Lowy Frames not only has the largest collection of antique frames in the country, it is also one of the oldest conservators in New York, an important title to have in a city with so much history, art, and culture. With over five thousand antique frames dating from the sixteenth century onwards, Lowy Frames has been serving world-famous museums, aiding wealthy collectors, and presenting eye-opening exhibitions since 1907.
Manhattan Sideways spent a fascinating time speaking with Larry and Brad Shar, the father-son duo who run the company today. It was Julius Lowy who started the business as a restoration company on 56th Street before broadening the services to framing and conservation. Larry’s father Hilly began working with Julius in the 1930s, and then took it over after his death. Larry, in turn, followed in his father's footsteps in 1979, however, he was not, initially, on the path towards the framing business. Hilly expected Larry to work in the framing world, training him from a young age. “He grew up completely in the business,” Brad told me. Hilly’s family was from Russia but Larry was born and raised in New York. “I’m a Brooklyn Boy,” Larry piped in, adding that he graduated high school with comedian Larry David. Though he had “aspirations to be the next Elvis Presley” that lasted through college, he eventually joined Lowy Frames, at his father’s urging. On the other hand, Larry allowed his son to make his own decision, but was pleased when Brad chose to join the family business. “He came on his own,” Larry pointed out. Despite their different approaches to framing, both men display the same passion for the work that they do.
Lowy Frames was in a building owned by Larry on 80th Street for many years before moving to 59th Street in 2015. The two men seem happy with the move. “For years and years, our core business was art galleries,” Brad said, explaining that as art galleries have waned, interactions with decorators and designers have increased. Lowy Frames moved to a neighborhood that is populated with interior designers, but the bulk of the Lowy Frames collection is held in a large facility in Long Island City. Larry spoke nostalgically for the big art collectors like the Whitney, the Vanderbilt, and Rockefeller families. He shared stories of visiting the "Gold Coast" on Long Island with his father, paying house calls to people with masterpieces on their walls. He pointed out that art has now become more of a commodity, rather than art for art’s sake, and that a general preference for contemporary art has risen over the years - so much so that Lowy has had to adapt its business strategies. Today, Larry and Brad are collecting more objet d’art and mirrors in the hopes of doing business with the designers who ultimately have clients in need of Lowy Frames’ conservation work. Larry emphasized that they are not changing what Lowy Frames is, but simply “networking through a different channel.”
Lowy's does not carry anything prior to the 1500s, because, as I learned, before the Renaissance, frames were thought of as architectural elements and were often built into a house. Brad’s eyes brightened as he spoke to me about the art of framing, sharing that he has learned the “linear history of framing as it relates to the history of art.” Lowy Frames’ team is also very accomplished, and Brad emphasized that he employs “a staff of artisans and artists.”
The two men have worked on some extraordinary pieces, including the Maxfield Parrish murals that his grandfather restored, an El Greco for the Prado, a Picasso that was bought for record price at an auction, and a series of double-sided frames for prominent museums. I was particularly taken by a favorite tale that Larry shared with us from when he would travel four of five times a year to Europe. He had purchased one hundred seventeenth century Spanish frames from a ninety-year-old collector in Salamanca, but when it came time to depart with them, the workers went on siesta for the next three hours, and he had a plane to catch!
The expertise generated from the people at Lowy's has been exhibited in a multitude of ways throughout the years. I enjoyed reading an article in Antiques Magazine where Larry took one of his own paintings and framed it in five different ways, demonstrating what a difference a frame makes to the overall result. There is no doubt that their knowledge is invaluable, but I believe that the quote on the back of Deborah Davis' book The Secret Life of Frames (inspired by Lowy Frames) says it best: “The picture frame is the Cinderella of the art world, beautiful, hard-working, and frequently overlooked.”
Although filled to the brim inside, the adventure begins simply by gazing through the impressive windows of John Salibello's three antique lighting shops on East 60th. The dazzling chandeliers hanging from the ceiling at No. 211 were only the beginning, for upon entering, I learned that the excitement extends back into an even more inspiring gilded maze where every inch of space is utilized to display the carefully curated collection, both upstairs and down a flight.Lori Gray, the store's manager, spoke to me about John Salibello's origins. It turns out that she is one of the best people to do so, as she has been by John's side for years - ever since he was working in the fashion industry. Lori followed John when he left Benetton, as he had become a close friend and she "deeply respected his taste." I learned from Lori that John was one of the first people to deal in Mid-Century Modern design, "probably because he opened his business just as it was becoming temporarily distant enough to be desirable." Breaking new ground, he found his stride and has stayed true to it ever since. John's knowledge of the period is extensive, but he makes a point of not being driven by a particular designer, despite their fame. As Lori explained, "He can "talk that talk," but in the end, John travels the world searching for beautiful pieces, no matter what their origin. "This is why he has been so successful as a trend-setter," Lori proudly stated.Most items are vintage, but there are some custom-made objects, such as a row or colorful glass boxes made by an artist from Murano. The employees chimed in during a conversation one day, sharing with me how they enjoyed having input into the color combinations for each one. The staff is a crucial part of this well-oiled machine. As one woman put it, they are in charge of the "visualization of the store - John does the buying and we set it up and then sell it." They are also meticulous about maintaining the inventory, as every piece is always gleaming, a hard outcome to achieve in a store filled with so much glass.John Salibello's triumph in the furniture world also has a lot to do with its location. Because the store is in the design district, everything is in one place, making it easy for interior designers and their clients. When engaging in conversation with John, himself, one day, he expanded on his concept of three boutiques on one street. "We have a tremendous amount of inventory, as that is what our customers prefer." He said that he loves 60th, but because he cannot house everything in one location, he has chosen to take over additional retail space, while remaining in the same neighborhood. John explained that just the shear size of the pieces he finds requires more room, and then went on to say that he is pleased that his shops are in demand, as people like what he carries and he is forever finding new things to add. As John expressed, "if you want to be spectacular, this is the only way to do it."
Toni Cohen first opened up her shop in 1990, but has been selling antiques for most of her life. She described it as “the ideal thing to do.” Toni shared that she loves being able to collect interesting items and tell people about them, especially those who stop by from the neighborhood. “Antiques are a picture into the past. You can learn all about a time period or country from antiques,” she explained.Since opening her shop, Toni has become a fixture on East 55th. She even keeps the lights on all night so passersby can peer inside at her collection. In addition to selling antiques, Toni is a certified appraiser. Her loyal clientele often ask her to visit their homes to evaluate pieces that they have acquired, which she then occasionally puts on sale in the store.Toni's shop is full of decorative, eclectic, and unusual items. She highlighted several unique pieces of furniture and Chinese vases that were her favorite, and her eyes lit up when she talked to Jon, a member of the Manhattan Sideways team, about these cherished items. She makes it her mission to learn about the background of every object she purchases, and even takes an occasional history class to brush up on certain time periods.While we were visiting in 2017, Toni’s daughter stopped by, and began chatting with us about her mother’s amazing run on 55th Street. She believes that the reason the store has thrived is due to the relationships her mom has formed with her clientele over the years. Despite the fact that the internet has taken away much of the in-store antique business, Tony finds that customers continue to be drawn to her, for they are eager to hear the history behind the pieces firsthand. “In New York, small businesses can cater closely to their clientele. That’s the thread that connects them, that’s why she’s still here.”
Nicolo Melissa Antiques & Art is a story that combines a personal relationship with a passion for the arts. Melissa Magid met Nicolo Camisa, originally from Italy, when he was studying English in the United States, and the two fell in love. Nicolo had been trained in the family's antique business since he was sixteen, and so it made perfect sense for Nicolo to open a small antique store in Manhattan with his new bride. Melissa admits that she did not know much about antiques before Nicolo, but when she traveled to Italy to meet his family, and found his home filled with treasured pieces spanning the ages, she recognized the importance of this world that Nicolo had grown up in. And it did not take her long to decide that she wanted to join him as a partner. Though their gallery is completely separate from Nicolo’s family’s business, Melissa told me that they frequently keep in touch with his Italian kin in order to trade secrets and discuss their acquisitions.A favorite story that Melissa enjoys sharing is when her older son, at the age of two, already seemed to have an eye for fine art: When they took him to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and he was staring up at some of the paintings on the wall, he gestured to his father saying, “Papa, bring this one home!” Because the young child was so accustomed to accompanying his parents on buying trips, he did not understand the difference between viewing art in a museum and their vast collection that his parents have amassed. Both in their home and at the gallery, Nicolo and Melissa’s two boys are surrounded by Renaissance bronzes, classical sculptures, and micro mosaics. Nicolo quickly added that despite the variety, their collection is carefully curated, and forms a cohesive whole that he hand selects both from travels around the United States and abroad. The gallery specializes in artwork, furniture, and decor from the 19th century and earlier. Melissa showed us some of her favorite pieces, including a Florentine 19th Century ebony cabinet and a pair of Cesare Lapini white marble angels. It became clear rather quickly that Melissa is quite proud to run a local, family-owned gallery. As she so sweetly described the first venture that they embarked on as a couple, "This is our first child.”
In a rather small space, Royale Galleries has accumulated a treasure trove of collectibles since 2003. Showcasing items from the nineteenth century, the mother and son team, Madeline and Ephron, boast an impressive collection of paintings, clocks, chandeliers and jewelry. One could spend hours sifting through the colorful vases, mirrors, sculptures, lamps and artwork. "We carry very eclectic, one-of-a-kind pieces," Ephron explained, as he rummaged through their inventory trying to show me some of the rare finds. Accordingly, Royale Galleries does business with decorators and collectors from around the world. "We have people come from the Middle East in private planes to view our gallery," Madeline proudly stated.
There is an entrance to the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge (also known as the 59th Street Bridge) between First and Second Avenues, making maneuvering back and forth across East 58th difficult. Notwithstanding this challenge to life and limb, nothing was going to deter me from making my way to the front door of the perfectly kept, precious red brick house with its white picket fence. From across the way, I was intrigued, and could not wait to learn the story of this nineteenth century home. Inside, I was warmly greeted by Diana and Mark Jacoby, the couple who own and run the almost seventy-seven year old antique store, Phillip Colleck.Mark and Diana met at Phillip Colleck, where they began working in 1980 on 57th Street. When Phillip Colleck, himself, passed away in 1987, the couple ran the business for six months before deciding to purchase the company. They moved into the current location in 2000, turning what had previously been a private residence into a space used partially for commercial purposes, and to my utter delight, the remainder as their home.The history of the Jacoby's pre-Civil war house is rich and fascinating. The oldest building on East 58th, it was originally the home of the brick mason who built it for his family in the 1850s. Since then, it has undergone various changes. In 1967, the owner was offered a million dollars for the building, but instead of taking the money, he had the house landmarked. When Diana and Mark renovated the front of the house - which had been painted a color they described as 'blueberry yogurt" - they had to carefully peel off the paint in an effort to preserve the layers underneath.Considering its proximity to the entrance to the bridge, I commented on how remarkably quiet it seemed indoors. Mark explained to me that the windows are the original ones and that they do not allow much sound to penetrate them. He went on to tell me that the walls are "three layers of brick thick," then proudly boasted, "this house was solidly built." And if I wasn't already in awe, the Jacoby's then took me out back to their charming garden where Diana said that they often entertain guests and clients.Phillip Colleck specializes in English furniture and art pieces from the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. From tables to chairs to mirrors and other fine pieces, my favorite among the many treasured items was an exquisite Spanish chandelier, still in its original design with candles to keep it lit. Although it is of course for sale, Diana announced that they are in no hurry to sell it, as it is perched over the table that they dine, and she feels it fits in perfectly.The previous tenant was a composer and professor at Julliard, and would often invite students to his home for master classes. Mark and Diana also welcome scholars into their house, allowing professors from different universities to host classes. "Our mission is largely to educate about English furniture and its place in history," said Mark. In addition, the Jacoby's invite outside collectors to exhibit their pieces.On the day of one of my visits, during the 2014 Christmas season, I had the pleasure of meeting Harry Heissmann, who was there displaying his antique German Christmas tree stands from his own business on West 45th Street.
After a long, cold January day trekking across 57th Street, the Sideways team found their spirits revitalized at the Row House, where men and women were coming through the doors for their early evening fifty-minute workout. Row House was founded by trainers and couple, Debra and Eric Von Frohlich, as a destination where people of all ages can participate in a variety of exercise classes centered on rowing machines. The idea was inspired by Debra's great cousin, Emery, who lived to age ninety-three maintaining incredible health and form - which he attributed to his daily rowing routine. Promoting this inspirational story along with the full-body workout and non-impact nature of rowing, Debra and Eric have attracted a strong following of those who believe in it as the right alternative to the typical gym routine. After a tour of the facilities and observing a class, I believe that we were each inspired to give this new form of exercise a chance.Located one flight down, we had the pleasure of meeting one of the trainers as he was getting ready to begin his class in the EVF Performance Space - also run by Debra and Eric. Continuing in the same vein as Row House, the staff strives to provide a better alternative to traditional gym machines and utilities. Each class features a variety of cross-fit exercises including box-jumps, gymnastic rings and barbells, with the most popular class being their Signature 360. Although intimidated at first by the intensity of the exercises, I was captivated by the warmth and sincerity of the instructors. I came away believing that every client is given the same amount of guidance and care in order to provide the perfect individual workout for them.
Stepping inside Jim's Shoe Repair is like walking into a time capsule. At first glance, it appears that nothing has changed since the store opened in 1932. Wooden saloon-style booths line the wall opposite shoeshine chairs equipped with golden footrests and leather backrests, while the original cash register still stands proudly in the front of the shop. Jim's is the place for the customer who wants "the best shoe shine" with a bit of small talk or a glance through the daily newspapers. It is simple and unpretentious, which explains its long history of celebrity customers.Vito Rocco came to New York by way of Italy in the 1920s and opened up his shop in 1932, across the street from where it stands today. He called it Jim’s as an ode to America — short, simple, and recognizable. His son, Joseph, began working in the shop in 1940 and did not retire until 2019. “At age ninety, he still wants to come in, but I won’t let him anymore,” his son, Joe, said lovingly. He and his son, Andrew, are now “honored” to be continuing this family business.Although Jim's has largely stayed the same since its inception, Joe noted that they no longer clean hats, as this was deemed a fire hazard in the 1940s. Joe emphasized, however, that their shoe repair is performed the traditional way, with most of it being done by hand. There are no nailing guns used and machine work is kept to a minimum — only for stitching and sanding.Walking through the back is like being granted a tour of Santa’s workshop. Joe strolls through the various departments of the repair services, patting his employees on the back and exchanging laughs along the way. There are rickety ladders to go up and down where one finds every nook and cranny converted into a cozy but busy workspace. “Even if we wanted to change up the place, our customers would never allow us. They appreciate it the way it is after four generations.”
Directly across from the imposing statue of Christopher Columbus, marking both the epicenter of Columbus Circle and New York City as a whole, stands the Museum of Arts and Design. Founded in 1956 - and in this spectacular building since 2008 - the museum celebrates contemporary artists, designers, and artisans who apply the highest level of ingenuity and skill to their work. Inside the light-filled interior, this accessible museum explores a rotating series of exhibitions profiling makers, who work in a wide range of materials and processes, in an effort to explore the intersection of art, craft and design.When I visited the museum with members of the Manhattan Sideways team, I was thrilled to have them walk around with a dear friend who has been a docent at MAD for several years. We were fascinated by the global reach and depth of the Latin American exhibition, "New Territories," as Felicia explained in detail what we were seeing. Our team was also intrigued by the museum's show celebrating its founder, Aileen Osborn Webb, entitled "What Would Mrs. Webb Do," featuring objects from their permanent collection, curated by Jeanine Falino. We then went on our own to explore the technical skill made apparent in the neckpieces and sculptures of Joyce Scott in the exhibit, "From Maryland to Murano." In addition to the shows on each floor, MAD invites guest artists to work in their studios, allowing visitors the opportunity to engage in conversation, and to observe them as they are sculpting, drawing or creating something unique with a mixture of materials. Having been to the museum many times, I consistently find myself absorbed in the variety of art displayed, and when possible, I make my way to the ninth floor where the innovative Robert restaurant allows guests a bird's eye view of Columbus Circle from its exquisite interior.
Guastavino's gets its name from the Spanish architect, Rafael Guastavino, who designed an arcade of Catalan Vaults to fit under the Queensboro Bridge in the early part of the twentieth century. Initially, the arcade was host to a year-round marketplace, but it was shut down during the depression. Not long after this, the NYC Department of Transportation took over the space. In 1973, Guastavino's was designated a landmark as part of the Queensboro Bridge. Terrance Conran opened his British home furnishings shop here for some time, and now on one side is the Food Emporium, while on the other is Guastavino's magnificent private event space. And a very special place, indeed, to one of my daughter's dearest friends, Jenny Posen Cohen, who got married here in 2012.
"In a family business, everybody works," Robyn Pocker announced when I first met her. She went on to tell me that her first job as a little girl was making paperclip chains in her family's framing establishment. Over the years, she was promoted through the ranks, learning to wrap packages with bakery string, how to please customers, and simply to absorb advice from her parents, until she became a full employee, fresh out of college. Robyn went on to say that she feels "very rooted on 63rd Street." Asking her to transport me back in time, as I knew that the Pocker's had been in this area for generations, Robyn spoke of when the Lexington Avenue subway was being constructed and the city wanted to get rid of the building where her grandparents had begun their business. Many important clients, however, including Mrs. Rockefeller, wrote to City Hall declaring that they should not drive J.Pocker out of its home. Although they did have to move just around the corner onto the side street, the company has been able to remain on the Upper East Side since 1929. Not only that, but the business has expanded, opening multiple locations in Connecticut and Westchester County, including a 10,000 square foot factory in Mamaroneck. Robyn proudly stated that despite the expansion, J.Pocker is still the "friendly neighborhood framer." When I asked Robyn where she pulls her inspiration for the variety of frames that they construct, she spoke of her travels abroad and told me that they send scouts to museums to take pictures of certain historic styles so that they can be replicated. Robyn has also been known to wander into the antique stores in London to find unique pieces to mimic. Along with period framing, using classic Spanish, Dutch, and tortoise-shell frames, the company effortlessly steps forward in time and has framed flat-screen TVs and a photograph of an eighty foot whale. One of the main reasons why Robyn believes J.Pocker has successfully remained in business through the years is that they treat every item to be framed like a priceless piece of art, and every client with the same care and precision.
Aside from making gorgeous frames for the community, City Gallery Framing offers their neighbors a chance to engage directly and collectively in the creative processes of their craftsmanship. We learned in June 2016 that the owner started hosting “Painting Hangouts,” a series of guided painting workshops in their well-ornamented framing shop. After the demands of their long work days come to a grinding halt, City Gallery framers gather neighborhood residents in their store for a step-by-step demonstration of landscape painting on canvases. We came in too early to sit in on one of the hangouts, but the employees assured us that each evening at the store is a delight to be a part of!