Friday, May 13, 2011

Bernd Goeckler

By Sian Ballen & Lesley Hauge
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch


Bernd Goeckler’s antique shop on 10th Street is crammed with elegant, twentieth century pieces, mostly from the thirties and forties but then there are surprises too, like contemporary Italian blown glass objects that look like giant, sparkling sea urchins. As well as being a successful dealer, he has something of a designer’s eye. Also, as we pointed to out to him, he seemed “quite normal” for an antique dealer – we’re used to them being more eccentric (which we thoroughly enjoy too). You need to go into the store and get him to talk to you – he has rich, deep voice, but we couldn’t get him to sing – there’s still a little Swiss reserve there after all his years in New York but he apparently on Sundays, he sings along with Frank Sinatra.

You’re not very visible on the web – your stuff is, but not you.

Well, that’s a good thing.

If I were to ask you if there was a unifying theme to the pieces you sell, what would that be?

Um … ninety percent twentieth century, starting right after Art Nouveau, Art Deco then the forties, early Italian design and we specialize in ceramics from Denmark.
Bernd’s East 10th Street shop.
That’s a vast treasure trove of things – what specifically are you looking for, even within these periods? What speaks to you when you look at an object?

I’m fascinated by design, and everything which speaks of development of design. When I started dealing, I was selling classical furniture,18th century, mostly French. The French forties are actually a development of 18th century Neo-classical furniture, those very strict forms but different materials.

So it’s the legacy you like to see?

Absolutely. In the thirties and forties there was a renaissance in the skills of French cabinet making. Between the two wars there was a lot lost and with the fresh economy, there was new push in fashion and design right after the war. In the fifties, America was very, very strong [in design].
Entering Bernd’s light-filled loft. He lives, literally, above
the store.
A pot of fresh hydrangeas stands next to a Danish vase filled with Japanese temple flowers and French provincial pottery.
French gilt-wood chairs from the mid-18th century stand in front of an 18th century Flemish tapestry.
Behind Louis XVI doors, a dramatically curved wall hides a den and multi-purpose room.
What is your own background?

I was an antique dealer in Switzerland. I started really early, like when I was 18. I had very good connections with New York through Swiss friends, and they said, why don’t you try New York? I lived a very comfortable life in Switzerland but everything is so slow.

How tough was it to break into New York?

[Sighs] As you can imagine it was the nineties. It was just bad. On the other hand it was easy to find good locations. The first three years was tough.

How are you at coping with situations like that?

I do well. I have no family. I’m not married, so I’m responsible for myself. I have no children, which makes things so much easier.
A Longwy ceramic Jungle Vase is displayed atop a pedestal by Bugatti.
A French Art Deco screen painted with woodland nymphs closes off the bedroom.
A Neoclassical style medallion by Danish artist Bertel Thorvaldsen hangs above Bernd’s 1920s black lacquer bed. The bronze sconces are by AndréArbus.
Drawing from the 17th and 18th century cover the bedroom walls. The stool is by André Arbus.
A 1940s French horoscope rug covers a portion of the bedroom floor.
A bronze sculpture stands atop a parchment armoire by Jacques Adnet.
Peeking into the living room from the master bedroom.
A structural column acts as a natural divider between the foyer and main living area. The marble table is by Italian designer Gae Aulenti.
What has changed about the business?

It has changed so much from what it was fifteen or ten years ago. Completely changed.

In Europe to find good merchandise you have to have good connections to lawyers who take over estates.

I never thought of that but it is obvious.

People are grateful for a lawyer to take care of that. And in the last ten years, the auction houses have become so powerful. And, many, many dealers did not play an honest game, so people go to the auction houses instead. There’s so much information out these days and people have become educated … “labels” … they’re very conscious of those.

And that didn’t used to be the case?

In the 18th century, furniture, for the purposes of taxes, had to be signed by the cabinet makers. When it reached the merchant many of them took off the signature because they didn’t want their clients to know who was making it in case they went direct to the maker.
The master bath.
An interior window brings light into the master bath.
A 1940's French glass vase adds a burst of color to the corner of the guest bath.
A French Art Deco console by Paul Kiss is transformed into a sink in the guest bath. Photos of Marilyn, Marlon Brando and other Hollywood stars line the walls of the guest bath.
We have increasingly come to believe that younger generations are not going to be decorating with antiques. They’re not going to be having dining rooms or fine china or grand silver. They may buy expensive art but they’re also going to continue having these big open plans kitchens with dishes from Crate & Barrel. Do you agree?

Um … we did last year a really wonderful apartment in New York. The couple is young, early thirties. They are very much into design and the husband fell in love with one designer, André Sornay, from the early twenties. He wanted whatever was possible from that designer.

Well, maybe the stuff you sell, but we can’t see the 18th century brown furniture becoming popular in the same way. It’s fallen by the wayside. Why?

Fashion. But young people who have come from an established family, they have the taste for that furniture.

Oh. Well, let’s hope so.

No, no, I truly find this, specifically in New York.
Bernd likes to cook and entertain from his well-equipped kitchen. A Saarinen dining table is surrounded by a set of 18th century Belgian gilt neoclassical chairs. The 1930s Italian chandelier is by Carlo Scarpa for Venini.
A mirrored tray reflects a vase of fresh flowers and a French porcelain serving dish, In the corner, a parchment covered bookcase from the YSL boutique in Paris holds a collection of Danish pottery.
Looking across the dining area into the open kitchen.
Design duo Carl D’Aquino and Francine Monaco of D’Aquino Monaco reconfigured the original loft by tearing down walls and creating an expansive space that takes advantage of the open city views.
Great city views are visible from all six windows of the loft.
Bernd’s open living space is grouped into three areas—dining room, living room and library. The striking design of a standing lamp by Stil Novo Design demands attention.
Now you have all these beautiful things in your shop and your home – how do you live with someone breaking something?

Ah … there is a very funny story. I was brought up Catholic and for my first communion we had a big party at home. My grandmother liked porcelain and glass and there was this beautiful, beautiful vitrine in the living room. And I just wanted to see one specific thing. I climbed up and the whole thing fell on top of me. So … lots of broken glass. No one was really happy but of course I was protected because of the day.

God protected you.

[Laughs] It left an unforgettable lesson that if something breaks, I’m very generous. If anyone breaks something in my household or in the shop, I say, “Hey, it happens.”
A pair of 1920's chairs and sofa by French furniture designer, Paul Follot defines the seating area in the library.
A pair of Tiffany candle sticks stands atop a black lacquer coffee table by Belgian designer Aldo Chale. The rug is by Paule Leleu. A fig tree flourishes in the sunny corner of the library. A stunning mahogany bookcase by Jacques Adnet covers the rear wall of the library. A group of ceramics by Danish artist Axel Salto surrounds a maquette of St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Looking past a red leather floor lamp by Jaques Adnet towards the open library and living room.
Pale grey walls and curtains are interrupted with bursts of colorful upholstery in scarlet and mustard yellow.
Different mid-century chandeliers illuminate the living room and dining room areas.
A regal Louis XVI sofa is juxtaposed with daring high-backed Italian armchairs in the living room.
A fantastical dolphin glass chandelier by Barovier & Toso is suspended over the living room area. One of a pair of Giacometti floor lamps stands near a bronze tree stump table by Paul Evans.
An open kitchen tucked into a corner of the loft was designed for flexibility. The kitchen island was built on rolling casters and can be moved about to function as a bar during dinner parties.
So you seem quite normal for an antique dealer …

[Laughs and blushes] Thank you!

And finally I have to ask you, are you good at singing—you have such a nice voice?

I used to be a good singer but I haven’t trained.

Can we end with a song? Who is your favorite singer?

For the first part of my life, it used to be all classical music. I used to play the violin. My whole family played an instrument. It was wonderful. Unfortunately I lost my parents very young, so that made me very strong. I have six siblings. On a Sunday I listen to Frank Sinatra.