9 Lives for Women Blog

Choose Work that Can Ebb and Flow | October 23rd, 2012

Though I think most men zoom through their work days with tunnel vision, most women are interrupted by phone calls from school, doctor appointment scheduling and mundane problems that arise at the family home. When you’re waffling about a return to work, it can seem impossible that you would ever be able to take care of your family, your home—and your paid job, too.

Few women—especially those who return to work after a long hiatus—earn enough to hire multiple stand-ins who can handle daily family and household needs. It’s just a fact that working women have two jobs—one at home and one at work. If the paid job is a fairly traditional, more than full-time corporate role it’s pretty hard to be all things to all constituents.   

That’s why so many women toy with the idea of starting their own businesses. When you’re the boss of you, there’s a lot more flexibility. If you have to run out the door to pick up a sick child, if the pipes burst or if an older family member needs unexpected extended care, you can fit it all in if you’re okay with a business—and revenues—that ebb and flow.

Fiona Mittag of Wilton, Connecticut has raised two children, managed prep school and college searches, led home renovations, traveled back and forth to England to help out an aging mother, supervised homework, been a corporate wife and met all the other needs of a household and family—while running an antique print and framing business out of her home.

There have been many times when the business has taken a back seat, but Fiona has always been able to quickly pick up where she left off. Now, as an empty nester, she is going full speed ahead, taking her business to a new level of activity—and enjoying the big, free blocks of time.

When the London-born Fiona started her business 25 years ago, she needed a profession that would fit the life of a busy corporate wife.  In New York City, one of her husband’s first posts, she also did not initially have the documentation to work. Without children at the time, she wanted to be busy and find work that could travel with her as her husband’s career progressed.

Inspiration came from the many New York City art galleries, museums and interior design shops that Fiona wandered through on her free days. She enrolled at Parsons School of Interior Design and completed a short course before focusing on the art market and in particular the world of antique prints and the art of framing. This great interest in art and history prompted her to visit antiquarian book dealers in London–thinking that she would like to set up her own antique print business.

Luck stepped in and Fiona was introduced to one of the world’s largest print dealers. This extremely knowledgeable and highly respected gentleman literally taught her about the world of prints–how to distinguish the age of the paper, the authenticity of the print, its rarity and inherent value. Fiona then learned how to mat the artwork–and her artistic background and historical knowledge led to her current expertise on matting and frame choices for any artwork.

Fiona’s business did not happen overnight. Her investments began slowly: she first purchased just a few prints for $500. The dining room table was her first studio. She quickly sold her initial print investments to friends and acquaintances, and those sales inspired further purchases. Little by little she built a considerable inventory in step with her increasing knowledge of the print world.

The value of a flexible, portable business quickly became apparent when Fiona’s husband was transferred from New York to Tokyo.  There she faced the same lack of work documentation—and a very different market for antique prints. Most Japanese were accustomed to a more minimalist approach to exhibiting art— the European way of print or art groupings was familiar only to the very well traveled and wealthy Japanese who also had a western interior. Through a connection at Sotheby’s, Fiona was encouraged to exhibit a collection of framed prints in an exclusive department store (which, at the time, was a very prestigious opportunity). Before very long she developed a clientele of both ex-pats and wealthy Japanese.

Fiona’s growing print business also accommodated her growing family. When her son was born, she could easily work in the next room while he was sleeping. Though she rarely had to worry about talking to clients with a crying baby in the background, there were other occupational hazards such as the day her son crawled across—and ripped—a valuable Gould print.

When Fiona and her family moved to Connecticut, her collection of prints were carefully packed. She started her business up again—this time for an extremely receptive market. For many years she has juggled her business with the demands of daily life— raising a family, going on local errands and also finding time to source the prints from dealers in England, France, Sweden, Austria and throughout the U.S.  She also studies trends in the art and interior design markets–and shows clients that antique prints, when appropriately mounted and framed, can fit into both contemporary and traditional settings.

With a studio in her home, Fiona has always been able to switch gears without any trouble. She can meet with clients, think about the matting and framing of an artwork, communicate with dealers around the world in the morning—and then drive to her daughter’s sports game in the afternoon. She believes that her business has always enriched, rather than interfered with her life—providing a fascinating and creative outlet throughout the peaks, valleys and unexpected twists and turns of a busy family life.  —KAS

Fiona Mittag of M & F Antique Prints locates and sells 17th to early 20th century architectural, botanical, natural history and landscape prints. She frames and reframes all kinds of artwork–and offers, on a consultancy basis, home visits to help clients choose prints that complement their overall interior design.  Fiona can be reached at fionamittag@gmail.com or 203-834-9904.

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