Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Interview - Dean Angelucci

Dean Angelucci at his shop - Angelucci 20th Century

Right now it seems it doesn't matter where you live in the world, 20th century furnishings are the most popular interiors commodity! Everywhere you look - be it in print or on the web, homes seem filled with Eames rockers and Saarinen Tulip dining settings, slimline couches and lighting by designers like Isamu Noguchi and Verner Panton. There's a mix of repro and original on offer... and even the odd unlicensed fake 'replica'(!)... (how do they get away with that!? Seriously.)

Maybe its the clean lines and simple shapes that attract us... and the fact that these pieces seem to work so well in a variety of settings - from modest Victorian cottages to the most ultra-modern architectural homes. I guess many of these pieces were originally popular for their functionality as much as their aesthetic appeal, and weren't necessarily considered 'designer' when they first went on the market in the 50's and 60's... maybe these humble beginnings are also part of their charm.

Dean Angelucci has been in the business of buying, restoring, selling and reproducing 20th century designs for nearly 20 years. Melburnians probably remember his first store - Plasma - a tiny treasure trove off the main drag of Chapel st in Prahran, which he opened over 18 years ago now. I've mentioned Dean's beautiful current store, Angelucci 20th Century here before. It's a generous, light-filled space, with a fantastic selection of quality furniture, accessories and lighting from the 50's, 60's and 70's. All the original pieces are restored to their original glory, and the reproduction couches are of the highest quality, and are made in Australia.

As you'd expect, Dean knows everything there is to know about the designers and classic pieces from the mid 20th century era, and is particularly passionate about the big Australian names like Featherston and Meadmore. I was interested to learn about the growing scarcity of original 50's and 60's furniture in Australia, and the fact that Dean has now started sourcing overseas to meet the growing demand (ie - snap up your favourite designs now before they get even more expensive!). In this interview Dean shares his design inspirations, the ups and downs of running his own business, and of course, his favourite spots in Melbourne.

Thanks so much Dean!

Angelucci 20th century showroom photos. The last image here is one of two stunning original Knoll International 1970's 'Diamond' chairs, designed by Harry Bertoia c. 1952. $950 each.

Tell me a little about your background - what did you study and what path led you to what you’re doing now?

I studied interior design for a year at RMIT, then shifted to fine art majoring in photography at the VCA. During this time I bought & sold vintage ‘everything’ to various dealers in Melbourne to pay my way through uni. This really began as a social thing with some old friends from high school. We’d do road trips in the country trawling op shops and junk shops for interesting things. It was originally more about getting together than making money.

Eventually I found myself drawn more towards unusual design pieces and my eye developed from there.

20th Century interiors seem more popular now than ever before. You’ve been dealing with furniture from this era for a long time… have you seen a surge in recent years in its popularity and in the prices for certain pieces? Are you finding it harder and harder to source stock from the well known designers of the 50’s and 60’s?

Prices have certainly skyrocketed in recent years. We must remember though, that they have risen from a very low base. However, vintage design in general is still seen as a really affordable alternative to new pieces of comparative quality. As with any market, supply and demand dictates value. International design pieces by the ‘big’ manufacturers like Herman Miller or Knoll International have remained fairly constant (due largely to the continual ongoing supply, and new prices holding vintage prices ‘down’). Scandinavian design is enjoying a renaissance and remains great value for its enduring quality and functionality. I believe, however, that it is only recently that Australian mid-20th century design has really come of age. Good quality pieces by Clem Meadmore, Grant Featherston, Schulim Krimper, Roger McLay etc have become extremely scarce almost overnight, and now command healthy prices (as they rightfully should) - a far cry from the early days of ‘vintage’ in Melbourne 10-20 years ago when we were spoilt for choice.

Examples of chairs by Grant Featherston (left) and Clem Meadmore (right)

By 2006/2007 I was finding it quite difficult to source enough quality mid-20th century design to meet our customers needs. This drove me overseas to source from continental Europe as well as Denmark in order to have enough interesting pieces constantly at hand. It’s interesting to note that in Europe, 50’s French and Italian design is white hot. When we compare the 10’s of thousands, even millions of dollars that top European pieces can fetch, and compare that to the $4000-8000 price tag of a Featherston chair, the Aussie market still seems quite immature!

How do people find you? Do you make an effort to market your shop and get it seen in magazines etc, or does your client base grow through word of mouth and street traffic etc?

All of the above. When i first opened Plasma 18 years ago, we relied on word of mouth and the odd piece of editorial. Now, we advertise in interiors mags, and the new location in high street achieves great exposure, and therefore draws a large and diverse clientelle.

Which designers, artists or creative people are you inspired by?

I’m all over the place there ! From the 20th century, I’m just as likely to be excited by the rich, decorative work of the french ‘grand decorateurs’ such as Jean Royere, or italy’s Carlo Mollino and Gio Ponti as i am by the incredibly austere, pragmatic design work of our Clement Meadmore. The whimsical, lyrical work of contemporary multidisciplinary designers like Marcel Wanders or collaboratives such as Established & Sons is also something I’m constantly drawn to when flicking through magazines.

Where else do you find inspiration?

I find international travel the most inspiring thing. To be free of the constraints of day to day work-life and routine whilst experiencing foreign cultures, their style and their points of reference is totally liberating and enlightening. I always come back with a fresh approach after a trip abroad – both in my work and personal life.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

Its quite scattered. Generally I’m on the road by 8, and don’t stop until after 6. I can be delivering furniture and organising trades & restorations in the morning, then spending time in the store either desk-bound with admin and emails, speaking to customers, or in the workshop restoring pieces…. Most likely all at once!

What are you most proud of professionally?

The respect and trust of customers that i’ve gained over the years. And the reputation for providing good product knowledgeably and honestly.

What's the best thing about your job?

Being able to work directly with my passion for 20th century design and the associated social history.

And the worst?

Being your own boss has its perks, but some days you just want to hide in the corner and rock gently to-and-fro!

What are you looking forward to – professionally or personally?

Work -the next few years streamlining the (relatively new) importing aspect to the business… this follows through to my personal life also – being able to travel on the company expense account! Closer to home – my little girl pepa has just turned 2… and i’m really loking forward to the ‘wonder years’ ahead for her .

Melbourne Questions –

What/where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

We (myself and partner, Lisa Gorman) seem to end up either at Ezard in Flinders Lane or Da Noi in Toorak rd when we want a real treat. The superbly balanced, elegant and refined ‘fusion’ cuisine of Ezard is never heavy or overpowering. Its pretty hard to go past their sake & mirin oyster shooters as a starter. On the other hand, the simple, rustic Sardinian-based menu of Da Noi is also totally satisfying and always superbly delivered. The harshness of the southern Italian landscape and peasant lifestyle is evident in the food - and quite appropriate here in Australia. And…… I really love the interior -layer upon layer of history in a victorian building without (it seems) ever having had a proper renovation – just yet another ‘make-over’.

Where do you shop in Melbourne for furniture and interiors pieces (except your own shop!)?

Honestly, i really don’t ‘shop’ for myself. (or, maybe i’m always shopping for myself !?) I seem to find things from my usual trade & private sources. The only thing I’m planning to buy right now are some lights for our new house by Melbourne lighting designer Volker Haug. (stay tuned for an interview with Volker Haug coming up here later this month!)

My favourite shops would have to be Tarlo & Graham, Le Contraste, and the Vintage Poster Gallery. As we are currently building, I’m also really excited about the Delta recycled timber yard in Port Melbourne. ( it’s a ‘guy’ thing)

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Down at Prahran Market for a quick visit to the playground with Pepa, then shopping for supplies and a quick coffee at jaspers before opening the shop ten minutes late!

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

The organic banana & cinnamon muffins from Organic Elements at the Prahran and Vic markets.

Image from Angelucci 20th Century website

Angelucci 20th Century
92 High st, Windsor
ph. (0)3 9525 1271 or 0414 339 001


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