Friday, January 8, 2010

Gerald Bland

Gerald Bland has, for most of his life, specialized in selling fine English furniture, having trained at and worked for Sotheby’s. Lately he has shifted gears somewhat and in keeping with our eclectic times, has started to put fine furniture together paintings, ceramics and custom pieces into his showroom. He has a wonderful eye and the best proof of that lies in JH's photos of his Upper East Side apartment, where he lives with his Italian wife and their three children. This is how to do cozy without the cute. We also teased him about his ‘British’ accent—we were cruel.

You have really transitioned your approach. You started out very strict in terms of what you sold.

That was my background. I ran the English furniture department.

Can you tell us about that? What was that like?

I was hired in New York, and then trained in London, then sent back to New York.

Tell us about your training in London.


It was a hoot. Probably the best year-and-a-half/ two years I ever had. I knew absolutely nothing—I vaguely had a college degree. They would send me to the bad areas of London to do evaluations. The unattractive furniture is there. And they would force me to stand on a desk in the middle of the office and describe the furniture. It was very effective. And they would tell me exactly what I had seen.
Perched atop the 19th century Italian chest of drawers in the master bedroom is a work by Gerald’s son, Inigo. The large abstract painting is by Mita’s (Gerald’s wife) aunt.
A drawing of daughter, Georgiana hangs below a rendering of the Parthenon by Gerald’s son, Sebastian.
A Lucite table adds a contemporary touch to the bedroom. Family photos.
An architectural drawing of a Palladian Villa by Giacomo Jaconi is tucked into the overflowing bedroom bookcase.
Looking over a corner of the master bedroom. More art finds a home atop a gingham-covered chair.
Hanging on a wall above the flat screen TV is a drawing of an artichoke by Gerald’s wife, Mita Corsini Bland.
A late 18th century watercolor sits atop a bedroom windowsill. A photo of ‘the children’ stands next to a ceramic lamp from Christopher Spitzmiller.
Where are you from?

North Carolina.

[Sian catches her breath] No! So what’s the deal with the British accent?

I don’t have a British accent.

Lesley (who is British): You have a clipped American accent.

That’s much better.

Sian: Are you serious ...?


(laughs) It’s affected ...

Sian: It is affected, I have to tell you that.

It gives more credibility, don’t you think?
A watercolor by friend, Venetia Maynard leans against the bedroom hall wall. Peeking into the bedroom from the hallway.
The bathroom window looks directly into the back of Sian’s building.
From what I have seen of antique dealers they have a genuine love for antiques and a kind of irreverence at the same time. Can you explain that?

The irreverence I think comes about because it is furniture. It’s not art. It’s utilitarian. It’s a chair and if you can’t sit in a chair, why should you have it? When I was selling $100 000 chairs, I still think they should be sat in.

They also seem to have an easy-come-easy-go attitude about their pieces.

I just got a call today confirming the sale of one of my favorite pieces of furniture, which was in my hall … we’re coming out of recession so a sale is a sale.
The study overflows with style and comfort.
Looking across the early 19th century German dining table. An oversized contemporary print by Susan Rothenberg leans near a painting of a red high-heeled shoe by daughter Georgiana.
An oversized painting of an ostrich by William Skilling hangs above the dining room sofa. The pillow is made out of African kuba cloth. Gerald and Mita’s apartment was originally two apartments. This office space was carved out of entrance of the second apartment.
A red table by Billy Baldwin (from a house by Albert Hadley) is topped with flowers and family photos.
Comfortable down-filled chairs are covered in a Cowtan and Tout print. The French 19th century portrait is of Alexandre Loubat, a family relative of Gerald’s wife Mita.
A watercolor by Mita Corsini Bland. A portrait of John Rutherford by Rembrandt Peale hangs above a fabric-covered table in the study.
Views of the dining room/library. The Ikat curtain fabric is from Brunschwig & Fils.
How many recessions have you lived through?

This is the only one that has really ever affected me.

You seem very practical.


One has to be. I have three kids and they’re … all still costing money.

I’ve read a few articles about the diminishing value of antiques – what is there to this perception?


My sort of theory of my market is that it really changed September 11 2001 and then the market stopped. People stopped buying. And then when it resumed, the generation whom I had been selling to were probably ten, twenty years my senior were no longer buying and the generation ten, twenty years younger, wanted different things.
Clockwise from above: Recipes cover the bulletin board; Fresh fruit and vegetables in the family kitchen; Family photos and updates cover the chocolate colored refrigerator.
I don’t know anyone my age (forties) who buys serious antiques.

There are some. I get people of that age coming in and swooning over an Adam chair but that same person might be just as interested in a backgammon table I had made in Providence, Rhode Island.

I do think the younger generation is not as snobby.

No, they’re not.

It’s such a funny thing – it’s like a merry-go-round, no one ever really owns an antique.

Which is very nice.
Early 19th century prints by Luigi Rossini line the walls of the bedroom hallway.
Gerald Bland, standing next to an abstract painting reminiscent of Clyfford Still.
Part of a series of prints from a series depicting Raphael’s loggia in the Vatican hang in the front entrance hall. A print of feather dusters hangs near a late 18th century stool in the corner of the foyer. Tosca’s bed is tucked under a painted 18th century table.
Tosca at play.
Your wife is Italian, a painter – do you spend time in Italy?

We do. She inherited a house six or seven years ago. It’s a wonderful house. The front part is a 14th century tower and the back part was built when her family bought the property around 1840.

Are you in love with England?


Sure, I love England.

Why? Do you like the idea of England or the reality?


No, I like the reality. First of all I identify with England. Both sides of my family are from Lincolnshire. Architecture is interesting there, a sense of tradition, my oldest son rowed at Henley for two years – it has an amazing sense of tradition.
The living room bookcases are literally stuffed with books on art and architecture.
A fresco on the back wall was purchased in the 1920s in Florence by Mita’s grandparents in Florence.
A 17th century painting of the Quirinale in Rome hangs above a 1920s couch that belonged to Georges Widener.
Reflections of the living room from a floor-to-ceiling
wall mirror.
A painting by Mita stands atop of the living room mantel.
A drawing of a church that was entered into a competition for St Patrick’s Cathedral hangs next to an abstract painting by Mita’s Aunt, Marie Hamilton Russell.
A blue-and-white Chinese porcelain ginger sits atop a faux granite table from the estate of Geraldine Stutz.
A Victorian footstool, which also serves as a small table, stands between a pair of 1970’s linen covered slipper chairs. An early framed computer chip now hangs above an 18th century Italian drawing given to Gerald and Mita as a wedding present.
A portrait of Dr. Alexander Watts, founder of the Columbia College of Physicians, hangs above a late 18th century desk.
More family photos.
A mirrored fireplace mantel surround is a clever way of bringing more light into the living room.
Perched atop the living room windowsill is a marble head that Gerald discovered in the basement of an estate in Alpine, New Jersey.
So you have all your life worked as an antique dealer and you’ve raised your kids on the Upper East Side –-that’s hard to do, money-wise.

Um ... yes.

You’ve had some sleepless nights in the last thirty years?


Not as many as in the last year.

And what you do when you have a sleepless night? Drink?


Not after I go to bed – it’s a firm rule.

• Sian Ballen & Lesley Hauge • photographs by Jeffrey Hirsch