| Dec 20, 2011 |
New mantra for collectors & designers: "No More Boundaries"
Boh staff
By Staff

When the inaugural Metro Show opens its doors for a five-day run at the Metropolitan Pavilion on January 18, collectors, design aficionados, and art-insiders will be treated to an astonishing array of fine and decorative treasures dating from the pre-Columbian era through the 20th century. 

With a core group of dealers from the now defunct American Antiques Show, this brand-new edition reflects the current mantra of dealers and interior designers who have their pulse on the collecting habits of their clients: mainly, that the boundaries between the centuries and periods are gradually falling away and collectors are seeing that fine collectibles from various time periods and styles can harmoniously co-exist.

"The Metro Show reflects the new attitude toward collecting in which a work is valued for its intrinsic qualities and the beauty of its design - not solely for its place in the historical continuum," says Show Director Caroline Kerrigan Lerch.  "As visitors walk through our fair, they will see how everything connects."

Both dealers and interior designers recognize this trend and are adapting to their clients' diverse curatorial tastes.

"The term 'modern' apparently originated in the late 16th century," says Leigh Keno, the decorative arts expert and television personality. "Even in the early 17th century, a room filled with 'modern' furniture or accoutrements very often had 'antiquities' mixed in, whether collected or inherited. It's no different today. A room filled with fine and decorative arts from the same period is seen in some museums with 'period rooms,' but almost never in the home."

"There really are no boundaries in decorating anymore," notes New York-based interior designer Ellie Cullman.  "Instead, we have embraced a new and most welcome era of eclecticism, with rich and layered interiors characterized by the juxtaposition and inclusion of architectural details, furniture, fabrics, and finishes from disparate styles and periods."  As an example, Cullman cites a classic Upper East Side apartment she decorated with an eclectic mix of Abstract Expressionist art, Asian sculpture, contemporary X-benches, an 18th-century Italian refectory table, an Empire chandelier, and alabaster lamps from the 1940s."

"The period room is virtually extinct," declares New York interior designer Thomas Jayne. "Almost no one lives in a room furnished with antiques from the same historic period - except maybe a few of our clients. Today, antiques are successfully used for their contrasting shapes and surfaces, especially when they are juxtaposed with modern furniture."

Jamie Drake, another trendsetting interior decorator, who counts New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg among his clients, concurs with Jayne. "It is the rare client who wants a room or home quagmired in one time and place," he says. "The juxtaposition of furnishings, art, and accessories that span centuries and continents creates dynamic spaces that reflect the range of experiences and interests that people have. Textural contrasts of cultures and eras are the epitome of today's designs."

"Boundaries between collecting and decorating disciplines have changed and permutated over the years," observes Randall Morris of Cavin-Morris Gallery in New York, who specializes in contemporary Asian and tribal arts. "Collectors are breaking down the distinctions between High/Low, Outsider/Insider, and Studio Craft/Fine Art by ignoring the distinctions and pursuing quality. For this reason, you will see homes with great tribal art, ceramics from Japan and the West displayed and used, traditional and new Moroccan rugs, and paintings and sculpture by trained and untrained artists all held together by the qualitative eye of the collector.  Quality, then, is the paramount factor. We no longer differentiate by label."

"It is exhilarating to be a designer today and to create spaces using furnishings from a vast variety of periods and styles." says Bunny Williams, interior designer.  "There is a sense of freedom to experiment and unending curiosity to explore new sources.  Designers and clients are now great collaborators.  Finding unique pieces together is a fabulous adventure."

Gary R. Sullivan, the Sharon, Massachusetts, dealer of upscale early American clocks and furniture notes that, historically, many of his collectors were furnishing their entire homes with early furniture. "We now find that slightly younger buyers are working with designers to help them mix superb traditional pieces with spaces that are largely contemporary," he says.  "In stark contrast to previous decorating schemes, I now see some stunning interiors where folk art, formal furniture, photography, and modern art all exist in harmony. It's a new world." 

Pat Garthoeffner, owner of Garthoeffner Gallery Antiques in Lititz, Pennsylvania, also recognizes the change in decorating and collecting tastes. "We started 45 years ago with a very different mix of items, like mason jars made into lamps and rough country furniture in 'old blue milk paint.' Condition was not a factor since the look was old and rough," she says.  "Now, clients want slicker, edgier, cleaner lines in their homes, as well as in their collections. We recently delivered ten pieces to a Florida penthouse with wrap-around windows and modern furniture. The combination of modern art and contemporary backdrop created an outstanding background for our decorative arts."

"When you stay relentlessly in one period, the eye absorbs it all in one glance," explains New York interior designer David Kleinberg

"Going against period introduces an energy that re-contextualizes and vitalizes everything." Anthony Baratta of New York-based Anthony Baratta LLC adds that the decorating world today is all about sampling. "When the boundaries between periods are broken," he says, "a room becomes personal, original, and inspired."

Jane Kallir of New York's Galerie St. Etienne works with designers and sees the shifting of tastes. "We worked with Seborn Ragsdale, who designed a fabulous Southampton house," she says. "We combined works by a number of American and European self-taught and school-trained artists, which are unified by a shared concern with the spirit, magic, and childhood."

"To be inclusive is to be modern," explains Maureen Footer, a designer who is no stranger to mixing different styles and periods. "Gone are static stylistic boundaries and compartmentalized taste."  An example is a room Footer designed for the Kips Bay Decorator Show House in which she effortlessly blended 18th-century French, Swedish, and Italian furniture with Maison Bagues Art Deco sconces and chandelier, a Venetian mirror, a 1920s verre églomisé cocktail table, a Greek Flokati rug, a gilded Buddha, and a modern lamp by ceramicist Jean Roger.

"People who think of quilts as comfy, cozy bed covers made of fabric scraps are not getting the full picture," says Stella Rubin of Darnestown, Md. "Many of the quilts I sell are striking for their dramatic simplicity that pre-dates what we think of as contemporary design in paintings. One quilt, made of satin, that dates to the 1890s looks remarkably like a Colorist painting, but was made at least 70 years before that movement began."

Even the American flag and quilt are taking their place in contemporary interiors. "The Stars & Stripes is such a timeless image that it easily incorporates itself into today's modern home," says flag specialist Jeff R. Bridgman, who is based in Pennsylvania.  "Because flag makers had great liberty to arrange the stars any way they chose, many 19th-century examples share commonalities with modern art.  Some are crude, some are whimsical, and some are artistically streamlined.  With their unlimited interesting variations, they easily fit into a modern, contemporary interior."  Bridgman cites one of his clients, the interior designer Mary Richardson Kennedy, who has artfully used flags as decorating focal points in her Mount Kisco, New York home.

Tiffany and Nakashima are pairing up, too, according to Arlie Sulka, of Lillian Nassau LLC, whose stand will feature Tiffany Studios lamps, glass and pottery on Nakashima tables and benches. "I have a number of Tiffany clients who have placed their Tiffany lamps amongst their Nakashima for well over a decade and quite frankly, when I visited their homes, I was inspired by these clients," she says.

Mario Buatta, the ebullient interior decorator sought after by a Who's Who of the rich and famous, including Barbara Walters and Mariah Carey, says that very few people want to live in period rooms. "The pendulum swings back and forth," he explains. "Tastes change, and young people don't want to live the way their parents do. The period and provenance are less important. It's about surrounding yourself with things you like."

"The longer my clients have collected, the more they see boundaries of time and cultures overlap," says Steven S. Powers, the Brooklyn-based burl specialist. "Though they are still disciplined, they see themselves as art collectors, and great art from any period or culture should complement or engage other works in a dialogue."

"We have access to so many interesting avenues of collecting that we should all have the courage to travel those roads we haven't traveled before and experiment with all the aesthetics available to us today," says Pat Garthoeffner. "Collecting never ends, but keeps evolving and expanding, and change is necessary to keep the cycle turning.  A true collector is never satisfied and is always searching for new areas to investigate."

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