Anthony Victoria and his son, Freddy, represent the second and third generations of a family-owned bespoke furniture business long known for the elegance, quality and craftsmanship of the pieces they make. Established in 1933 by Anthony’s father, Frederick P. Victoria, the firm originally specialized in selling high-quality, unusual English and European antiques but soon transitioned into making custom furniture for clients such as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Grace Kelly and Lauren Bacall as well as the designers of the moment such as Elsie de Wolfe and Dorothy Draper. Still a favorite among today’s designers, Freddy, Anthony’s son, is taking things into our technological age by venturing into some aspects of 3D printing and the re-imagining of older designs.
Anthony: It’s something we do really quite frequently. My dad (Frederick Victoria, the founder of the company) created a library of full size drawings because he had a full time draftsman back in the day. We will frequently have people come to us and say I’d like it to be in this style but with this feeling and you can actually take little bits and pieces, little motifs and reassemble them—as long as you’ve been doing it for a while. It sort of comes second nature to us.
It is kind of interesting that you are creating furniture that has to look as graceful as an antique but it has to house, say, a TV—that is to say they have to function in a modern house.
Freddy: Right. When it comes to a custom piece, it’s driven by the product—in the case of a breakfront that has to accommodate a huge TV, we have to use normal hingeing and door hardware. The doors have to open up sideways and we have to collaborate with the designer. When we’re making pieces for ourselves, it really comes down to the way my father and I think it should look.
Anthony: Contemporary taste is very pared down—we did an installation just recently in a completely renovated townhouse and we installed an étagère and the entire place is, with a capital “S” sleek, and, just as a sidebar, when I got married my place was very modern but in three or four years it was so boring to me that I got rid of it all! There’s no visual payback from something that is completely sleek.
But people seem to find it soothing. Don’t you find that the growing need for something that’s not totally sleek is based on knowing what you’re looking at to begin with?
Anthony: You’re right. Sleek is not very challenging.
One thing that I have tried to ask in some interviews is why we seem to have moved away from adornment and embellishment and ornate surfaces—do you have any kind of answer for that?
Freddy: I don’t know that that’s entirely true. There’s a bit of a shift back. I think that you have people re-discovering things that maybe were forgotten in the sort of hotel-style that was so dominant in the late 1990s. There are parts of that aesthetic that I like but you do have a clientele that is becoming more and more educated about the craftsmanship. It’s sort of an extension of this local crafts movement in the last four or five years.
Anthony: It’s more personal.
But you haven’t turned away from technology. I notice that you’ve ventured into 3D printing—can you tell us a bit about that? It was the last thing I expected to find out about you.
Freddy: Honestly we should probably use it more. It’s quite useful if you need to make a custom brass shoe for a piece of furniture—that’s how it started, for small pieces, prototypes for brasses, prototypes for parts. You can now 3D print in cast-able wax, which means that it’s printed in wax but we can carve it. What is much more valuable to us is actually the 3D rendering program, which is just the drawing, and you can spin it around and pop it into a setting—it’s like an early version of augmented reality.
It’s interesting that you have the archive of original drawings alongside this other way of representing your work.
Freddy: It’s part of our identity now. When we do a custom project or even a bespoke model, we almost always provide them with a drawing that we’ve generated from the 3D program. The old drawings are in our library—they’re full scale too. They take up an entire wall.
Could you envisage whole pieces of furniture being 3D printed?
Freddy: It’s possible. There are some very advanced companies in Europe who are printing chairs—from what I understand they re-purpose car assembly robots and recycled plastic. It’s pretty incredible.
But there’s something weird about a 3D printed chair that might be able to reproduce the patina you find on an antique.
Freddy: Well the finishing is the whole last mile. That’s why we limit it to brasses and drawings. I don’t think you should try to re-create that patina. You want that irregularity, the hand of the maker.
I get all this and I think it’s necessary but what do you miss about the old business?
Anthony: Well having really started as an antique dealer and now doing more design, I guess what I miss is the communication of the emotion that goes into being an antique dealer. Antique dealing requires the dealer to fall in love and then to get someone else to fall in love. I was in a suit every day and people would come in and we would talk. That enthusiasm that comes from the communication is missing because most of the time [now] our communication is through the Internet.
That is a real loss.
Anthony: It is a loss. I miss it. But you’ve got to keep on going.
What are your best sellers now compared to say, twenty years ago?
Anthony: Twenty years ago we were doing almost exclusively classical stuff. And then when I started to re-edit the Cole Porter [line], that Cole Porter design launched new designs.
Why might someone choose a reproduction over an antique?
Anthony: First of all the antique might not exist. They want something that is going to fit in a specific place.
People can be very snobby about reproductions—at least in Britain, maybe less so than in the States.
Anthony: Perhaps, but if they want form, function and they want not to have to search for four years, then you make it. If you can get someone who can make it in a way that reflects all the integrity of the original design, then you’re not that far off.
At one point, of course, does a reproduction become an antique in its own right?
Anthony: Right. Some of our stuff is close to a hundred years old.
Freddy: I said to my father we’ve got to stop calling them reproductions because it doesn’t do them a service. Now I feel like what we make is just custom furniture and we just appropriate a style.
Can you spot a fake, just like that?
Freddy: He can.
Anthony: I can.
What do you look for?
Anthony: Well there are certain construction details. In 18th century French furniture and in English furniture, more in French furniture, there is the joinery and then the often-used word, patina. There’s a color that wood takes, even in painted furniture, there’s an atmosphere. Eventually it speaks to you as second nature.
Tell us about the antiques market now.
Anthony: Remember in the ’70s you would walk up Madison Avenue from 69th Street all the way up to 89th Street and do all the boutiques and you would be seeing wonderful things? People took time to do that. People don’t have the time to fall in love.
Freddy: When you think about what my father has described, having a shopping walk along Madison Avenue, it’s funny how now everyone in retail is talking about “the consumer experience” — but that’s exactly what it was!
That’s what it was! How did you start out and educate yourselves in this business?
Anthony: Well I educated myself because I lived in the home of an antique dealer and I had all of this stuff around me. I think just by looking at it, you sort of get an idea of proportion.
Where did you grow up?
Anthony: In the Dakota. My brother and sister and I were the first children to live there. We moved in in 1941. My sister was about five, my brother was born in ’41 and I came along in ’45.
That’s quite a claim to fame!
Anthony: I never really had an interest in the business.
Oh. What were you interested in instead?
Anthony: I don’t know what I was interested in. But I decided I would try it out and I quit after a year. It was difficult working with my father.
Freddy: [laughing] No comment!
Anthony: After about three years in the corporate world, I went back. Fortunately I’d gotten older and he’d gotten less difficult. It was a good time because through some friends of ours in France, I did stages in cabinet shops, bronze making and gilding so I learned a great deal about how things were done in the 18th century. I came back and then I was just my father’s shadow. When he died suddenly in 1980, it was out of the frying pan into the fire.
I notice you have a good French accent when you say French words. Do you speak French?
Anthony: I was a French major in college and I went to school in Dijon and then when I did those stages, I was able to keep it up.
How about you Freddy, do you speak French?
Freddy: No, I speak a little bit of Italian and Japanese. In high school I spent a year in Japan and in college I spent about seven or eight months in Italy.
Anthony: It’s very helpful to speak other languages in this business.
How did you get your start, Freddy?
Freddy: In fact I worked for four or five years in finance doing macro economic research and sales. And then my father and I spoke and lo and behold I was on a plane to London to get a crash course in decorative arts at Christie’s. And I also grew up in the Dakota and there’s definitely a lot of learning by seeing. When I was a kid, I remember being in the shop [on East 55th Street]. We called it “the shop” but we had a whole floor dedicated to woodworking and a whole floor dedicated to upholstering. I remember being on the woodworking floor with these Italian guys and they would humor me and I just started picking things up. That’s where you start getting the traction—having these crazy little memories.