Friday, December 11, 2015

William Meyer

By Sian Ballen & Lesley Hauge
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch


“I don’t want to tell you too many of my secrets,” said William Meyer, who together with his partner Wayne Adler, own the two long-established eponymous home décor stores, William-Wayne & Co. But he would tell us that the key to business success is for customers to come and “take a little piece of the fantasy ... I want to strike that warm, fuzzy spot from your youth or your past.” The stores are indeed something of an anomaly or even a throwback to a more gracious era—there is something comforting about the fact that the stores clearly do great trade in things like place cards, pretty plates and cocktail napkins. Setting a nice table, we were almost admonished, is essential. “If you have children or grandchildren, it’s your responsibility to create that tradition. It’s family!” So there.

You grew up in Louisville—what was it like growing up there?

Um ... very sheltered. I had a private Catholic school education and I spent my summers on my great-grandparent's farm in Eastern Kentucky. It was truly a working farm. I would go down there and get covered with mosquito bites. When I was growing up, I had grandparents and great-grandparents on both sides of the family, all still living.

What were your farm duties?

Eating fried chicken.
A painted glass plate from 1988, which hung in the window of the first William-Wayne store on East 9th Street, welcomes visitors to William and Wayne's lower Fifth Avenue apartment. The image for the design was from an early 19th century satirical cartoon by Edwin Henry Landseer. The original print which hangs above the foyer mirror includes the words, "I hope I don't intrude."
In the foyer, Chinese porcelain is arranged atop a chest from Hickory Chair painted in a parchment finish by Osmundo Echevarria. The walls of the foyer were glazed by decorative artist Natasha Bergreen
Peeking into the spacious living room. William decorated the apartment himself. Together, William and Wayne purposely chose neutral tones to create a soothing space from which to relax and entertain friends. Comfortable yet elegant furniture is arranged in two seating areas on either end of the living room. A built-in bar with glass-shelves and a dishwasher is tucked away behind paneled doors. The living room space was originally a one-bedroom apartment.
A mid-century watercolor of the Place de la Concorde purchased in Paris hangs above a custom sofa covered in moss-green silk velvet from Old World Weavers. A pair of bronze antique "monkey" candlestick holders stands atop a pair of tables designed by David Hudson Wright.
A mid 19th century, Louis XV bergère chair signed "Alavoine" is covered in a Rubelli silk. All the furniture and drapery in the apartment is by Versailles Drapery and Upholstery.
So we’re curious, in this age of online shopping, how someone keeps up a bricks-and-mortar shopping experience, a store like yours.

Well, I am online, a site called Taigan, and that has worked out pretty well for us but as long as I can continue to maintain a store space, I think that what we do offer is something truly unique. It’s sort of Old World, old-fashioned, sort of carriage trade.

It is very Old World—I’m wondering if people are drawn in by that because you see so little of it now.

I have a very large European customer base. I have South Americans, [customers from] Brazil; I hear often that is their first stop.

That’s a bit ironic—South America was once called the New World.

Their children also come. It’s not that I don’t have young customers. I have a very successful bridal registry.
A deep, arched and paneled entry to the living room was designed to give height to the doorway opening. The doorway originally led to the coat closet of a separate apartment.
An 1856 American neo-classical portrait of a woman hangs above a gilt and painted table with a black marble top. The white porcelain pagodas flank a small hand-colored lithograph by Magritte.
Looking across the dining table to the seating area. A cloverleaf mirror out of pen shell is flanked by Swedish style sconces from a nearby antiques store and a pair of hand-colored Italian landscape prints framed in carved black and gold frames.
A pair of Tiffany hurricane candleholders and a gilt box has been arranged on a coffee table from the now defunct furniture department of Lord and Taylor. The table and Italian chest next to the sofa were both purchased by Wayne's mother and father in 1939. The mink and cashmere blanket draped over the back of the sofa is from Dennis Basso couture.
Looking across the spacious, light-filled living room. The floor-to-ceiling curtains, which are made from Fortuny fabric with a Houles trim, give the room a sense of height. The oversized antique rug is a Persian Polonaise Tabriz design purchased from ABC Carpet.
Do people still want their full compliment of traditional dinner services and crystal and silver?

People are buying a stack of this and a stack of that. It’s not often I get a customer who is willing to buy twelve dinner plates.

[Sian] I did the whole nine yards when I got married. I had the registry at Tiffany’s—I have unbelievable 12-piece place settings… crystal, the lot. But I don’t use it. I feel like it’s definitely from another era. Are you saying they do do it?

Well … yes.

How would you describe your taste?

I think it’s European. I’m not necessarily into Victorian furniture but the Victorians had a piece of flatware for every purpose and I do bring a bit of that into William Wayne.
A small tufted side chair from George Smith is placed next to a Louis XV bergère chair covered in silk from Rubelli. The glass table with a gilt metal ram's head base is from William-Wayne & Co. Nearby, a black basalt bust of a man stands atop the Italian chest purchased from Lord and Taylor by Wayne's mother and father in 1939.
Anglo Raj style dining chairs painted by Osmundo Echerrvaria & Associates surround a zinc table from Crate & Barrel. The small impressionist painting on the far wall is by French artist Maximilien Luce.
A collection of rose quartz and amethyst stone Chinese carvings perks up the bottom shelf of a round black and gold tole table.
A group of obelisks and a French Empire lamp from William-Wayne & Co. are arranged atop a painted French table purchased at auction.
What’s the difference between your downtown store and your uptown store?

I think my downtown customers are more bookish and more bohemian—they shop less for sport. The uptown customer might be looking to satisfy some craving they have. We are fortunate to have customers who could shop anywhere in the world—a real who’s who. I don’t always know who the “who” is.

So how did you get started?

I worked at a table-top company in Soho called Wolfman Gold. I came to New York and I walked into their original store on the corner of Broome and Wooster and I fell in love. It was a magical French escape. It smelled good. It was sensual and unusual and I wanted to work there. I already had a natural inclination for all of that. When I was a young man, my parents were very concerned that I was never going to amount to anything because I was not a very good student. My mother arranged for me to take an adult education class in upholstery. She bought me an old wing chair and she put me in the car with the chair. And when I did that chair, she bought another wing chair and she made me take the course again.
Peeking into the library. William and Wayne wanted a cozy space to read and watch the morning news. The walls are covered in a Brunschwig & Fils "Cathay Toile" wallpaper; the rug is by Madeline Weinrib.
The curtains out of a coordinating "Cathay Toile" fabric from Brunschwig & Fils were inspired by Edwardian homes that William and Wayne had admired on their many trips to England.
Painted garden stools placed next to a pair of wing chairs from Restoration Hardware are the perfect size to rest a book or cocktail.
William and Wayne furnished the library in a lively mix of furniture styles, including a painted and Japanned Italian armchair with a seat upholstered in leather from Edelman and a custom carved and painted bamboo chair, both available through William-Wayne.
A collection of ginger jars line the top of a chinoiserie-painted secretary and breakfront purchased at Christie's.
A library corner is the perfect place to stack William and Wayne's collection of art and design books.
A 19th century pastel portrait of a young boy by Anglo-Irish painter Richard Brydges Beechey hangs to the left of a painting of a Spanish prince that was a gift from a friend. The small verre églomisé landscapes hanging under the sconces were found at the 26th Street flea market.
A small TV is tucked into a shelf of a corner étagère.
A late 19th century drawing of French café society by Jules Pascin stands next to a silver Sheffield serving tray.
A pair of Piranesi verre églomisé paintings hangs above an 18th century English chest. The French antique table lamp out of majolica was found at Marché aux Puces.
A pair of hurricane candle holders share space with a chinoiserie box and a tromp l'oeil plate of clementines and walnuts by ceramic artist Christine Viennet.
A German porcelain monkey stands next two turquoise encrusted shells from India.
A Lazy Susan out of horn, a gift from a friend, proved to be the perfect place to organize small boxes collected over the years.
How old were you?

Oh, about twenty or twenty-one. I already knew how to use a sewing machine. I made curtains and I could do upholstery. I made pillows as a sideline for some decorators. I don’t do that anymore but I could. I got the machine out last Saturday night—I hate to tell you that I was home on a Saturday night—but I had thirty yards of grosgrain that I sewed on to the shoulders of the shoulder protectors in my dressing room.

That’s hilarious, that you did that on a Saturday night.

I bought natural canvas shoulder protectors at the Container Store and then I went to Tinsel Trading and bought 3-inch grosgrain to decorate them—for you all!!
Looking past a pair of mirrored doors leading from the library into the kitchen. The kitchen was outfitted in walnut cabinets by Hampton Bay from Home Depot Expo Design Center.
A view of the eat-in kitchen. The limestone floor and Calacatta gold marble backsplash and countertops are from Ann Sachs.
A pair of sea grass chairs is positioned near an antique English drop leaf table from the 26th Street flea market.
Family photos are tucked into the panes of the upper kitchen cabinets.
On the lower left is a photo of William and Wayne's Sharon, Connecticut home. The black-and-white photo on the lower right of William's parents was taken in 1963 during an evening at The Playboy Club.
A 1988 photo of William at his first East 9th Street store in a dearly missed Snoopy sweater. In the photo above, William is held by his father who is standing next his maternal great-grandparents, farm owners in Kentucky.
More photos and a few thank you notes from friends.
A collection of decorative porcelain plates, some vintage Mottahadeh , are cleverly arranged on walls of the guest bath. William and Wayne decided to renovate the bathroom in the original Pre-war style. All the fixtures are from Waterworks; the linens are from Porthault.
A painting by artist Alma Yin that William purchased when he was a high school sophomore hangs near the guest bath washbasin.
Oh we’re flattered! Do you like doing practical things?

Well … I don’t have to do it anymore. But all the skirted tablecloths with trim that are in my stores—I made all of those things. I’m very handy. If you have three homes, you have to be able to fix things.

How do you divide up what you do and what Wayne does?

Well, Wayne’s a huge support for me. You know, I’m a little high-strung. He is much calmer and really keeps me in check. We do all of our shopping together although vintage and antique shopping, I do nearly all of that because he doesn’t want to spend the money.
Looking into the master bedroom. The wallpaper is from Schumacher and the English Axminster carpet is from ABC Carpet.
On William's side of the bed an English pharmacy cabinet comes in handy for storing "this and that".
The master bed is made up in linens from Casa Del Bianco and an Indian throw from William-Wayne & Co.
I have often wondered if I had my own store, if I would have to include things that I didn’t like but that I knew would sell. Is that true of owning a store?

I really only buy what I like. For sure. Oh no. I could not sell anything to you that I genuinely don’t think is great for you. I don’t want to sell some junky thing to you just to make a sale. Absolutely not. Never. No.

Do you like what you do?

I’m a born merchant. I’m a worker. I’m a roll-my-sleeves-up-open-up-the boxes [type] I tell my staff, you know, “You are an extension of me”. I say there is nothing here that I would ask you to do that I wouldn’t do myself. So you do have that mutual respect for each other. I’m a perfectionist though. I’m not necessarily easy to work for. I like it how I like it and it’s my way or the highway.

I like that people still want to buy the sorts of things you sell and set a pretty table.

If you have children or grandchildren, it’s your responsibility to create that tradition. It’s family!
An 18th century portrait of an Italian count keeps watch over both William and Wayne.
An 18th century Italian engraving which belonged to Wayne's mother hangs above a 1930s portrait of a young man purchased at an Armory show.
The black-and-white photo was taken of William in 1980, shortly after he arrived in New York.
Wayne's reading glasses are stored in an elegant cut crystal bowl.
Whimsical birdcages line the top of an antique japanned English bookcase found at a Christie's auction.
A close up of the bookcase. The silhouette cutout portraits are of William and Wayne.
Tufted leather slipper chairs from George Smith provide a comfy place to sit in Wayne's dressing area.
Wayne's filled bulletin board is tucked into a corner of his dressing area.
Wayne's bath is outfitted in Cararra marble from Ann Sachs. The hanging vintage chandelier is out of Tole.
So I was in your store ages ago, and I did think how easy it would be to break something if I turned around too quickly and my bag could knock a pile of plates or something. How much stuff gets broken?

It doesn’t happen very often. I find very often it’s that little nervous Nancy that’s shaking and quivering—she’s the one that will break something. If you come in, you know, assured and confident [he gets up and begins to sashay around the room like an assured customer] … you know I’m not a small person … [he sweeps his hand over the things on the dining table] I can be large like this … no problem! They don’t break things. I’m very conscious of how it’s been set up. I like nice high piles. One lonely plate is impossible to sell. If you have thirty plates, you can sell twelve.

That’s very fascinating from a psychological point of view. I wonder what it indicates?

I don’t know! But it’s true.
An extra bedroom now serves as William's dressing room. "Good Luck" carvings from Chinatown hang above a rack holding William's off-season wardrobe. To make the rack look more attractive before our visit William sewed vintage grosgrain ribbon from Tinsel Trading Company on to canvas shoulder guards from The Container
Open wardrobe closet doors reveal William's "fashion inspiration boards". Closed mirror closet doors reflect part of an eight-panel Coromandel screen hanging on the opposite wall. The screen belonged to his mother, Mary Lou Meyer.
William's belt collection.
William's shoulder bags hang next to a lacquer bookcase filled with more books and family photos.
Okay, so now we have to ask you about these online reviews that are less than flattering.

There have been people that have come into my store who think that I’m putting on airs but I’m going to tell you quite frankly that what you see—this is me. Honest to God, I’m not trying to impress or put on airs. I had a lady come in one day and she had a bag of glasses that I had sold to her ten years ago and every day she had taken a scrubby sponge and she scrubbed all around the rim. So she brings me a bag of twenty-four glasses and she wanted me to refund the money! I just took the glass and I dropped the glass down inside the shopping bag. I said, “This is all these glasses are worth to me!” And I hate that people come into my shop and talk on their cell phones. I’ve had to become a little more lenient but I’m very inclined to throw you out. [Roars “Get out!”] And you know it’s hurtful for me to read those things. We try to be as patient as we can.

What does Wayne think of all this?

You know what? Everything will be okay, so long as I have Wayne.