Kayel De Angelis

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Kayel De Angelis, is the third generation to work in his family’s high-end custom curtain and furniture firm founded over sixty years ago by his grandfather, Guido De Angelis. He’s a grounded man family man who knows the importance of patience when serving the often exacting requirements of a design trade with clients who expect perfection at a price. Over the years, the firm has earned a loyal following of respected decorators including the likes of Albert Hadley, Mark Hampton and Peter Marino.

The Long Island City show and work room is filled with row and rows of furniture produced over the years. As one might expect, one or two have found their way into Kayel’s New Jersey home where his wife and two daughters are used to Kayel’s frequent reminder: ‘Don’t sit on the arms’!

I know this really dates me but when I was growing up, after I was engaged, among the first home purchases I wanted to make was a sofa that I could have for the rest of my life. Tell me if people’s attitudes towards this have changed – and how so?

Well, first off, I don’t offer a gift registry. I think there are people today who think that if they’re going to buy something, they’re going to buy the best and buy it once in life. But there is a new way of doing things, which is: I buy for today, the way I’m living for today and I don’t even know how I’m going to be living ten years from now.

Light pours into the Long Island City workroom.
The Empire State Building, front and center.
A view of the Manhattan skyline from the showroom windows.
Letters of appreciation from Albert Hadley, Mark Hampton, Nancy Pierrepoint and many others reflect DeAngelis loyal clientele over the years.

It’s a more disposable way of living, is that what you mean?

Yes. In the past twenty years I’ve seen a big change. I mean rooms were ‘done’ and … they were done just [in an] unbelievable [way] but now in eight or ten years they’re changing colors, fabrics and sofa styles.

These days there’s this proliferation of interior designers, not just society designers like Sister Parish and Nancy Pierrepont.

I think today the client is more involved in the process, where I think years ago it was sort of like if they hired that caliber of designer, they knew it was to be taken care of. It was just a more formal way of living … these handwritten notes going back and forth where today it’s a quick email or text: Get this or get that.

Rows and rows of chair, sofa of headboard samples fill the De Angelis showroom.
L. to r.: A small children’s tufted slipper chair.; Dozens of frames and finishes hang from the showroom walls.
The arms of a Knoll sofa are adjustable.
A tight back roll-arm sofa reveals its’ burlap platform.
An array of club and armchairs sit neatly in a row.
Sample chairs include Chinese Chippendale, Regency and French Art Deco style frames.
Looking across the show room to shelves filled with curtain finial samples.
Endless choices can be a tad overwhelming even the most decisive of clients.

A tradition dainty settee stands next to a tripe back Art Deco chair with a hexagonal seat.
Rows of leg styles line a wall of the front showroom.
A row of furniture legs. The ebony and faux mother of pearl finish is by Osmundo Echevarria.
A fabric from Pierre Frey continues to be a popular choice for traditional interiors.
Perched atop a tufted ottoman is a gilt wood rope frame finished by Osmundo Echerrvaria.
Multi-levels of chairs lead to the drapery room.
Headboards are displayed at eye level for easy viewing.

People are in much more of a rush these days—do you have to produce furniture more quickly than you used to?

We get that and it does put a strain on production but for the most part people know that quality takes time.

How long does it take to make a sofa from start to finish?

About six to eight weeks, but that includes getting the fabric and the final details. But the actual work time on a fully upholstered sofa is a little over a week. If you go on the more commercial end somewhere else, it’s probably a day.

A Chippendale sofa upholstered in green damask is getting ready to be shipped to Daniel Romualdez.
The storage room holds outgoing and incoming orders.
Works in progress.
A project for Bill Diamond of Diamond and Barrata is waiting for finishing touches.

I have to say when I sit down in one of your sofas, I feel the comfort – what is entailed in making a really comfortable sofa?

It starts with a good frame, seat height, seat depth. Then it comes to the price point. Is it 100% down? Is it a hand-height spring seat double stuffed over that? Are there double stuffed arms? Many of the arms have springs in the arms to make sure they never lose their shape.

There are so many variables. You do have to be a fairly educated designer to know what to ask for—you probably have plenty of designers walk into your showroom who have you make the decision. Is that true?

Er … well that will get me into trouble.

Norma sews trim on a chintz curtain for a client of decorator Kerry Wilson.

Danny, the workroom manager, sews a table cloth for a client of Daniel Romualdez out of fabric from Carolina Irving.
Clockwise from above: Various samples of curtain headings including from top: shirred, smocked, goblet pleat, butterfly pleat, traditional French, pencil pleat, shirred and triple thread, and a pouf heading; Danny inspecting a table cloth out of fabric from Carolina Irving; Adriana hand sewing metal rings to pinch pleat curtains.
David sews the lining into the curtains for Kerry Wilson.

Okay, let’s say the husband of my client is six foot one, and his wife is five feet—what do you suggest?

Club chairs.

What’s it like being in a family business? You told me that your grandfather, Guido, started this business over sixty years ago.

Family business … [a pause followed by a deep sigh] … the family business scenario is complex for sure because you’re dealing on this incredible level with a lot of personalities to begin with—I mean the decorators, and that in and of itself is such an experience. And then I think within my own family we have our own quirky, radical personalities. So it’s sort of like juggling from the outside and juggling from the inside.

A selection of finish nails line the upholstery room shelves.
Bolts of fabric ready for cutting.
Bolts of fabric ready to be cut fill the upholstery room.
Ironing out the details.

Ron builds the backs the back of a Carr style sofa.

Pablo works on the arm of a club chair.
Jose at work on a project for designer, Peter Marino.
Jose tacking on the fabric the ‘old-fashioned’ way to the arm of a chair for Diamond Barata.
James strips a chair to get it ready for reupholstery.
Seat (left) and back (right) spring storage,
Jack filling seat cushions with a combination of foam and down feathers.
Andre sews a cushion for Peter Marino.
L. to r.: A closer view of the stunning chairs for Peter Marino.; A velvet chair with stunning gilt legs is for Peter Marino.
A finished pair of fauteuils for Albert Hadley.

Is it getting more difficult to find crafts people who can give you real quality?

I think they’re out there, and we have them. You still find them and there are still people who take such pride in their work. I think the hardest thing for all of us in this trade is that the suppliers don’t seem to make what they used to make – so the things I used to use to make a sofa, like a cotton wadding and certain types of nails, they just don’t make it anymore.

Have you ever had any major mishaps?

I think I’ll just tell you the answer to this question that, you know what? When a delivery is made, the clients are happy.

Do you let your kids jump on your sofas?

No! And they’re not allowed to sit on the arms.

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