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Why High Style Deco is the benchmark for Art Deco and Mid-Century design

From Sex in the City and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel to global interior designers and architectural firms, High Style Deco has become a go-to for sourcing the finest Art Deco and Mid-Century design in Manhattan. Founder Howard Williams tells Effect Magazine how it all began – and what the future holds for the gallery with a dedicated international following

Howard Williams developed a taste for design from an early age. At 10 years old, he was trawling the antiques shops of his native Long Island with his mother, herself a dealer in 19th-century Victorian and French pieces.

But even then, Williams was more taken with later styles. This was confirmed by a trip to Manhattan’s Radio City Hall in the 1970s. The 1930s building had been designed by Edward Durell Stone and Donald Deskey in the Art Deco style. “That was my first real connection,” he says, of his enduring love affair with the period.

After studying art history and business at college in Pennsylvania, Williams did a long stint at a commercial fine-arts publisher based in Connecticut.

He spent two years collecting and restoring his own inventory, scouring auctions and chasing down pieces via word of mouth. He already had a profile as a dealer and collector; and in 2003, the New York Times announced that High Style Deco was opening in Chelsea. It was an auspicious start: “There were people waiting in line to get in,” says Williams of their first day.

Their Art Deco and Mid-Century furniture, lighting, accessories and jewellery appeal mainly to interior designers and architects furnishing upscale residential projects, where Williams’ pieces are “like the jewels in the room.” Private collectors also come in looking for specific items, while regular customers can take things on approval. “It helps make a sale,” he says. “When someone sees something in their house, it give them the confidence to buy it. They don’t want to make expensive mistakes.”

High Style Deco founder Howard Williams' East Hampton house, furnished with Art Deco and mid-century design treasures in Effect Magazine
High Style Deco founder Howard Williams’ East Hampton house, furnished with Art Deco and Mid-Century design treasures from the gallery (Photo: Joshua McHugh)

In 2012, High Style Deco expanded, moving around the corner to a 6,000-square-feet space on a street packed with restaurants and design stores. The 19th-century cast-iron loft-style building is such that it even has room for a vast workspace at the back, where two full-time electricians work on the lighting pieces – taking apart, rewiring and reassembling.

Art Deco and Mid-Century mix together with everything, they’re timeless, and they work for a modern lifestyle.

Howard Williams, founder, High Style Deco

The store on the ground floor is choc-a-bloc with stock, which Williams styles in “little vignettes, mixing periods together”. The lower level and fifth floor are storage, where pieces can be held for buyers until their project is ready to receive them.

Williams focuses on Art Deco and Mid-Century because “they mix together with everything, they’re timeless, and they work for a modern lifestyle,” says Williams, adding that Mid-Century is “great for secondary homes in the Hamptons and Hudson valley, because it’s more relaxed”.

Either way, both periods are selling well at the moment for High Style Deco. “Maybe Art Deco is doing even better,” says Williams, “because fewer people are dealing in it these days.” High Style Deco tends to favour European over American Art Deco – Williams points out that much of the latter was mass-produced – whereas the European – and particularly the French – variety tended to have followed the traditional principles of bespoke craftsmanship of the 19th century.

Despite his love of Art Deco and Mid-Century, Williams is not averse to Federal and Georgian furniture – he can see a time when younger generations will appreciate 17th, 18th and 19th century styles, “mixed in with contemporary and Mid-Century pieces.”

Nowadays, Williams is more likely to source antiques through private homes and people looking to downsize. Wherever they’re from, before they’re photographed for the website or put on display, they’re rigorously checked over and where necessary, worked on by their full-time restorer and upholsterer. Modern fabric such as Holly Hunt is used to cover seating – as with their rare set of four signed Vladimir Kagan ‘Clos’ Chairs reupholstered in Holly Hunt melange fabric.


“I’ve always wanted everything to be restored perfectly, back to what it looked like when it was new,” says Williams. “With Art Deco, it’s meant to be slick and glossy. I like to breathe new life into everything.” And hFe inspects everything that comes into the store.

This level of attention could explain all High Style Deco’s repeat business. “Clients know it will be in perfect condition. They don’t even come in to look at it – they trust the website.” Meaning during the pandemic, when only online sales were allowed, business boomed. Now, online and in-store sales are divided equally.

Everything in the store and on the website has a price tag. Williams explains: “I’ve felt often in antiques stores (with no prices displayed) they’re evaluating you” – and setting the price accordingly.

Dealing with such finery must sometimes pull at the heart-strings. The hardest item for Williams to let go was an Art Deco cabinet once owned by Andy Warhol, which had come out of an ocean liner. That went to China for a hotel project. “If I’d had a place for it I would have kept it,” he says.

As well as selling, the store rents out pieces to film and TV productions. In the latest Sex in the City movie, Charlotte tells Carrie that she’s pregnant under a 1940s French Art Deco chandelier with scrolled arms and glass ball fittings. And on, Miranda Priestley’s desk in The Devil Wears Prada, there is a 1940s US-made table lamp with a stylised glass plume and silvered fittings. Both pieces were courtesy of High Style Deco.

As for the future, Williams believes the business might expand its contemporary lighting division – pieces made for the brand by modern-day artists. Examples include a Modernist hand-blown mixed polyhedral flush mount with brass fittings (above), and a Modernist hand-blown skyscraper-style chrome and smoked glass vanity light – both from Murano. These, Williams avers, will become “the collectibles of the future”.

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