Friday, December 7, 2012

Treasures and provenances at Louis Bofferding

R. Louis Bofferding is cultured and learned and has the beautiful manners to match. This Minneapolis native studied 16th century French art, but it wasn’t long before he was lured by the siren song of New York, falling hard for the city and the exciting contemporary art scene of the 1980s. He packed his bags and soon found himself working for Marian Goodman, one of the kingpins of the contemporary art world. Louis eventually left the art market which, with its stratospheric prices, had become a function of unadulterated commerce rather than of passion, to focus instead on his enthusiasm for furniture and the decorative arts.
by Delia von Neuschatz

On a picturesque stretch of Lexington Avenue on the Upper East Side sits a refuge from the madding crowd – a place that invites you to pause and to linger not just to admire the beautiful objects within, but also to enjoy the conversation with its gracious and erudite host. R. Louis Bofferding opened his eponymous antiques shop in the wake of 9/11, although he had been selling antiques by appointment from the parlor floor of a glamorous townhouse for a decade before then. Some may not consider the months after 9/11 to be a propitious time to set up shop, but Louis sensed that others, like he, would derive comfort from the handmade again – from objects that had been owned and treasured or conversely, that had demonstrated a skill for sheer survival.
Bofferding Decorative and Fine Art, 970 Lexington Avenue between 70th and 71st Streets, (212) 744-6725,
“After the ball is over …” is the theme of Bofferding’s current imaginative window display. The centerpiece is a mahogany cheval mirror (ca. 1840) with an engraved invitation tucked into its frame. Addressed to a Mr. Percy Pine, the invite is to a Bachelors’ Ball held on April 17, 1884.
It seems his instincts were right because no sooner had Louis opened his doors than customers from all different worlds came traipsing through. Some bold-faced patrons from the fashion, media, art, design and finance industries include: Valentino, Pierre Bergé, Isaac Mizrahi, Tory Burch, Reed Krakoff, Gayfryd Steinberg, Frannie Scaife, Charlotte Moss, Mario Buatta, Peter Marino, Robert Couturier, the Rudin family, Tobias Meyer, Matthew Marks, Susan Gutfreund, Anne Cox Chambers, Ellie Cullman, Annette and Matt Lauer, Susie Hilfiger, Anne Bass, David Netto, Janet de Botton and Alex Papachristidis.
The shop perfectly reflects its owner’s sensibilities in its mix of the antique and the contemporary. “Sophisticated people today do what they’ve always done – they mix things from different periods,” notes Louis who strongly believes that “a room should say something about the people and their lives.”
I went in looking for a Christmas present for my husband. I wanted something unique and I knew that Louis, with his faultless taste, would steer me in the right direction, even with my relatively modest budget of around $2,000. Bofferding’s collection of furniture, decorative objects and fine art is wide-ranging in time and geography. It dates from the 17th century to the present and spans multiple continents. The price points are just as varied – anywhere from $500 to $55,000. As with all antique dealers, there is some room for negotiation on the prices and Bofferding is no exception. There were several items that I think my husband would be delighted with … and then of course, I saw some things that would certainly put a smile on my face should my husband decide to buy something for me on his more accommodating budget.
This 1950's cigarette box from Hermès ($2,000) …
… comes with pop-out matches.
First things first. A red leather mid-century Hermès cigarette box caught my eye right away. No, my husband doesn’t smoke, but the box would look great on his desk, housing business cards or maybe on the dresser as a repository for some of his cufflinks and even tie stays. Ditto for an art deco silver cigarette box. There’s also a silvered Italian shell and an apple paperweight carved out of red marble.
The silvered Italian shell is 20th century ($1,000) and the silver cigarette box is English, ca. 1935. ($2,000).
The red marble apple with the bronze stem is European from the 1960s ($800). Notice how beautifully it shares the space atop a 1960s glass and acrylic table, with a 19th century wig stand (complete with hair net) and some crystal obelisks from the 1970s. The glass and mirror standing lamp on the left is from the 1930s and once belonged to Doris Duke ($8,000).
Now, if my husband were to buy me something, what I’d really like is a pair of alabaster lamps which I couldn’t take my eyes off of. I love their soft glow and their timeless quality.
This translucent Italian stone lamp is one of a pair, ca. 1938. The lamps would look good in any interior, modern or traditional ($10,000).
I wouldn’t say no to this sunburst mirror either:
French gilt metal mirror from the 1950s ($6,000).
And if price were no object, I’d go for either the marble table or wood console below:
This marble-topped table is by Michael Vincent, American ca. 1980. The legs are brass, wrapped in macramé ($20,000). I like the combination of the disparate materials: marble, textile and brass.
The console by American designer, John Dickinson, is from 1975. It’s made out of wood and meant to look like carved rock ($55,000). Louis describes this San Francisco native as “a cult figure among the cognoscenti.”
It’s hard to believe that John Dickinson also made these somewhat Victorian-looking cabinets at around the same time ($55,000).
The truth is that I’d be hard-pressed to settle on just one item. Everywhere you look, there’s something of interest, something exquisite. And Louis is well-versed in the provenance of everything. Mario Buatta, knowing Louis’ love of history, teasingly refers to the shop as the “House of Provenance.”

Below are some more distinctive items on offer at Bofferding. Part of the charm too is in the way that Louis mixes and matches, the resulting juxtaposition of periods and styles throwing everything into high relief. The most whimsical and unusual object has got to be “the nose”:
Conceived by German-born, American artist, Justen Ladda, the nose is made out of cut crystals. It’s titled “Maria Callas (Nose)” because … well, it’s modeled after the famous opera diva’s aquiline proboscis. Mr. Ladda’s work can be found in numerous museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Israel Museum, and others.

The artist Alex Katz is an avid collector of his works. This nose (which is 32” high and protrudes 17” out from the wall) is priced at $30,000 and was created in 2008.
These 18th century French chairs are small and come from the Countess Consuelo Crespi ($25,000 for the pair). At first, I thought they were meant for children. They wouldn’t normally be something that I would go for … until Louis urged me to sit on them. To my surprise, they were very comfortable – even for him and he’s over 6’ tall! Louis believes they were probably “chauffeuses” or fireside chairs, meant to warm the occupant. He pointed out that due to their proximity to the ground, they invite intimate conversation and would be an ideal perch from which to share a quiet drink.
Style arbiter, Pauline de Rothschild, was a fan of this type of low seating because of the way it can flatter a woman’s legs. She demonstrates the point below:
Writer, fashion designer and habitué of best-dressed lists, Pauline de Rothschild, in a photograph taken by Horst, ca. 1950.
A Frances Elkins gilt wood dressing table, with its original French 1760's bench, American 1930s ($25,000). Frances Adler Elkins was one of the 20th century's most prominent female designers and the sister of architect David Adler. A trademark of her bold approach, as is illustrated by these two pieces, was the uninhibited mix of time periods and styles in nearly every room she designed.
A set of 6 gilt porcelain cups by Piero Fornasetti in their original packaging, 20th century ($1,500).
Louis was not allowed to board an Air France flight in Paris with this 18th century German porcelain pistol in his possession. Luckily, the pistol made it safely to the US in his checked luggage ($4,000).
This faceted 1980's cocktail table by sculptor and painter John Torreano commands your attention ($20,000). It is contrasted by a set of three, decidedly feminine-looking, twisted Venini obelisks from the1950s ($12,500).
The faux-painted French tole (tin) clock dates to about 1800, but would look at home in any contemporary environment ($10,000). This lamp by P. E Guerin, which belonged to Brooke Astor, unexpectedly stands on a bird leg ($8,000). The Brooklyn Museum has one just like it.
This stand-out chair is Japanese and dates to the mid-19th century. It’s doubly functional because it folds away — although it’s much too beautiful to collapse ($10,000).
Another folding chair is this French one which dates to about 1860. Louis doesn’t believe that it actually ever served a purpose as it is not comfortable to sit on. But, it certainly makes for a good conversation piece ($7,000).
This tilt-top table is French, ca. 1860. The top is made out of innumerable glass beads ($7,500). The self-portrait by Juliette de Lavoye, Canadian ca. 1950 is delicately painted on ivory ($3,000).
Another pretty table is this small gueridon which has been artfully assembled. The Indian top is alabaster inlaid with lapis lazuli, amber, malachite and the like while the walnut leg dates to about 1800 and the ormolu feet are from the 1950s ($10,000). Louis found it in Paris.
If you look carefully, you’ll notice that this feminine-looking Gio Ponti bud vase from 1927 is actually shaped like a warrior’s helmet ($3,000).
A picturesque vignette includes a trompe l’oeil dummy board by distinguished French-Vietnamese illustrator, Pierre Le-Tan, 2010 ($8,000). Pierre Le-Tan, whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar among others, also drew this illustration of the shop front featured on the home page of Bofferding’s website.
Representing “Winter,” this beautiful little enameled plaque is 17th century Limoges ($4,000).
Another tasteful display featuring a wooden Ethiopian chieftain’s pillow (left) from the early 20th century – a prized possession due to the shortage of wood resulting from rampant de-forestation ($3,000); and a small painting of amphorae by legendary jeweler, Fulco di Verdura, ca. 1960 (far right). His meticulous crafting of jewelry translated to the diminutive images which he painted with the use of a magnifying glass. Friends like Babe Paley and Gloria Guinness were the lucky recipients of his miniatures. This one came from Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. ($9,000).
Bofferding’s garden is no less attractive than its interior with this pair of painted, cast iron English garden benches in the Neo-Gothic style, ca. 1840 ($15,000). The Cristofle circular art deco revival bar cart, once belonging to Helene Arpels, doubles as a unique plant stand ($5,000).

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