elledeco– At a moment when the present is so complicated, many people are discovering joy and beauty in artifacts from the past. As technology creeps further into our lives, design buffs are finding themselves drawn to the analog opposite: antiques and vintage furnishings that reflect the craftsmanship and quality of earlier times. Joining the many trusted and veteran dealers who have long made our homes beautiful is a bright new crop of design purveyors who combine a sophisticated eye with a fashionable flair and an approach that speaks to a new generation.
Whether they specialize in Georgian furniture, Bauhaus objects, or Japanese ceramics, the new vanguard is putting antiques in a fresh context. In a world where information used to be jealously guarded, today’s dealers know that comparison prices are just a Google search away. Transparency and technology are often their keys to success, along with a knack for storytelling and marketing strategies that incorporate social media. Narratives are built around every piece, helping buyers to better understand and appreciate each treasure.
As important as the objects themselves are, the spaces in which they are presented are increasingly found in the neighborhoods where their diverse clientele lives—from London’s Dalston to Paris’s Haut-Marais. In New York City, dealers are popping up in neighborhoods from the East Village, in Manhattan, to Bushwick and Greenpoint, in Brooklyn.
We visited three up-and-comers: Lichen, Claude Home, and Form Atelier. Each gallery has a distinct aesthetic and design philosophy. And with their well-curated digital presences, they’ve extended their reach and engaged a discerning and enthusiastic new customer base.
Ed Be and Jared Blake teamed up after meeting on a Craigslist furniture pickup. The two had a lot in common. Both were self-taught in design and, as men of color, had struggled to find antiques and vintage shops where they felt at home. So in 2017, they founded Lichen, specializing in vintage furniture.
At first, their inventory was entirely online; today they have two thriving showrooms in Brooklyn. They specialize in well-priced 20th-century pieces by such design greats as Gaetano Pesce, Charles and Ray Eames, and Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni. The duo also design their own furniture, including a Donald Judd–esque cocktail table. In addition, they recently exhibited pieces by emerging artists and designers (James “RONG” Williams III and Soft Studio, to name two) in collaboration with the digital-design platform Pink Essay.
Be and Blake have worked hard to create a welcoming space within a historically exclusive world. Their customers include Lichen’s neighbors: young Brooklynites who work in creative fields such as music, fashion, and art. “Empathy has always been an important part of what we do,” Blake says. “We don’t want someone to walk into our store and leave with a complex because everything is out of reach.”
Maggie Holladay was an editorial assistant at a fashion magazine when she started collecting design. There was no turning back. The San Diego native, who operates out of her apartment in New York’s East Village, quickly settled into a chic, minimalist aesthetic. “I buy what I like,” she says. “If I wouldn’t put it in my apartment, I’m not going to buy it.”
Her business model at Claude Home is thoroughly modern: She posts images of her offerings—anything from a Gerrit Rietveld Utrecht chair to a 1970s Vladimir Kagan sectional—on her Instagram account, while keeping almost 100,000 followers engaged with archival images of peaceful 20th-century interiors. She does not offer appointments: Purchases are made via her website (or direct message), aided by the detailed information she provides.
This month, Holladay is expanding her own furniture collection, which already includes a channel-back sofa in a creamy Italian bouclé, a dining table, and a marble chaise. For Holladay, though, a beautiful home is not just about standout design—it’s also about a personal touch. “People hide family photos because they want their spaces to be Instagram-friendly, but to me, those memories are the most important thing of all,” she says
A Tang Dynasty sculpture. A Japanese Art Deco screen. An 18th-century black basalt Wedgwood vase. For Form Atelier’s owners, Quy Nguyen and Avril Nolan, the common thread is that every object in their showroom must resonate within the context of contemporary life. “Modernity is a state of mind,” Nguyen says. Until recently, the pair, who are partners in life as well as work, operated out of a closet-sized showroom in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood.
Their business thrived, but the tiny space was limiting. Putting a lot on the line in the midst of a pandemic, they moved in September into a sizable loft space in East Williamsburg.
The risk paid off, with their loyal clientele following them out to Brooklyn (where many of them lived). “Just like the pieces we collect, our customers are pretty diverse,” Nolan observes.
The pair like to foster an element of discovery. They research everything that passes through their doors, from Scandinavian ceramics to West African objects, unearthing historical depth and buying only from reputable sources. “We see ourselves as custodians,” Nguyen says. “We look after things we love in the same way you would tend a communal garden. Everyone reaps the benefits.”