’s atmosphere, a brimming warehouse as opposed to a more-ordered retail setting, has been compared to that of a treasure hunt and the metaphor is not far off. Now that Maley’s going out of business, divestiture is in full swing and it’s more festive than ever (you can still grab some bargains through the end of the year).

While any number of clients have bemoaned her pending “retirement,” Maley – who worked for the Donna Karan fashion house in Manhattan prior to her engagement at Ark – sees the juncture as a celebration of a wise move that will take her to new places. She also sees a new day for quality, a renewed recognition of craftsmanship and an awakening to global concerns for how the world’s resources are used and reused.

As a careful observer of global politics and world finance, Maley felt the shift in her trade and in the greater economy many months ago. In 2008, one of her containers was not allowed to depart its Chinese port without a little official editing. That was because the government began to heavily regulate what items would leave the country. It was an early indication of bigger change. She was not content to watch the clampdown in China, the diminished supply of exported goods and the collapse of consumer confidence as they drained her business. Instead, she saw it as a time to move on.

She gets her business savvy from her Indianapolis insurance magnate Dad. She gets her wanderlust from family influences as well. The middle child of five, she confides that her parents “viewed education as school plus travel.” At 9, she was traveling in British Columbia. By 15, she was trekking through Europe and Russia. The far-flung has always appealed to her and to her clients too.

Those who truly love Maley’s style (exuberance, energy and honesty, is how designer Karen Topjian describes her) should not worry too much. Maley has hinted broadly that she would like to keep her hand in the business by becoming a consultant to select clients. 

Having worked with designers such as Topjian, Gerald Charles Tolomeo and Susan Anthony of Anthony Wright Interiors, Maley still believes strongly in the principals that have guided those around her.

“People say the luxury market is going to survive,” says Maley. The past few months, in an instructive way, have served as a “wake-up call” about how we live, she says. “People are being challenged inwardly to assess their lives. And the home is a place where people are going to find nourishment.”

As the world returns from its rocky recessionary ride, people will seek to restore themselves through anchors like the home and the comfort we find there, predicts Maley. So an item like a classic Mongolian cabinet will not simply add to a home’s elegance and caché, it will evoke a spirit that derives from the culture and the people who produced it as well as the care and knowledge that went into selecting it.

She feels people will be buying less but turning more toward quality and items that represent global responsibility.

Authentic antiques will gain more value because, literally, no trees have been destroyed in the making of them and no chemicals have been dispersed into factories and among factory workers. Designers and buyers of antiques have been engaged in one of the planet’s oldest and most valid of green businesses. It’s something she is proud of as she moves to marry the concerns of the home with her new set of concerns: those of the psyche.

The transition ahead has been years in the making, Maley says. Ten years ago, Ark Antiques constituted 26,000 square feet of the finest imports. Maley started out in the Czech Republic and Scandinavia (Denmark and Sweden) in the earlier years shopping country pine. She then expanded her reach into England and France, again focusing on pine furniture. Later, she explored India and China and also opened South America. Her primary calling was in China due to the authenticity and variety of the goods. But offerings from Africa, Brazil, Tibet and Mongolia were part of Ark as well. Over time, the Ark inventory has tapered to the 7,000 square feet that it is today. Her move to better quality, less consumption has been a while in 
the making.

While she hopes to keep her hand in the home décor world, she’ll also be helping to establish a wellness center in Northern New Jersey for the Tibetan monk whom she met at a birthday party some months ago. (She hosted a high tea to launch the effort last month). From there, she will see where the journey takes her.


Originally published in the December 2009 issue of ASPIRE Magazine