Read the original article from the Contra Costa Times

‘It’s like a treasure hunt’

By J. M. Brown, Correspondent
Posted: 02/16/2011 01:50:45 PM PST

Cyndi Hilton isn’t part of the famous family that shares her name, but she might as well be. She could easily decorate a fine hotel lobby with pieces from her eclectically elegant Orinda showroom.

For nine years, the former credit union executive has been a preeminent purveyor of secondhand home furnishings, jewelry and other items from estate sales and individual sellers throughout the East Bay.

Shoppers won’t find discount store brand names among the china, rugs, hutches and crystal stemware on display at the store, at 21 Orinda Way. Rather, the store is chock full of names like Waterford and Wedgewood.

“We help people recycle good things,” said Hilton, who has lived in Orinda for 30 years.

Although Hilton’s goods are meant for buyers of discerning taste, her store is as much a service for sellers, some of whom have been hit by the flagging economy or left with a house full of a loved one’s lifelong possessions. Hilton and her staff are often
called to lend expert advice to sellers who need to liquidate collections for quick cash.

“We end up helping a lot of people,” she said.

Hilton also sees the store as a way for customers to make “green” design choices — by seeking out lightly used, classic pieces instead of buying new, trendy items. The store’s website is updated often so customers can also check out collections without
coming into the business, which is spread out over two showrooms in a village shopping complex.

Sue Breedlove, president of the Orinda Chamber of Commerce, of which Hilton is a longtime member, said the store is an economic asset for the community.

“Everyone likes to have a place to recycle things they don’t want anymore,” Breedlove said. “People like to know they can find things in this type of an environment. They don’t want to spend a lot of money on new things, but they want a change of pace.”

A former chief executive officer of First United Services credit union, Hilton also owned her own advertising firm before entering the high-tech industry. After retiring a decade ago, she quickly became bored and started looking for a new business venture.

Hilton, whose is married to physician Magdy Girgis and has two children, remembers staring at her own china cabinet and knowing she had no need for much of what was there. What she didn’t know, however, was how to depart with things that still had great value. The idea to open a high-end consignment store hit her.

Customers contract with the store sell their furniture, art, jewelry and other baubles. Hilton keeps 40 to 60 percent of the sale proceeds, depending on the item.

Furniture and tabletop items are kept for 45 days before owners are asked to pick them up. Otherwise, they are donated to groups like Children’s Hospital Oakland or Hospice of Contra Costa County.

Longtime customer Nancy Kelly, a former Piedmont resident who now lives in Reno, visits Hilton House whenever she returns. A collector of Asian pottery, she is intrigued by the numerous items Hilton collects from estate sales, and said the staff understands how to determine the value of fine items.

“It’s like a treasure hunt,” Kelly said during a recent stroll through the store. “I don’t come through the Bay Area without a stop here.”

Carol Yates, an aide to county Supervisor Gayle Uilkema, pops into the shop whenever she has a moment to see what’s new. “There are endless possibilities to add change to one’s life,” she said. “It’s fun to travel without going farther than to one exciting shop in Orinda. You can decorate yourself or your home with what you find in the rooms at Hilton House.”

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Cyndi Hilton, left, owner of Hilton House in Orinda, shows a gold-and-diamond necklace to customer Carol Yates.

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Hilton House specializes in handling fine china and antiques from estate sale. The Orinda Way business was founded by Cyndi Hilton, a former credit union executive and 30-year Orinda resident.