When Todd Merrill opened his self-named antiques store on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 2000, it was filled with pieces made before the Titanic: neoclassical French chairs that were contemporaries of Napoleon, an American sideboard from the time of James Madison’s administration and a Japanese shrine that could have been owned by Queen Victoria (although it wasn’t).
Today, at Merrill’s new Lafayette Street location, not a single object predates World War I. The white-walled space is dominated by contemporary creations: monstrous bronze LED chandeliers by Niamh Barry, an Irish designer; sinewy wood console tables by Marc Fish of East Sussex, England; and animal-inspired stools by Erin Sullivan, a New Yorker. Sharing the room are blue-chip examples of 20th century modernism.
The name has changed, too. Todd Merrill Antiques is now Todd Merrill Studio.
Custom-made pieces by living designer-artisans have “become 70 to 80 per cent of our business,” said Merrill. “It’s a big behavioral change for the trade, for collectors and for dealers. We’re not buying things on the secondary market for resale. We’re presenting artists and representing them like an agent.”
He is not alone in turning away from antiques. Since the turn of the 21st century, the value of much 18th and 19th century furniture has plummeted. Shelter magazines, once look books for rooms bursting with lyre back chairs and giltwood credenzas, more often show pared-down interiors with just a few older pieces — or none at all.
Top-tier antiques dealers who once occupied prime Manhattan storefronts, such as Mallett, Florian Papp, Kentshire Galleries, Yale R. Burge Antiques and Cove Landing have either closed or scaled back. Other antiques and vintage goods galleries, including Maison Gerard, Jason Jacques Gallery, Patrick Parrish, Bernd Goeckler, R & Co., Donzella, and DeLorenzo Gallery, have pushed into contemporary design, where newly made furniture with the appeal of
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