Travel: Foreign Furniture Affairs

  • Bobbie Leigh

Several years ago, New York architect and interior designer Carlos Aparicio, accompanied by one of his clients, visited a Paris furniture gallery, where they saw the hanging fixture of the client’s dreams. It was a large bronze piece with the shapes of shells molded into the body. “He loved it,” Aparicio says of his client. “He had to have it.” However, the gallery owner informed them that the fixture was sold.

Several months later, Aparicio and his client visited the same gallery, and to their surprise, the fixture was still there; it was still sold, but the owner had yet to pick it up. On a third visit to the gallery, they were again taunted by the presence of the fixture. Fuming, Aparicio and his client turned to leave the gallery when the dealer stopped them at the door. He recognized the two, remembering that Aparicio’s client had previously claimed interest in the item, which had since been returned because the buyer decided that it was too long for her house. It immediately had a new owner. “My client was ecstatic,” Aparicio says.

American home owners, seeking pieces that might be unavailable Stateside, continue to travel to Paris and London with their designers to unearth the ideal European antiques and to become acquainted with owners. Instead of making selections based on photos or an over-the-phone description, you can view your prospective pieces in person—after your designer steers you to the right dealer—and make more informed purchasing decisions. Another benefit of overseas antiquing is that the selection is often greater in France and England, where the items can be viewed in their proper contexts. And, of course, there is always the thrill of the chase, which in itself can be enough to prompt a long weekend of overseas gallery-hopping.

Imagine being ushered around Paris by your designer as he or she points out the architecture that inspired the 18th-century French end table you might purchase. “What’s important to me is that my clients feel a sense of history,” says Ellen Hamilton, a New York designer who often spends a Thursday-through-Sunday weekend with a client in London or Paris. “When they look at pieces, they should understand the context from which they came.”

John Barman, also a New York designer, makes sure that he and his clients are well prepared before they travel to a gallery overseas. He calls his European contacts, tracking their inventories and procuring photos of pieces to show to his clients. Recently, Barman and a client flew to London with a specific list of dealers and potential purchases. They entered the first shop on the list, where his client spotted the perfect furniture piece for her entry hall: a 19th-century carved end table. She bought the table, leaving the rest of the trip free for clothes shopping, dining, and sightseeing. She not only has her dream table, but a treasure-hunting tale as well. “It gives more of a story to the house,” says Barman. “She can now say about the table in the entry hall, ‘Oh, we bought it in London.’ It adds more meaning to the piece—more cachet—than if you bought it on 10th Street. And you have a memory of a nice trip.”

Carlos Aparicio, 212.431.6151
John Barman Inc., 212.838.9443
Ellen Hamilton, 718.596.3464

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