Welcome to this week’s “Dealers & Designers: In the Know” series by The Gallery at 200 Lex powered by Incollect. Throughout this series we bring you experts from both sides of the antiques trade to give you the inside scoop. The dealers who source exceptional vintage and antique furnishings, and the designers who utilize their inventory in their designs will both provide their insights and expertise.
This week’s dealer is Portuondo and our designer is Robert Stilin (who also happens to be a Gallery at 200 Lex dealer as well). We hope you enjoy their unique perspectives, interesting backgrounds, following along on their journey and the different paths they took to get there. Both experts speak passionately about the antiques and fine furnishings they have found and the homes and places these treasures have gone to. The importance of quality and living with these pieces is fundamental to both. If you have any questions for our talented dealer or designer, please let us know!
How did you become dealers in the first place?
We are second generation antique dealers, however unlike our father who deals in 18th century furniture, we decided to focus on 20th century art & design
You are second generation Antique dealers; how did you find yourselves following in your father’s footsteps? Both my brother and I never thought that we would become antique dealers, my brother studied photography at Central St Martins in London and worked as an Art photographer. I read Art History and philosophy at The American University in Paris, where after graduating I worked for an old Master paintings expert for The French auctions. I then went on to sell works of modern art as a private art dealer. Antiques and 20th century design have always been a passion for both of us, since we were very young kids and our father would take us on buying trips all over Europe. We were very lucky to witness first-hand the pursuit of an object from spotting it to verifying its authenticity to the actual negotiation of the purchase. 9 years ago, we decided that we wanted to become business associates and follow in our father’s footsteps becoming dealers mainly in 20th century design.
Do you tend to choose things for your inventory that need restoration, or things that are ready to rock & roll?
In a perfect world we would prefer to buy pieces that do not need restoration and have their original patina such as the Ico Parisi console currently on show at The Gallery in 200 Lex. However, we purchase items in all conditions, there is a certain magic when you see the result of a piece that has been restored.
When choosing items for your inventory – What makes it a “Portuondo” piece?
Our ethos is to always buy pieces in which we would live within our own homes. Of course, there is certain criteria to purchase them such as quality, proportion, and rarity.
Can you tell us about a time when you had a piece restored that took it from something no one would look at twice, to a masterpiece?
We bought a pair of antique celestial and terrestrial Library globes by Thomas Malby which we thought were in terrible condition. Notably the globes were so dirty that you could not even see the outline of the maps nor the blue color, let alone the constellations. However, after a six-month restoration by a specialist the results were fantastic, the globes found their former glory.
What are some of the pieces that you have a hard time letting go of?
We sold a collection of Calder tapestries which were exceptional, it was tough to part ways. The Calder Tapestries were a fantastic ensemble, to see them all together gives any room a wonderful ambience. The vivid colors, the geometry of the designs, the impeccable skill in the Aubusson manufacture as well as the almost perfect condition of the tapestries made them very special.
You have done many shows and exhibitions throughout the world, which show is the most memorable and why? In each show we participate in, there is a lot of preparation involved as we usually start buying pieces for the show up to a year advance. Each item is carefully placed in our booths and part of a curated plan, one of our best booths was at PAD London in 2019. We were very happy with the result. The pieces we exhibited were very strong and we had great commercial success.
What was your most memorable project or partnership with a designer?
It is very hard for us to name one partnership or project as we have been working with designers such as Robert Stilin, Haynes & Roberts, Tony Ingrao, David Kleinberg for years. It is an absolute pleasure to work with them every time.
What do you admire most about Robert Stilin’s work and why? We very much admire his ability to fuse a mid-century design, antiques, contemporary art, and design, to create elegant and eclectic living spaces.
What made you decide to become a designer?
It is a funny story because it happened accidentally. I was raised in an entrepreneurial family. I originally planned on going into private equity and ended up working in the high-end fashion business. Once I moved to Florida, I tried to get into banking and finance. However, since I was doing my own home, I fell into the interior design and home industry. From my experience in Palm Beach then, if you were trying to walk into an antique store it was either closed or you needed a business card and tax id. Without either, it was also difficult to walk into a Design Center without either. Therefore, I wanted to create an upscale lifestyle store and opened my first store in Palm Beach. The store created a platform for me and as people came into the store and shopped, they liked my taste and I started working on projects for clients.
What draws you to an antique or a piece of vintage design? I like age, patina, shape, and form. I am a believer of function over form. It must be functional unless for some reason the piece is not meant to be functional. Things that have age add instant age to something new we are inhabiting. Using antique furniture and antiques gives you warmth and depth and age that gives you character to spaces. Sometimes filling a room with brand new pieces can look cold and lack depth.
How do you find the balance between incorporating vintage and antiques into your designs and works? I believe very much in comfort. When we do a project, we try to add in unique pieces to create balance and contrast in a room. To have leggy forms and have good scale and contrast. Clients like the idea of antiques but ultimately, they want it to be brand new.
Have you seen a rise in interest in antiques and vintage pieces, or has it been ebbs and flows over time?
The market has exploded and expanded worldwide. I would go back to the late 80s/ early 90 and attribute it to Martha Stewart. She put design on the map and opened the world’s eyes to see value in design and collecting, and antiquing.
You are both a designer and a dealer – how do you balance both? The two flow very easily. The Dealing part is a small part of my business from a day to day perspective. Then there is the Retail/Merchant part of myself. I like to do vignettes, displays, and create displays. Store fronts enables us to showcase our work to clients which is very helpful.
What is one of the biggest misconception’s clients have regarding working with antiques/vintage? I.e. the trials and tribulations of rewiring European lighting to preservation. That antiques and vintage are used furniture and they do not come with a warranty and there is no guarantee. You could buy a piece from another country and ship from another country and it may crack. There is maintenance and you must maintain these pieces. There is a cost to fine living. If you are living in it and its your quality of life you must ask yourself “how do you want to live in it”.
Tell us about a time when a piece did not work out or did not measure up to expectation and what did you learn from the experience? Sometimes, especially when you are working on a project for a few years, you will buy one thing and will end up using it for something else. For example, buying a table for a breakfast table and then using it in the main entrance. Overall, each piece you choose must have quality and functionality. I also like to mix different styles and pieces from different time periods. It is important to love every piece you buy and be comfortable mixing them together and creating a new dance from the original one you had planned. It is all about having confidence and liking what you choose.
There are exhibitions and Antique shows all over the world – which is your most memorable/favorite show to attend and why? I like going to the Salon Fair in NYC, PAD in London, Design Miami, the Winter Antiques show and TEFAF. I like going to any kind of low-key sale i.e. Brimfield’s and any small sale in Europe. I love shopping Pimlico Road in London and the bricks and mortar shops. I love shopping the flea market in Paris. I have my go to strategy. I go Thursday – Saturday. I will go on Thursday and then back again over the weekend because I love the culture and whole process of it. I like going to a mix of exhibitions, shows and shops because I am making lifestyles for today and reinventing something from the past and using it for today.
If you had a fantasy room to furnish with pieces from Portuondo, what room would that be? An apartment in Paris as they have an eclectic mix of 20th century design and they mix in Italian, Spanish and French influences. You can also occasionally find pieces from the 19th century as well. It is a great mix of items that I would want to have in Paris for myself. It is a different look than my typical look. Our taste in things we like is very “simpatico”. I like that they have a nice variety that is all complimentary. All their pieces are interesting and thought provoking.