“Atlantic Avenue is among Brooklyn’s Best Bets,” AntiqueWeek, September 3, 2007 Visitors to New York City come to see the best—the best museums, the best architecture, and the best galleries. Few count on finding these things in Brooklyn. For collectors this neglect is misplaced. Thanks to the many good dealers, the city’s most populous borough is the place to go for 19th- and 20th-century furnishings. The antiques district is located on Atlantic Avenue, in Boerum Hill, a neighborhood of tree-lined streets and low- rise stone buildings. With prices ranging from $500-$25,000, the emphasis is on livable antiques, the sort of pieces that would work well in one of the neighborhood brownstones.       Circa Antiques Ltd. (377 Atlantic Avenue) is representative of what you will find.  Rachel Leibowicz founded the business in the 1970s. Together with her husband David Goldstein (officially, the store gofer), she has been selling to collectors for more than thirty years. There are frequent shipments to the West Coast, but most sales are to collectors in the Tri-State region, comprising New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Picking her way through the dense inventory she points to some of the highlights. The toddy set, circa 1830-50, is one ($3,400). The bowl and cups are made of golden Bohemian glass, and the pewter supports have finely detailed Empire motifs.  Another is the rosewood cabinet, circa 1865, that is decorated with a gilt gesso Classical medallion ($25,000). The interior is restrainedly elegant, with bird’s-eye maple veneer and shelves. Then there are the pieces that a fastidious collector on a small budget might happily acquire. A papier-mâché lap desk, decorated with floral painting and mother-of-pearl inlay, is priced at an accessible $1,400. A few doors down is In Days of Old, Ltd. (357 Atlantic Avenue), which is owned by Charles and Ellen Wolfson.  In contrast with their more deracinated colleagues, who tell complicated histories of leases and relocations, the Wolfsons have been in the same place for more than 30 years. In that time, they have built up a flourishing business, selling carved rosewood desks, cast iron bed frames, and massive mahogany armoires. Most of the antiques stores are located between Hoyt and Bond Street.   To the east of Bond—and slightly apart from the other dealers—is the Antique Room (412-416 Atlantic Avenue). It took many years for David Marshall to piece together his sprawling gallery, where Neoclassical and Victorian furniture is exhibited in a museum-like setting.   There is no acoustiguide, but Marshall’s commentary is curatorial.  He likes to point out the Gothic side chairs and Rococo whatnots.  The Egyptian Revival has, in recent years, captured his imagination, so there are some pieces in that style, ornamented with sphinxes and scarabs. Antiques are the principal business on the block, but for how much longer is anyone’s guess.  Many of the dealers have been in the business for three or four decades, and had the prescience to buy their buildings back in the days when this stretch of Atlantic Avenue was on the route from one rundown neighborhood to another. Today there are an ominous number of dress shops and yoga studios, and construction is underway on new townhouses and condominiums. Whether the influx of well-heeled residents is good for the trade is a ready subject for speculation. According to some dealers, there are fewer collectors than in the past, and the reasons, they say, are financial.  New York might be awash in money, but the cost of living is high. In a city where a two-bedroom apartment costs a million dollars, there isn’t a whole lot left over for extras. And it is not just real estate prices that are at odds with prudent long term planning. The restaurants, the Hampton’s rental, the dozens of stylish suits and the equally vast weekend wardrobe—in a word, the necessities of urban life—are an incessant drain. A thoughtful hobby like antiques collecting has no place amid these rolling expenditures. Another challenge, they say, is the more utilitarian view of the home. Eighty hours a week practicing corporate law leaves little time for domestic embellishment.  “Look at the real estate ads,” says one dealer.  Indeed, the desolateness of so many city dwellings is on view in the realtor’s window, in the form of bare walls, banal furniture, and pristine kitchens. Perhaps, though, this pessimism is too stark, and the gloomy ruminations are more a hallowed industry tradition than a useful business forecast. Certainly, there are dealers who are optimistic about the future.  “I think this generation is collecting different things,” says Leibowicz.  She cites the taste for Mid-century Modern among young collectors.  “There’s plenty of sophisticated interest in that period.”  Exhibit A is Horseman Antiques (351 Atlantic Avenue), which specializes in the sort of furniture that was fashionable, when the store opened in 1962. The seating furniture is especially plentiful, and a visit to the store is a lesson in the importance of upholstery during the 1950s and ’60s. The orange and turquoise chairs were the sort of thing that used to go in the Florida room. There are even some showpieces from the 1970s; a pair of red velveteen chairs in the form of disco shoes is priced at $600.  The focus used to be on 19th-century antiques, and the four-story warehouse still has a good selection of old sideboards and tabourets. But it is impossible to ignore the shift in taste. “That is so amazing,” was the gleeful refrain of two young women touring the store. Further proof that the neighborhood is in transition: Darr (369 Atlantic Avenue), a store selling an eclectic range of rustic and industrial antiques.  Old crockery and folk portraits are jumbled side by side with medical charts and mailroom sorters. The proprietors, Brian Cousins and Hicham Benmira, are the new kids on the block.  They opened their doors three years ago. In addition to selling antiques and design, they own Hollander and Lexer, a men’s clothing store that is located across the street. Visiting collectors should be on the lookout for something made locally, back in the days when New York City was an important manufacturing center.  Joseph Meeks is a name that comes up often.  At the Antique Room there is a suite of Rococo Revival seating furniture that Meeks designed for his daughter. The two sofas, two side chairs, and two price armchairs are priced at $58,000. For those on a more restricted budget there is a cylinder desk, also by Meeks, which is selling at Circa Antiques for $14,000.   The Herter Brothers, another big name in New York furniture history, are represented by many pieces at the Antique Room. Among the best are a large rosewood bed ($42,000) and an ebonized cabinet with Néo-Grec marquetry ($38,000). There is also plenty of architectural salvage. Much of the local housing stock was built during the 19th century; hence the supply and demand for old mantelpieces and newel posts.  And if you’re in the market for transoms and fanlights, stained glass hangs from the rafters of many dealers.  Brooklyn merits at least one full day.  Like Manhattan, it has a network of subways and buses, which makes it convenient to visit the many important sites. For anyone with an interest in American decorative arts there is the Brooklyn Museum of Art.  The borough also has some of the best walking neighborhoods in the city.  For urban Victorian architecture Brooklyn Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant are not to be missed.
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Amy Gale
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amygale@amygale.com 212-787-5971