Rock The House

A former music-industry insider gets domesticated.

By Brian McDermott | Boston Home |

A CASUAL VISITOR to Bob Lawton and Julia Cafritz’s home in Florence, Massachusetts, might not notice the couple’s rock ‘n’ roll roots. The clues are subtle, like the faint A chords of "Satisfaction" rollicking over the supermarket-size sound system. In the guest bedroom, there’s a vintage Rolling Stones tongue telephone. A rare pink-and-black-velvet poster designed by Tannis Root for a Sonic Youth single hangs in 11-year-old daughter Alice’s bedroom. Books about punk music dot the shelves. But make no mistake: Lawton and Cafritz are serious music insiders.

Lawton spent 20 years as the talent agent for indie-rock bands like Yo La Tengo and Sonic Youth. Cafritz is the former guitarist for the punk band Pussy Galore and still plays in a band called Free Kitten.

Unlike his fellow musicians, Lawton wasn’t a drinker, so he was usually the first man awake while touring. He used these mornings to buy up collectibles at flea markets and estate sales. After moving to rural Massachusetts from New York City in 2000, he ran a theater for a few years, then bought a 12,000-square-foot former paper machinery factory with Cafritz. This is where they established Artifacts 20th Century, where they sell everything from Eames chairs to cross-legged Robsjohn-Gibbings dining sets to school maps of the Roman Empire.

Lawton’s taste is on display at home, too. In fact, there’s a fluid exchange of décor between the two places: An Eero Saarinen womb chair he purchased for the store ended up in a guest bedroom. Same for the locally manufactured 1955 George Nelson plastic bowls in the kitchen, daughter Alice’s Schwinn Stingray, and Lawton’s BSA bike.

Other pieces have a more personal provenance. Cafritz’s parents bought the Harvey Probber table in the dining room new, and there’s a three-drawer George Nelson steel-frame dresser in the bedroom purchased from Chris Kennedy, a western Massachusetts native and Antiques Roadshow regular. Figures drawn by a French eccentric came from a shop in Normandy; a Josef Albers print came from Brimfield, just 45 minutes southeast.

Collecting is now a family affair. When Alice found two dozen 1920s handblown glass Christmas ornaments shaped like animals in a shoebox at a Connecticut estate sale, Lawton was thrilled. He gave some away as gifts and kept many for the family Christmas tree. Others, like a silver reindeer and a blue peacock, are at the store.

Lawton keeps some of his most beloved objects at work, where they won’t face danger at the hands of his kids. "To have anything at home that could be destroyed would just be beyond the pale," he says. Thus one of his favorite acquisitions, a 12-by-16-foot Pan Am worldwide route map from 1964, hangs in Artifacts. A former Pan Am flight attendant brought it into the store; she’d never even taken her retirement gift out of the tube.

Whether at home or work, Lawton’s philosophy remains "Well-made things don’t have to be thrown away." His indie-rock roots have lasted, too. He still promotes his friends in Sonic Youth — a few have played at his store. And he even managed to sell them a Saarinen table and a Jean-Luc Godard poster.