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."
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.
I first discovered Newel when it was on 53rd Street. Pressing the doorbell, I was greeted by Jake Baer, the fourth-generation family owner of Newel Antiques. Entering the showroom lit by Murano glass chandeliers, I made my quick introduction, and was kindly offered a tour of their five floors - each one filled with an astonishing assortment of furniture. From the French, Italian, English, Modernist or Renaissance period, as well as a basement filled with wicker pieces, Jake explained to me that Newel has an eclectic selection to keep up with the latest trends. They represent every period and style and can go in any direction depending on the need and interest of the time and the customer. I was overwhelmed, yet mesmerized, at the same time, by shelves stacked to the ceiling and overflowing with treasures from the fifteenth century. There were chairs and tables of all shapes and sizes crowned together, as Jake nonchalantly rattled off their backstories including telling me where they had been used. "That giant Venetian birdcage was on Boardwalk Empire," for example. Jake also shared that Pygmalion was the first show that launched his great grandfather's company; they still have some of the original pieces that were used some seventy-five years ago. Newel is not a typical antiques store. The business got its start in the 1930s when founder, Meyer Newman, began visiting various Broadway productions and asking what type of furniture they needed for their sets. "Without quite knowing how," Jake explained, he would find what directors needed and rent it to them for less than buying the piece would have cost. This same model continues to this day, though "ninety-eight percent" of the furniture, according to Jake, is for sale. Most of what Newel does is to rent out period furniture and paintings for television shows, movies, fashion shoots and store windows. "Rental is the DNA of our business - it got us to be where we are today, and always takes us back to our roots." "Nobody does it on this scale," Lewis Baer, Jake's father, told me about the renting side of Newel's business. Nor does anybody have the volume of authentic, high-quality items. "Anyone is welcome inside of this world of antiques," Mr. Baer went on to explain. Newel tries to make themselves accessible to all ages. They work tirelessly to interact and build relationships with the theater world, movie set designers and interior decorators. Nowadays, minimalism is in vogue and people do not buy as many antiques as they would have a generation ago. Thus, the Baer family focuses most of their energy on renting their antiques, and on selling their new line of beautiful original chandeliers, crafted on the island of Murano in Venice. Most importantly, though, Newel remains family-owned just as they were in the 1930s, and these warm ties are evident in every aspect of the business.
In 1852, six men with similar interests formed a club and called themselves "Gesellschaft," a word that means "community and society" in German. This group would grow and solidify into the Harmonie Club, the second oldest private club in New York after the Union Club. All six of them were German Jews, and therefore were denied access to the Union Club because of religious discrimination. Much has changed since the Club's founding: at the beginning, a qualification for membership was German ancestry, and communal singing and declamatory contests were popular. Today, one must still be invited to join; however, the emphasis on musical interests has been lost. The building is also different - in 1905, the Club moved from its original 42nd Street location to its current Beaux Arts residence, complete with a grand, elegant dining room that is still in service. Despite all these changes, the Harmonie Club remains a place where the leaders and achievers of the world can find companionship.The above is the history of Harmonie; however, it is not often that I get to offer my own personal note to places of such distinction. Therefore, I must mention that I was married at the Harmonie Club in 1979. From the moment I became engaged, there was no question in my mind, that this was where I wanted my wedding to be held. My father had been a member of the club for a number of years and I had grown up having the most elaborate Sunday brunches in their exquisite dining room. My husband and I chose not to have the traditional Saturday night affair and, instead, opted for a morning wedding with a brunch motif. Having everyone we adored gathered in this private sanctuary was sheer perfection.
Having been raised in New York, and involved in the performing arts since childhood, Rose Caiola went on to graduate from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts and fantasized about establishing her own pre-professional ballet program. It was always her desire to provide top-tier instruction in a nurturing environment that discouraged unhealthy competition. In 1994, Rose's dream became a reality when she opened Studio Maestro on 68th Street as a non-profit organization and began Manhattan Youth Ballet. Her program has been recognized the world over with students moving on to dance professionally here in New York with both American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, as well as companies around the country and abroad.While spending time with Rose, she recounted that when the program outgrew its studio on 68th, she had difficulty finding a new space. She turned to her Italian immigrant, real estate mogul father, in the hopes that he could help her secure an appropriate location. After much negotiation, Rose and her father eventually found a beautiful space on 60th Street, and following three years of construction, the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center opened in 2008. Today, it is a multi-functional facility with bright dance studios streaming with sunlight and a 199 seat off-Broadway theater that efficiently transforms into two studios when not in use. Rose proudly told me that with enrollment reaching over 200 students, the center not only houses Ellison Ballet and Rose's Manhattan Youth Ballet, but that many consider MMAC as "home away from home."Throughout the year, MMAC offers a number of workshops for adults including yoga classes, dance intensives by the Jerome Robbins Foundation, and martial arts training. The center also hosts an alternative preschool and offers children's dance classes. Rose told me that after a chance meeting with actress and author Julianne Moore, Rose wrote and workshopped a production of "Freckleface Strawberry the Musical" in one of the MMAC children's summer camps. The musical went on to premier off-Broadway at New World Stages and has now been performed around the world, launching Rose into a career as a Broadway producer. (Four shows that she recently produced, including "The Elephant Man" and "You Can't Take it With You," are 2015 Tony Award hopefuls.)As new residential buildings are rising at an incredibly fast pace and surrounding the Center, Rose is looking forward to families and other artistic people finding a haven in MMAC. Rose's ultimate goal is to have more dance companies and Broadway productions utilize the space, which in turn could provide more scholarships to Manhattan Youth Ballet. Already there are organizations recognizing this oasis as Rose told me that Dodgers Theatrical, Alvin Ailey and Cirque du Soleil have been taking advantage of their remarkable facilities for auditions, castings, readings, and rehearsals.
As we walked into Christ Church, one of the members of the Sideways team commented, "Sometimes it's good to feel small, and that's exactly how I feel right now." The United Methodist congregation has called Park Avenue home since 1929. In shades of gold and deep blues, the stunning metallic, mosaicked ceiling supported by towering marble columns glistened over our heads. The tiled patterns, however, were not completed until 1949, due to World War II. High on the walls, larger-than-life icons stared down upon us as we sat in the rows of traditional wooden pews for prayer and meditation. Despite the sheer size of the sanctuary, we did not feel intimidated or unwelcome; rather, a sense of peace and calm came over each of us, making this the perfect haven for rest in the midst of the bustling streets of the Upper East Side.
Sopra, located above Amali and owned by the same restaurant group, is a communal dining concept that creates the feeling of an upscale dinner party. In this elegant, high-ceilinged former apartment, up to twenty people can sit at a long table next to the open kitchen and eat a family-style meal. It allows Rachel Goulet, the chef for both Amali and Sopra, to serve up dishes that are impractical to prepare in single portions for a traditional restaurant. What has quickly become most popular are the porchetta (a classic Italian roast pig) and the Roman lamb, a recipe typically made during the Easter season using the whole animal.Sopra not only provides an unconventional style of dining where strangers are encouraged to socialize both with each other and with the chef, but it also provides an education in sustainable food. The meals served at Sopra are "super local and hyper-seasonal," Steve Breslawski, the events coordinator for both restaurants, explained. Guests receive an interactive and informative lesson in how food can taste if you pay attention to what is available at different times of the year. The patrons that dine at Sopra are often more adventurous eaters, Steve said, than those who frequent Amali - they are eager to taste the unusual meats that are presented, such as wild boar, beef heart and sweet meats. (Note that vegetarians are welcome to order from Amali's menu if Sopra's offerings are too carnivorous)Sopra is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday, but it is also available for private events. Large rolling bars separate the space from the "Fireplace Room," a cozy smaller area that can be rented out separately or as part of Sopra. As I was admiring the photographs that line Sopra's walls, Steve told me that they are pictures of the staff's family, which indeed add to the warmth and comfort of this venue.
Before opening Illumé, an extraordinary boutique specializing in custom made lamps and lampshades, owner Ronald Scinto had an antique shop in Connecticut. While speaking with him one day, I discovered how he entered into this unique business. Ronald explained that he had been selling many antique lamps with missing shades, or old lamps that were in need of some repair and found that he had nowhere to refer his customers to have them fixed. Ultimately, it dawned on him that he had found an unfilled niche in the market, and decided to open his own shop. Today, his Manhattan store continues to sell and repair lamps; however, it is also a gallery filled with every shape and size fixture and shade. This is a man who has taken the art of light to another level and promises to exceed the expectations of his customers. When I inquired about some of the types of lamps he has created over the years, Ronald's prompt response was "Anything at all. I can make you into a lamp if you stand still long enough."
In the book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell suggests a theory in which, to become an expert in any particular area, one must first accumulate 10,000 working hours in that specific field. Naturally, it is faster to achieve expert status when focusing on only one topic. This concept must have crossed the minds of the Just Bulbs store owners in the early 2000s, when despite selling lighting fixtures for over forty years, the owners decided to focus exclusively on "just bulbs." The idea for the shop originated with David’s grandfather, who started by selling light bulbs door-to-door during World War II. He later opened a brick-and-mortar shop that was taken over by David's mother. David is now the third generation to run the store, having left behind a career in management consulting in St. Louis to devote himself to the family business in the 1980s. Since then, his expertise in the field has only grown, along with his vast inventory. Today, the entire staff is an expert in their field, claiming to have over 30,000 bulbs in the store.With shelves and bins piled high with colorful bulbs in dozens of shapes and sizes and creative varieties of string lights hanging overhead, the shop is most likely going to be able to accommodate almost anyone's needs. And, if somehow amidst the impressive stock they do not have what someone is looking for, they proudly boasted to me that anything a customer requests when it comes to a light bulb, they can produce. The crew at Just Bulbs has no problem making custom pieces and even dispatching for consultations, deliveries, and installation.