I first met Harry Heissmann at Philip Colleck during the winter holidays, where he was selling his antique Christmas tree stands. The ornate stands, which date back to a time when German families would place their small Christmas trees on tabletops, are a large part of the reason why Harry is in New York today. While living in Germany, where he grew up, one of his best friends had an antique shop in Munich. Henry reminisced about joining him at 4am and going to the Bavarian flea markets with flashlights to find things that caught their eye. “I was always a Christmas nut,” Harry admitted, and so thanks to these early morning excursions, he soon amassed close to three hundred tree stands. Harry eventually decided to sell all but twenty of them and use the money to move to New York. Many years later, a writer for the New York Times convinced him to resume collecting the pieces. Knowing this background, I expected to find just an array of these stands when Harry invited me to his office on West 45th Street. However, I was deeply mistaken and completely blown away by what I found.
Stepping into Harry Heissmann’s space is like taking a trip down the rabbit hole…if that rabbit had an impeccable interior designer. A stuffed animal ostrich head hung above the entrance, hunting-trophy-style, and multicolored lighting fixtures surrounded the room. Every time I turned my head, I saw something new, and judging from Harry’s reactions, there was a story behind each piece. The glittering central light (which Harry calls his “magic lamp,” due to its ability to make anything beneath it look amazing) was made by his friend, who also designed the bedazzled clip lights around the studio. Harry then told us, that these were designed to be ladies’ fascinators, complete with a portable battery pack.
Harry’s office is different from other interior design studios in that he also likes to use it as a shop. By placing the eclectic, eccentric pieces throughout the room, he can show his customers what he can do with each item. “I can perform magic tricks,” he said with a grin.
Speaking of magic, I found myself looking at a metallic ball on a stand, which Harry said was a gazing ball, a type of decoration originally used in German houses to ward away witches. There was also a cactus sculpture in a smooth, curvy style reminiscent of the 1970s, which had yet another fascinating story behind it: Harry found the piece online after falling in love with a similar, expensive piece at a New York antique shop. The owner of the cactus, who lived in Chicago, decided to drive to New York to drop the sculpture off, for no clear reason, charging him only $50.00. As for more classic pieces, Harry pointed out a Murano vase that was given to him after a client, for whom he had designed many custom chandeliers, invited him to Venice to see the prototypes formed from his designs.
Harry emphasized that he could design for any style. He has worked for clients who prefer classic, traditional décor as well as those who value vibrant color and originality. He calls his work “client-centric,” always deferring to the whims and wishes of his customers, rather than his own fancies. “I pride myself on providing great customer service - I have more education that most people,” Harry humbly stated, and yet he still insists on putting his client's opinion first.
I continued my tour of the room, finding prototypes of little German terra cotta garden stools for children in the shape of mushrooms, toadstools, and logs; pineapple ice buckets, a rhinoceros coffee table, and a snail magazine stand. Though there were many animals, flora were represented along with fauna: “I’m obsessed with flower lamps right now.” He then showed us not only light fixtures in crazy petal and leaf shapes, but also hyacinth vases, a Victorian fad in which the bulbs were placed in the bottom of colorful glasses before a cone was set on top to help them grow. (Harry's grandmother used to grow hyacinths in this fashion when he was a child)
Most of these items are for sale. There are a few pieces in the office, however, that are not on the market. As an example, Harry picked up the pencil holder on his desk. The simple glass receptacle belonged to his former employer, Albert Hadley. “He made my career,” Harry said somberly. After Harry graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, he moved to New York in 1995 and began working for Albert Hadley, the renown interior decorator. Harry admitted, “Mr. Hadley shaped my inner sense of design.” Most mornings during the nine years that Harry worked for Albert, the two men would race each other to the office, each trying to be the earliest one in. Every time Harry looked across the desk at Albert, he saw that blue pencil cup. When Albert passed away in 2012, Harry bought the cup from One King’s Lane.
Since starting off on his own, Harry has tried to “build a circle of friends.” When he needs specific designs, favors, or materials, he will call on his network of close acquaintances to help him, and in turn, he tries to connect his friends to one another. For example, he pointed out a selection of illustrations that a friend did, depicting Harry’s showrooms. One of the drawings, done around Easter, has a giant chocolate bunny coming out of the egg. When it came time to create the centerpiece for his friend's exhibition, Harry sent the drawing along to Alpha Workshops, a company that employs HIV-positive artists, and they made a perfect 3D rendering of the bunny. It was the first time his friend had seen his work done in three dimensions. Thanks to Harry’s efforts, two sides of his artistic circle were brought together. Judging from my conversation with Harry, he derives tremendous pleasure from working and connecting with others. in fact, he is looking forward to teaching his first college level course in the fall semester of 2016.
Paul Stuart's flagship location commands the southwest corner of Madison Avenue, a 60, 000 square foot retail space dedicated to fine menswear. Established in 1938 by haberdasher Ralph Ostrove - and named after his son - Paul Stuart is committed to revitalizing and updating the classic American style. Continuing on with the family tradition, CEO, Michael Ostrove, explains that Paul Stuart is "an American interpretation of its Anglo roots, " those that stretch to London's famous Savile Row.
Beer Culture opened in the summer of 2013, offering beer, cider, whiskey, and bottled sodas. Customers can come in to pick up a bottle – or growler - of beer to take home, or grab a seat at the bar to chat with the friendly staff while noshing on some charcuterie. The record player behind the bar is usually going and if the owner, Matt Gebhard, and bar manager, Peter Malfatti, are around, they are bound to strike up a conversation and offer to guide patrons through their extensive beer selection. The beers are organized by region. The first door of their huge, glass-front fridge is full of beers from New York State, while the second is full of east coast beers, and the third and fourth is full of central and west coast beers. A bit further back into the room is their international fridge, proudly boasting selections from the UK, France, and three shelves worth of Belgian beers. For patrons who just want a nice, cold, familiar beer, grandpa's fridge is the place to go. Customers often mistake the old Kelvinator across from the bar as a prop and are always surprised when they open it up and realize that it works and that they recognize all of the brands inside of it. Matt included grandpa's fridge because he thinks that there is a place for all beers (except lite ones, which are not sold on the Beer Culture premises) and that some brands hold emotional value for customers. True to its name, the beers in the old Kelvinator are those that Matt had seen in his own grandfather's fridge growing up. Matt's first true exposure to beer and its culture was during a year he spent studying abroad in Belgium. When he came back home to upstate NY, Matt was nineteen and decided to pursue his newfound passion by working in a local Belgian brewery. He remained here for a few years until he met Peter, his future bar manager, who was living in Rochester, NY. Before opening their own place, Matt came to Manhattan and worked in a Belgian bar in Midtown. Although he enjoyed it, Matt told us that he wanted to do things his own way and fulfill his vision of what a bar should be. The bar that these two terrific guys opened is one that is dedicated to the simple, comfortable and unpretentious beverage that they adore. Nestled between Eighth and Ninth Avenue in a residential part of 45th Street, Beer Culture, is a hybrid bar and bottle shop offering its customers over 500 different types of beer. Although at the time of this write-up, Beer Culture had been around for less than a year, both Matt and Peter already feel like part of the block. As Matt stated, "We pride ourselves in being an establishment of beer nerds, not beer snobs. "
After eleven years in her Noho location, Executive Chef and Food Network star Alex Guarnaschelli opened Butter in the Cassa Hotel, a Midtown twin to her well-known restaurant. Shaped by Guarnaschelli's own travels and time spent working abroad, the attractive dark wood restaurant with comfortable booth seating, is American but with the requisite global touches and ingredients expected of fine dining. When Chef Guarnaschelli isn't filming, she is in the kitchen, on the line, adding her fine touch into every aspect of the cooking. As members of her staff shared with us, Alex is dedicated to bringing fresh and simple ingredients together in beautifully crafted dishes. On a rare and special night out with just my husband and daughter, I could not pass up the opportunity to bring my butter-loving girl to this dining experience. Since she has always considered the dairy treat to be its own food group, I had the highest hopes for the meal - particularly the bread basket - which did not disappoint. The warm Pullman-style rolls with the house-made butters (a plain with a hint of sour cream for richness, and an herb that was light and lovely) were out of this world. All three of us agreed we could leave satisfied just from that - and a spicy cocktail, of course (the Ghost Margarita) But we powered ahead sharing the burrata salad. The creamy burrata with garden-fresh tomatoes was divine and the ribeye steaks that my husband and daughter ordered were cooked perfectly and sat atop smashed purple potatoes. And, as a vegetarian, I always keep an eye out for restaurants working to develop unique, hearty main courses. The charred coconut milk-soaked cauliflower was much appreciated. We finished things off, in case one thought we had already indulged ourselves sufficiently, with the raspberry beignets accompanied by a vanilla dipping sauce. If the name of this restaurant alone does not have one's mouth watering, I am sure that it is now!