Welcome to a new series from The Gallery at 200 Lex powered by Incollect- Dealers & Designers: In the Know. Throughout the series we will be bringing experts from both the sides of the antiques trade together 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.
Our first dealer is Lawton Mull and our first designer is Lizzie Bailey of Story Street Studio. We hope you enjoy their unique perspectives and please let us know if you have a burning question for a dealer or a designer!
How did you become dealers in the first place? We met at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop as novelists-in-training. Oddly enough, soon after meeting there we discovered a shared joy in telling stories not just with words, but with art and furniture, and with textiles and other beautiful objects. Our wedding was the first event we designed, and the feedback from our guests was so enthusiastic that we realized our greatest gift was in creating interesting interiors where people feel comfortable and happy. We spent countless hours in museums and galleries, then in research libraries. We could not resist buying beautiful things, so we became adept at hunting for them. The more we learned, the more we wanted to know. That is how Lawton Mull came into existence.
Your inventory includes a variety of different places of origin and time periods – what makes it all “Lawton Mull’? That’s an interesting question. When we started out as dealers, we imagined we were buying for a client with a wide-ranging and insatiable appetite for beauty. The client was an aesthete who loved to entertain, and everything we bought for him had to speak to something he already owned. He understood that genuine luxury had nothing to do with price, and everything to do with its quality and rareness. He wasn’t afraid of patina or evidence of use–that was important to us; in fact, visible wear and repairs added to the value and beauty of each thing. Also, we imagined he was easily bored. So while he agreed with us that early 20th-century Scandinavian design provided an interior with faultless bones, he was only too happy to hang an Edo Period screen on the wall, or contemplate a Chinese scholar’s stone, or handle a fragment of ancient Roman marble. That’s still how we hunt for new inventory. It’s much more time-consuming than specializing in one particular period or region, but for us it’s also much more rewarding.
A large amount of your inventory is Scandinavian – why are you drawn to that? You’re right. We love Scandinavian furniture of the early 20th century–the decades between the world wars especially, but not exclusively. It has a wonderfully timeless presence because those designers were modernizing older forms. They were taking their inspiration from all over the world, which is also something we love to do. Also, the craftsmanship of the great cabinetmakers who fabricated these designs can’t be beat.
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? There was a living room set–a four-seat sofa and a two-seat settee–that we bought for next to nothing at a fire sale. They looked as if they had literally survived a fire, and then a flood. But they had a marvelous profile. We were designing the interior for a luxury staging, and needed good seating fast, at an unbeatable price. While we were working on them with our upholsterer, we discovered that they were by a great American mid-20th century designer. We replaced the destroyed foam with feathers and down and the stained bouclé with mohair velvet and in doing so revived the handsomeness of their design.
What was your most memorable project or partnership with a designer? We’ve been very fortunate to work with some of the most gifted designers and architects out there. These artists have unique vision and are able to make decisions quickly and independently, so it’s always wonderful to be part of the process. We’re also lucky to have clients who are not in the design trade, but who happen to have a good “design sense”, curiosity, and imagination. And we love to share our knowledge and enthusiasm with these clients and to help them take that next step to help a room find its voice, so to speak.
What are some of your favorite events or places to purchase pieces for Lawton Mull? We travel to Scandinavia, of course, always revisiting favorite sources and searching for new ones. We go to all of the important art and design fairs in the city and sometimes in Europe when we can. And we are absolutely addicted to auctions. We buy mostly in Europe, but that doesn’t stop us from looking at sales in the U.S.
What can we look forward to seeing more of in the upcoming months? We’re fabricating a few new designs that we’re very excited about. We particularly love making one-off pieces incorporating unique materials. We’re also about to start offering sustainably produced, household luxuries such as linens and tableware, and to partner with makers who specialize in beautiful healthy materials. We would like to be a source for quality of life in all ways.
What made you decide to go into decorating or becoming a designer? I started out in magazines and my first job was as a market editor at a shelter magazine. While reporting on design trends and interviewing designers I realized I wanted to be on the other side, designing, so I left and went to design school.
What draws you to an antique or a piece of vintage design? Often an antique or vintage piece is the thing we look for when we need to break up a scheme or bring in something unexpected that’s missing. That could be gravitas from a serious piece for a formal room that needs something old, it could be a bit of glamour (often easily found in a great vintage light fixture or mirror), or it might be a sculptural element from something with wonderful lines.
Do you try and follow the tastes of your clients, or do they largely hire you for your taste? Both! All our projects should have a common thread, which is our taste. But each will reflect the particular leanings of our clients. I think ideally we take our client’s taste and expand it.
What is one of the biggest misconception’s clients have regarding working with antiques? I.e. the trials and tribulations of rewiring European lighting to preservation? Some clients fear antiques aren’t durable or are too precious to hold up to daily use or the wear-and-tear of family life. Of course for certain fine pieces that can be true, but some items, wear even better than new pieces: like a dining table that already has decades (or centuries!) of patina or an antique rug.
What resources do you use to discover new dealers and products? Antiques shows are a great way to find new dealers, especially now that a lot of established shows feature dealers specializing in a variety of styles and eras. There’s more of a mix. And Instagram is increasingly becoming a great way to see things, especially from international dealers – when designers tag their sources it can open up a new world of hunting!
What would your dream room to furnish with Lawton Mull be? An entire, modernist mountain house full of Scandinavian antiques! Shearling upholstered chairs galore.
Which Lawton Mull pieces would be your dream piece for your home and why? Can’t pick just one! I’ve always lusted after these Ole Wanscher armchairs. I love the insouciant, wavy back slats on an otherwise very simple chair. They’re so comfortable and perfectly proportioned. AND since I’ve been working from home, like everyone, I’m dreaming of a proper desk with a massive work surface. This Danish modern stunner is perfection.