Henri Spiegel, a retired entertainment lawyer with high-profile clients such as Julio Iglesias and the Warner Bros. movie studio, started collecting mid-century modern furnishings when she was living in Los Angeles and bought Peter Rabe’s From Here to Maternity, a 1950s guide on what a husband can do while his wife is pregnant.
This unlikely catalyst ignited her obsession with mid-century modern furnishings after she moved back to Miami. Over the past few years she honed her knowledge of the style by shopping mostly along Biscayne Boulevard and on 125th Street near the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami. But some of her favorites also have cropped up along 123rd Street and 87th Street.
“The shops moved here because they thought MOCA would draw customers,” Spiegel says. They range from eclectic collections from different periods to those featuring strictly mid-century modern, a post-World War II design known for clean lines and organic shapes made popular by designers such as Vladamir Kagan, Mies van der Rohe and Harry Bertoia.
Spiegel is one of the collectors these showrooms are trying to attract. She educated herself on identifying authentic mid-century pieces and then searched for them in thrift stores. Now she is concentrating on selling her collection of lamps, bar carts, tables, dressers, headboards and rattan furniture that fills the library of her North Miami home and three warehouses. She is looking for a storefront, and has set up a website, www.veryfinevintagefinds.com.
“I love Paul McCobb,” Spiegel says. “Some of his stuff is almost utilitarian, but it has a warm, homey feel that I always gravitate toward.” Other favorites are Charles and Ray Eames, Vladimir Kagan and Emile Jacques Ruhlmann. But a piece doesn’t have to be signed or have a famous designer to catch her eye.
One of her favorite showrooms, Glo, recently moved from Antiques Plaza on Biscayne Boulevard into a larger, 6,000-square-foot space with an attached warehouse at 555 NE 87th St. (Glo, 305-758-2727, glo.1stdibs.com).
Owners Rene Estevez and Tom Hutchinson were preparing the showroom when we visited. They began collecting when they were flight attendants for Pan Am and traveled the world. As their purchases mushroomed, they decided the only thing left was to open a showroom that features designer furniture from the mid-century modern period.
“It has to be something we like, something with a name and a classic look,” Estevez says.
Classic items were piled high in their warehouse, including a five-foot tall sideboard by Robs-John Gibbings that they purchased from a 99-year-old woman and Harry Bertoia’s iconic wire chairs.
Spiegel has become a regular visitor to Glo, and the owners respect her judgment. They haven’t bought anything from her yet, but they say they might.
“Her lamps are phenomenal,” Hutchinson says. “She has the eye.”
This group of vintage furniture showrooms in North Miami is sometimes dubbed “20th Century Row.” The showrooms replaced beauty salons, tax preparers and tuxedo and bridal stores. Two of Spiegel’s favorites are Shine (889 NE 125th St., 305-603-7339, firstname.lastname@example.org) and Gary Rubinstein Antiques (859 NE 125th St., 305-891-7580, garyrubinsteinantiques.1stdibs.com).
The first impression when we entered Shine was of a collection carefully edited to show off individual pieces, surrounded with plenty of room to allow the beauty of each to be appreciated.
New chandeliers of handcrafted Murano glass share the space with Colombostile handmade furniture and Onessimo fine art. Owners Bradford Paige and Marcello Boss also show pieces from other periods such as mid-century modern and a chair Paige claims was made for Elizabeth Taylor.
Spiegel points out a mid-century bar with leather insert that they are trying to sell for her. Although it looks good, Paige says it might have to be refinished to get a higher price.
The shop also offers full interior-design service. They provide everything for homes and yachts, including custom Quagliotti Italian linens.
“We love the street,” Paige says, noting they moved from the Miami Design District. “Marcello and I like to mix all styles so we appeal to New Yorkers, South Americans and Floridians. We also have some Russian clients.”
Gary Rubinstein Antiques moved to the 125th Street shops in 2009 (859 NE 125th St., North Miami, 305-891-7580, garyrubinsteinantiques.1stdibs.com). The high-end showroom specializes in mid-century modern designer pieces from around the world. The showroom has a reputation way beyond South Florida, having been featured in stories in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Metropolitan Home, Architectural Digest and Elle Décor.
One of the best examples is a vignette, which includes a Carlo di Carli dining table with glass top ($23,000) paired with six chairs of the same period ($12,000). The showroom’s entry on istdibs.com includes pieces from mid-century masters — a polished chrome chair and ottoman by Milo Baughman for Thayer Coggin, a modern ash and bronze mounted sideboard by Mercier Freres and a cerused oak occasional table by James Mont.
The showroom is 95 percent mid-century furniture, according to salesman Dick DiRenzo.
“Our customer is someone who appreciates who the designers are,” he says. “It is for someone who likes the furniture visually as well as mentally understands it. We deal with a lot of collectors.”
FRENCH TOUCH ON 123STREET
It was obvious when we first saw Karine Aubery, founder, buyer and creative designer of Aubery, that she has an inherent sense of style. No wonder Spiegel calls the shop a treasure (1662 NE 123rd St., 305-798-7226, auberyinc.com).
The small showroom is crowded with furniture that makes it somewhat difficult to navigate. Her gift is taking a classic and transforming it into something that fits current lifestyles through her division that specializes in restoration and design.
This is the destination for those who like the mid-century modern style but want it to be refinished with a twist. One of the best examples is her changes to a classic Heywood-Wakefield chest. Aubery painted the maple chest in a white sateen finish, allowing only the handles to remain original. A plain wooden mid-century bench was painted with white accents around the edges and on the legs, and then given a high-gloss shine.
“My philosophy is there is no limit on creation,” she says. “You cannot put a price on style.”
SPIEGEL AT HOME
Spiegel’s love of mid-century modern might also be a factor in her attraction to her husband Michael Wolk, a renowned interior and furniture designer who takes his inspiration from the same period.
“His designs are similar to the things I love about mid-century modern,” she says. “How he creates his furniture and how it was made. I see how the joints line up and other details. I open every drawer and see where the chisel moved. His furniture gives me a deeper appreciation for mid-century.”
Their 1930s Miami Beach home is a mixture of Wolk’s designs and her vintage finds. The living room illustrates the marriage of their tastes. Spiegel found a credenza she loved at a thrift store. Wolk transformed it, making the legs higher, and changing the wooden top and the hardware. The thin-based metal lamp on the credenza is what she describes as “atomic age,” a term some people use for mid-century modern. Wolk painted the abstract art behind the credenza.
Another appropriate combination is the metal bomb casing she bought on Lincoln Road that is used as a small table between Wolk’s leather Swingtime chairs. Spiegel thought it would make the perfect mid-century table with a touch of whimsy.
“I know that my pieces are not as grand and shiny as are so many gorgeous things that we saw together, but I wanted to show you the whole range,” Spiegel says.
“My philosophy is that a sense of history enriches us all, not only those who can afford a $20,000 buffet. ‘Every home is enriched by history’ is even the tagline on my website.
“I hope to sell to single people, young couples who don’t want to choose between buying furniture and having children, and people like myself, who will love a beautiful piece partially because of its age marks, not in spite of them!”
Charlyne Varkonyi Schaub can be reached at email@example.com.
Henri Spiegel offers these suggestions for would-be collectors:
▪ Collect only those things you love. Don’t collect it because you think it will grow in value. Buy only those things that make you happy.
▪ Learn before you collect. Read about different designers. See those you love and those you don’t.
▪ Examine your find carefully. There are a lot of fake mid-century pieces. Some furniture made in China is designed to look old. Flip over the piece and look for stamps and labels.
▪ Collect only those pieces that you have enough room to store.