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Hidden Gems for Everything Antique PDF Print E-mail
Written by Helen Hill, BT Contributor   
January 2018

North Miami and the Boulevard attract designers and collectors

FAntiques_1_rubinstein_0016or dedicated shoppers, the 700 and 800 blocks on NE 125th Street in North Miami hold none of the splendid, manicured perfection and buzz of Bal Harbour Shops or Aventura Mall, just a few miles away.

But don’t be fooled by the unremarkable storefronts. The galleries, showrooms, and stores there are coveted destinations for designers, antique collectors, and others prepared to spend thousands of dollars on high-quality furnishings and works of art.

Once dubbed 20th Century Row and sometimes labeled a hidden gem, the 13-year-old 125th Street antiques district (neighboring the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art) has a global reputation. The newer Antique & Design Mall on Biscayne Boulevard, between NE 86th and 87th streets, has become another antiques hotspot.

Dealers with their own style and expertise burnish the districts’ reputations. They reign over mostly small, focused, and very personal antique showrooms catering to both novices and knowledgeable buyers (and their advisors).

“People like to come to 125th because of the variety of stores,” says Gary Rubinstein, owner of the eponymous landmark store on the street. “Designers can find show-stopping items for a client’s living room and then snag a treasure for the third bedroom.”

Words like retro, vintage, collectible, and (the overworked) unique describe the array of furniture, lighting, art, sculpture, and accessories in the 125th Street stores. Unlike Coral Gables antique shops, which typically purvey heavy wood furniture for more traditional buyers, North Miami’s emporia reflect the city’s Mid-Century Modern era with an alluring range of iconic pieces, interpreted in organic, free-form, curvilinear shapes, and running the gamut from statement pieces to fun, chic, and whimsical items.

Collectors pay well to score original mid-century furnishings by any of the dozens of noted American and Scandinavian designer masters, such as George Nakashima, Vladimir Kagan, Karl Springer, and Paul Evans, together with Italian tastemakers like Gio Ponti, Ettore Sottsass, and Paolo Buffa. 

Antiques_2_olivieri_0040Rubinstein, an antiques dealer for 30 years, has the largest collection, with five stores displaying what he calls investment-quality treasures whose prices range from $3000 to $100,000. One of his stores, Vermillion, features unusual vintage European and American antiques from Art Deco to 1950s furniture, lighting, glass, and metalwork.

Eric Cody and Arel Ramos of Stripe Vintage Modern were among the first to open a Mid-Century Modern gallery on the street, in 2005. They carry a wide selection of European and American vintage furniture, lighting, art, and ceramics, as well as their own custom chairs inspired by 1950s Italian design.

Pierre Anthony Galleries, which shares space with RoyLe, moved to North Miami three years ago because the area was better known for quality, says Anthony. Both Stripe and ReyLe showcase fine mid-century and vintage furnishings by some of the leading designers of the period.

NE 125th Street’s development as an antique center was spurred by its location; reportedly, people driving by on the main thoroughfare from I-95 to Bal Harbour would see the concentration of small antique stores and stop to look and buy.

Provenance is crucial for antiques, and in some North Miami stores, the pedigree comes from just across Biscayne Bay. According to Joseph Anfuso, a long-standing dealer, many locals and snowbirds in the early 1970s furnished their homes and condos in Miami Beach and Bal Harbour with quality pieces and antiques from showrooms in the Miami Design District. Beginning in the 1990s, downsizing brought much of that high-end furniture and décor back onto the market. On occasion, overseas buyers purchase pieces originally imported from Europe, and return them across the Atlantic.

Anfuso notes that interest in antiques accelerated as Art Basel and Design Miami brought collectors to town and more artists and galleries chose Wynwood. “It all happened to merge at the same time and then took off,” he says. “Now a flood of designers come down before Art Basel to shop for antiques.”

Dealers hold different views of whether the Museum of Contemporary Art (770 NE
125th St.) has translated into business for the antique stores. Some dealers, anticipating that the museum would resonate for modern treasures, opened up nearby. “It was bizarre” says Anfuso “but MOCA didn’t really bring in foot traffic for the stores across 125th Street.”

Gustavo Olivieri (which also has locations in New York and the Hamptons) enjoyed a more symbiotic relationship with the museum. “We had a large store on the corner of the MOCA Plaza, and when MOCA had a party or celebrity gathering, we would turn up our lights and stay open late,” recalls CFO Joel Perez. “Guests, pumped up by the museum exhibits, would come in and buy contemporary art pieces from us.”

Antiques_3_contessa_0004Eventually, Olivieri moved to a smaller store across NE










125th Street and then tapped into a growing trend by opening a large warehouse in Miami, where he can takes customers and other dealers. Some dealers moved their whole operations to warehouses. Two years ago, Anfuso closed his 125th Street store and opened a warehouse in central Miami to supply online offerings. He explains by 2014 he realized that most of his customers were shopping online,” accounting for 90 percent of his revenue. This compared with ten years ago, when 50 percent of his customer were walk-ins.

“We never thought that anyone would buy antiques without touching,” he says. “It’s strange to see they’ve become more like a commodity.”

Rubinstein agrees. “We’ve all been surprised that online purchasing has had so much traction” he says, “but people are still coming into the shops to have a real experience with quality antiques.”

Whether or not they have a brick-and-mortar presence, the antiques dealers are displaying their treasures online -- on their own web pages and/or on websites like 1stdibs.com and decaso.com.

Promoting the area has had its challenges. The Greater North Miami Chamber of Commerce has always boosted the district, but reportedly the city government had other priorities, and didn’t take a proactive approach.

Last year most of the stores and galleries formed NOMAD, the North Miami Art & Design area. They held monthly meetings and art walks on the last Friday of the month, but interest has waxed and waned.” MOCA still runs its monthly Friday night jazz evenings, but the art walks appear to be on hold.

“We’re hopeful about the future,” says Mike Schilling, a salesman at Gary Rubinstein. “It’s still a great location. We like to think of it as a golden mile.” An artsy vibe surrounds the antique shops resonating from live music at Luna Star Café, MAD Performing Arts Academy, and Siudy Flamenco Dance Center, complemented by newcomers like Story Craft Studio, an arts happening/bookstore/cultural center; Center Tone music school; and custom interior design firm La Strada. Parking is available on 125th Street and in the municipal lot behind the antique stores.

Go east on NE 125th Street as it curves into NE 123rd Street, where rents are lower and parking more challenging. Just before Biscayne Boulevard, a row of small vintage shops offers a happy hunting ground for more affordable decorative items. Aubéry, one of the better-known stores, carries owner Karine Aubéry’s motto: “You can’t put a price on style.” It’s inspired by her focus on sleek French mid-century furniture and lamps from the 1940s to 1970, other furnishings, and art.

Sam Camhe, owner of seven-year-old Mostly Modern, opened a second store at NE 123rd Street. His focus is on furnishings of American origin, with some Danish designs. “I liked the visibility that would attract more walk-ins, “he says. “I see that designers go to both locations.”

Camhe recently opened a third store in the Antiques & Design Mall at 8690 Biscayne Blvd. because he liked the location, convenient to downtown Miami and Miami Beach. “I saw it easier to navigate and appeal to tourists shopping for vintage and retro pieces,” he says.

The purpose-built enclave housing about 40 antique stores, designers, and associated businesses, has become a shopping destination for tourists, as well as dealers and interior designers. When it opened, it was popular for more affordable vintage items. Over the years, several dealers (including Olivieri) moved up to NE 125th Street, because of its proximity to MOCA, but now the mall is coming back into its own with a range of dealers and price points.

Michel Contessa, a veteran antique dealer, had showrooms in Miami Design District, Coral Gables, and Antique Row in West Palm Beach before settling with his Michel Contessa Antiques in the Antiques & Design Mall. He features an exceptional collection of 20th-century American, Italian, and French designers and artists, displaying artworks and sculptures as well as furniture and decorative pieces.

He says buyers for Mid-Century Modern come from Europe, the UK, Dubai, and Saudi Arabia. Neighboring store Deco Dreams is owned by Yves Fuller, who likes the eclectic vibe of the mall. Designers and private collectors come for his specialty -- high-end Art Deco with a nod to furnishings from 1920s.

Antique buying in Miami appears to be doing well, according to several dealers. The city’s growing prominence as an arts center is helping to sustain established antiques hubs. “Online is important,” says Contessa, “but you need a human connection for antiques. People need to touch and feel the treasures.”

 

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