|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.
|Where are you from?
[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?
|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.
|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.
|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.
|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.
|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
Friday, January 8, 2010