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Town & CountryJanuary 1998
Faustian Bargains
Town & Country
by Gretchen Schoenof

From 1890 to the start of the Great Depression, nearly everyone had a piano in the parlor. It connoted an admired way of life, a widely accepted set of values. As a result, the manufacture of pianos – elaborate Louis XV models, delicately inlaid rosewood grands, small Art Deco butterfly babies –was a big and lucrative business. What happened to all those beauties?

The good news is that you can still find and play them. In the town of Irvington-on-Hudson, only twenty miles from Times Square, Sara and Irving Faust have set up a firm that sells and restores fine old instruments. There you can find a piano that not only sounds mellow but also comes in a beautiful case – no quick trick.

"I started performing at the age of five," says Sara. "Traveling from one piano to another over the years, I saw what a difference a quality instrument can make. I also longed for a beautiful piano of my own." After getting married, she bought one that turned out to not quite satisfy her high standards; then she bought another –a nine foot, 1910 Steinway concert grand – that was a real wreck. Irving, then a research biologist at Rockefeller University, and Sara found technicians and craftsmen to rebuild both. In due course, they sold the first piano – pocketing a profit of $5,000. Irving saw the light; here was a great idea for a business! In 1983, the Fausts chose a property in the verdant hills above the Hudson River and created their showroom. Nearby, in the town of Dobbs Ferry, they found space in an old Navy building, where the damage done to the pianos over time by sunlight, temperature changes and humidity is undone.

The team restores about 150 pianos a year to their former glory. "Ninety-five percent of our business is Steinway and about 5 percent Mason and Hamlin." Explains Irving. "We caution people that the cost of restoring a piano of lesser quality just isn't worth the money." A fully rebuilt 5'10" grand will set you back about $25,000 (versus $30,000 for a brand-new model). Bigger and more unusual period instruments cost more.

 
 
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