“I’ve always had a fascination with how things are created,” says New York-based dealer Eric Appel, who satiated his curiosity by spending many of his childhood days taking art lessons at The Brooklyn Museum and later by studying industrial design at Pratt. He received an MFA in painting and sculpture at Temple University in Rome. “The city’s history and design had a major impact on my eye and heart, says Appel. “It’s there that my aesthetic was truly refined because I learned the delicate balance of proportion.”
After graduating, Appel worked as a multimedia sculptor – mostly in plastics and steel – and going on to sell his work at the renowned Yves Arman art gallery on Madison Avenue. In addition, he began to create unique, oversized props for movies (such as The Wiz) and built gardens at the Field Museum in Chicago. Eventually, his path took a different course when, 15 years later, he inherited his aunt’s estate. “It was mostly small European objects with an abundance of silver ashtrays,” says Appel, “but I decided to try and sell them.” He shared a friend’s table at New York’s then flourishing 26th street flea market and by day’s end, his sales confirmed that his keen eye was not just beginner’s luck.
A small shop on 25th street soon was followed by a gallery on 65th street, each focusing on mid-century decorative arts. Appel began to accrue a loyal following, including members of the design trade who counted on his tireless search for treasures both abroad and within his own stomping ground. “I once found a Salvador Dali rolled up in a thrift shop in Soho,” says Appel. “I loved the research behind each discovery.”
For the past 20 years, he’s been catering to his clients from the Interior Arts Building on East 61st street. With a spectacular view of the 59th street bridge and light flooding in through 50 feet of windows, the gallery displays a wonderful mix of French and Italian mid-century furnishings, featuring designers such as Gio Ponti and Edward Wormley.
I find magic in lighting and I am intrigued by the way changes in technology impact changes in design – Eric Appel
Appel’s mandate is always to carry pieces that blend fine craftsmanship with a twist of whimsy, such as found in a suite of French sculpted furniture by Charles Dudouyt or a Swedish ‘Tellus’ sofa, circa 1950. A large collection of French ceramics is always on hand, as are Jacque Blin ceramic table lamps from the fifties. Another constant is Appel’s particular fascination with lighting: “I find magic in lighting and I am intrigued by the way changes in technology impact changes in design.”
The gallery displays carefully chosen pieces from Gino Sarfatti, with lines that are as fascinating as they are functional. “And I have a particular fancy for Angelo Lelii, he’s so fanciful and imaginative with such broad range,” says Appel who cites Lelii’s large yellow and white plastic and steel oval suspension light (below) from 1958 as a particular favourite.
When international travel was permitted, Appel’s travels took him to Milan and Paris often, but in the interim, he has been relying on auctions and e-commerce. “The online platform of The Bruno Effect will be invaluable in helping me cover ground as the world transforms its access again,” says Appel. “It will help me reach buyers from London to the West Coast and beyond who can’t get into the gallery but will shop online. The good news is that my clients are more informed than they ever were. They feel confident buying from my postings.”
In addition to vintage pieces, Appel produces his own line of furniture based on historical references. “Currently, I am making a new chair that is inspired by African and French mid-century design. I enjoy doing custom work,” he says. “That’s the best part of this journey – the research and the inspiration to create something wonderful for the future, from an idea steeped in the past.”
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