Hampton Bays resident Kurt Hardcastle has hardly lived what anyone would characterize as a dull life.
The 56-year-old Bellmore native, who almost died in a motocross race at age 23, came a long way from starting out as an art prodigy to owning and operating , a furniture repair business tucked away in Southampton Village on North Main Street. At his business, located in a 230-year-old barn situated behind Petro, Hardcastle repairs antique furniture and educates his clients on the history and, in many cases, worth of their items.
In late February, Hardcastle and his apprentice, Victorio Polli, were working in the shop, stuffed with antique furniture being restored and offered for sale, as well as catalogs selling hard-to-find parts and Hardcastle’s artwork. This particular day, Polli was working on restoring a 150-year-old solid mahogany table for a client. When she came into the shop, Hardcastle explained that the table was much older than she had thought, “Probably brought over on ships with sails for very wealthy clients,” he said, and worth much more than expected — around $20,000.
On any given day, walk into the shop and Hardcastle, a self-described history buff, will be happy to tell you the history and age of any artifact in the shop, from a nearly 400-year-old Queen Anne’s Secretary — a sort of chest and desk in one — to a 300-year-old lady’s fan made from handpainted material, bone and ivory. Think of him as Southampton’s very own Antiques Roadshow specialist.
Growing up in Nassau County, the future seemed to hold quite a different outcome. The son of a British army officer and a British woman who met in Germany following World War II, Hardcastle was discovered to be a talented artist early on in his schooling. He began studying under commercial artist Robert Harnett and, at age 16, he started attending trade school at BOCES instead of finishing high school. “I was excused because I was an artist,” he said.
After a few years, he was hired as an art teacher’s assistant at Hampton Bays, before being laid off several years later because he never got a college degree. At that time, he flitted from job to job — working at Newsday as a graphic designer, and later as a silkscreen artist. It was then he began racing motorcycles and formed the Peconic Sports Club, which raced at a private track in Manorville.
Then, in 1978, his life changed. During a race, Hardcastle lost control of his motorcycle and suffered a horrible crash, landing head first in the dirt. Looking back on it, he said he had a funny feeling that something would happen that year. “I always felt that at 23, I would be killed,” he said.
After that accident, he was left bruised and bloodied, and suffered major head trauma despite having worn a helmet. He was revived by some of his fellow riders and spent the next three weeks in the hospital. Full recovery took close to two years.
Soon after the injury, Hardcastle had a falling out with his parents and decided to move to Hampton Bays, where he began working as a carpenter.
From there, it wasn’t too much of a leap to begin repairing furniture, especially antique furniture. Noticing that it was a niche in the Hamptons that had yet to be filled effectively, he dove headlong into his new career and began working with Chris Mead of .
After a few years, he and Mead went their separate ways. These days, Hardcastle is one of just a handful of people in the Hamptons who can accurately identify and assess antiques. He is also able to repair and restore many of these items if not to their original condition, then close to it.
What’s most satisfying about his job, he said, is being able to impress people with the quality of his work, and in particular working on very old pieces.
“What I like are the really, really old ones,” he said. “A lot of times, people just don’t know what they have.”