Julie Gaines and David Lenovitz share a passion for old restaurant ware. Together they would scour the basements of restaurant suppliers in New York City’s Bowery district for odds and ends or discontinued items.
Eventually their collection so overran their Gramercy Park home that Julie would have to travel to her mother’s apartment on the upper East Side to take a shower. That’s when the couple decided it was time to open a store and turn their collecting into commerce.
That was 28 years ago, and their store — Fishs Eddy — is still going strong at 889 N. Broadway. It’s one of a handful of independent retailers sprinkled among the outposts of America’s biggest home furnishings chains in New York’s Flatiron District.
The area, named for the iconic triangular Flatiron Building bounded by Broadway, East 22nd Street and Fifth Avenue, is a mecca for seekers of high-style home decor. Its blocks are lined with eye-catching window displays of everything from cutting-edge design to the old comforts of home — in greater quantity than you’ll find almost anywhere else.
Another area of Manhattan in which to explore decor is the East Village, southeast of the Flatiron District and just as accessible. Its leafier streets and quirky offerings make for more pleasant strolling, but the concentration of stores is lighter, so if hitting a lot of shops in one day is your goal, go to the Flatiron first.
If you arrive by subway, the N and R lines stop at 23rd Street. When you reach the sidewalk, just head south.
One block down, at 935 N. Broadway, you’ll find a large Restoration Hardware, with plenty of rooms to browse through, furnished like the movie set of a castle with huge chandeliers, aged-leather sofas and distressed-wood everything.
Right next door is Whisk, a local purveyor of kitchen wares with just one sister store (in Brooklyn). I found a $15 blue-glass “milk” bottle to use for carbonated water and a $12 ceramic version of those pre-Starbucks paper coffee cups the Law & Order cops were always carrying (impractical because it gets very hot, but pretty!).
In the next block you’ll find Safavieh and Design Within Reach, two retailers familiar to fans of shelter magazines, the first very upscale and the second with more affordable prices.
On the corner of Broadway and East 19th is Fishs Eddy.
“We pride ourselves on a sense of discovery,” Gaines said. “People love to come in and find something unique.”
These days they also design many of their own products. From ceramic ice-cream cups shaped like cones, to diner-style table settings to New Yorker cartoon mugs (nabbed one!), this store is a sensory delight. You’ll be inspired to churn out comfort foods to fill these affordable, stylish goodies.
The mothership for many design fans is ABC Carpet & Home at 888 Broadway, a six-story emporium that fills much of the block — on both sides. The amazing array of goods will fire your imagination. Each time I visit there’s a new, jaw-dropping display near the front entrance, and sometimes I never make it past the first floor.
Although the ABC aesthetic is geared toward people who believe that one spectacular piece will “make the room” and is worth the investment, not every price is stratospheric. Chandeliers — something I’m looking for — might range from $300 for a copper sculpture with a single light to $6,000 for a large stainless steel fixture hand-crafted in a Parisian atelier.
Of particular interest on the ground floor is the huge collection of textiles — antique saris, blankets, batiks, needlepoints, quilts and more — from all over the world. If you want a pillow or comfy throw unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, this is the place to find it.
If you love beautifully upholstered pieces, save a little time to visit Lillian August on West 20th Street. Head over to Ligne Roset for the latest in contemporary European style.
Since you have to pace yourself and think about how far you want to carry your purchases, craft the day’s strategy in advance. You can check with each shop about holding your selections till day’s end.
Many of the retailers — even the independently owned stores — have websites where you can buy their wares. But there’s nothing like the sensual pleasure of touching the goods and letting the expert displays spark your imagination.