Gabriel and Guillaume / New York
TDE catches up with Guillaume Excoffier at the collectible design gallery’s pop-up in New York.
The Landmark Penthouse atop Steinway Hall, 111 West 57th Street, New York
14th November 2019 – 30th April 2020
RETAIL TODAY, NO matter what industry, presents many challenges, from soaring rents to fierce online competition. With that in mind, Nancy Gabriel and Guillaume Excoffier sought to pursue an alternative path in 2013 when they founded Gabriel & Guillaume, their collectible design gallery. The duo decided that instead of acquiring a traditional brick and mortar location they would do pop-up exhibitions in carefully selected locations. The concept chimes with the idea of a differentiated consumer experience – something experts say is vital for today’s retail – as well as with Gabriel and Excoffier’s desire to show their findings in spaces that give their pieces a new reading. They started in Beirut, where Gabriel is from, then expanded to Paris, and finally last month they premiered their first New York City venture, the exhibition ‘L’Oeil du Collectionneur’.
They have been eyeing Manhattan for a while and while showing last November at The Salon Art + Design, an opportunity came up to get a longer taste of the Big Apple’s market. Through mutual acquaintances, they found a marketing company which connected them with the developers of the new luxury high-rise complex 111 West 57th St. A partnership was then set up for the gallery to occupy the penthouse of the Steinway Building, the historic 1925 landmark that sits next to the ultra-skinny tower designed by SHoP Architects. The venue couldn’t be more appropriate – its sprawling spaces and traditional architecture create a perfect backdrop for the selection on display. It was there that The Design Edit had a chance to chat with Guillaume Excoffier (GE) on a range of topics, from Brazilian design to design trends.
This is your first extended showing in the US. Tell us about that …
GE: Yes, we had shown last November at The Salon Art + Design fair, but we felt that just four days was not enough to meet clients and designers and develop relationships. So we were looking for an opportunity to stay here for longer, in the same pop-up format we have been working with, and through mutual acquaintances we connected with this location.
What do you like about this space?
GE: I like that it feels like a house, a townhouse. Apparently, this penthouse was designed to be Frederick Steinway’s home, but he never got the living permit. And it’s interesting that the place is still in construction, as it gives visitors a sense of discovery. I think New Yorkers are excited to have a peek inside this famous building and much-talked-about project.
Did you selected the pieces in relation to the space?
GE: No, all the pieces had already been sent to NYC before, since I was already looking for a space.
What do you think distinguishes your aesthetic?
GE: The main word for us is eclectic, since we don’t specialise in a certain style or time. We do have some periods and countries we focus on, but we don’t have a speciality. We like to mix things in the most eclectic way possible. We do have a focus on Brazilian modernist furniture, like Joaquim Tenreiro, José Zanine Caldas and Branco & Preto – but we also love the late 80s and early 90s furniture … the type that you would have found in the (now closed) French gallery Néotù. That gallery was one of the pioneers of design art and showed people like Martin Szekely and Garouste & Bonetti.
What is your filter when selecting pieces?
GE: I am looking for stand-out pieces – not just those that fit within a certain period, or come from a particular designer. And then we like to show the pieces in a home-like environment, so people can see how to live with the pieces, not just look at them.
You mean as opposed to the furniture being perceived as a museum piece display?
GE: Anything that’s in a museum can also be part of a domestic setting. You just have to mix it appropriately. If you buy some interesting pieces and they don’t look harmonious, sometimes you have to add an extra one that makes it all come together.
It’s become trendy to say that midcentury modern is on its way out. What are your thoughts on that?
GE: I think there is still a lot to discover within that period. It’s an easy look and matches well a contemporary lifestyle as it’s not too heavy or stuffy. And it mixes well with other styles. I think it might go out as a mono-look, but not all of it. There is still a lot to be explored – Brazilian Modern design, for example, is still relatively unknown.
What are some of the Brazilian designers you collect?
GE: I think Branco & Preto (1950s) are fascinating; they didn’t produce much, but their pieces are so exquisitely crafted – the detail is amazing in even the most basic rectangular table. And Joaquim Tenreiro, as well as José Zanine Caldas … we are featuring quite a few of his pieces here.
Tell us about Zanine Caldas?
GE: He was a designer ahead of his times. With his ‘Moveis Z’ line he was using plywood in a very original way – not like the Scandinavians – but putting it flat on the floor and cutting it into all sorts of shapes! And later, when he began to realise how the Brazilian forests were being destroyed (long before concern with the environment and sustainability were widespread), he started his ‘Denuncia’ (Denounce) collection (1968) with recovered woods from deforestation. These pieces were not just beautiful, but also very forward thinking. It was a unique moment for design history.
What do you think will be some trends coming up for collectible design?
GE: I think late 20th century design. The notion of what is vintage, or antique is becoming more and more recent. It used to be 80 years old, then 50 years old … now 20 years old is already considered vintage.
The exhibition, featuring both vintage and contemporary pieces by designers such as Angelo Lelli, Carlo Bugatti, Ettore Sottsass, Zaha Hadid, George Mohasseb, Gio Ponti, Martin Szekely, Maria Group and many others can be seen in Manhattan until 30th April (open by appointment).
Gabriel & Guillaume – a travelling decorative arts gallery.