Interior Design? Just let me buy the lighting! And buying art in Buenos Aires.

I think they call this a colour palette?

As readers of this blog may already be aware, I have been struggling to get in touch with my feminine side, a.k.a. my inner interior designer. While I had strong views on what The 5th Floor should end up looking like, I didn’t really have the roadmap to get me there. And while I intuitively knew what furniture I wanted, I couldn’t find it so realised I would have to have it made.

Luckily the Irish bird who runs the local fish and chip shop (yes we now have one in BA) said she’d take care of it, and as she has a way with cod, I had absolute confidence she would have a similar way with colours. When she told me that her boyfriend was a dab hand with a saw and a hammer (not necessarily in that order), I asked if he could whip me up 8 desks, 14 bedside tables, 7 mirrors, 7 bedheads, a load of cupboards and a few sundry other items, all to Art Deco designs and in a range of elaborate finishes.

“No problem, would you like salt and vinegar with that?” she replied.

As you can imagine it was a weight off my mind.

But a man has to take responsibility for something in this process, put his stamp on his creation so to speak, and strangely while spending months trawling through auction catalogues, markets and antique stores,  I have developed something of a passion for the lighting of the 30’s and 40’s (with possible deviation into the next decade if I’m feeling frisky). Deco chandeliers you might describe them as, lights that make a statement, retain an elegance that modernism slowly sort to erode but without the dripping crystals that either make you think of your grandparents or a Russian oligarch.

Indeed, now I can tell the difference between chrome and nickelled silver at a glance, appreciate the glow of alabaster and have developed a particular weakness for Murano glass, especially this one, the main living room light:

Living Room LightI was in two minds whether to post pictures of some of my other recent acquisitions. Would anyone really be interested? Would it seem either pretentious or a bit precious? A couple of things convinced me. The first felt like a little victory. La Doctora and I have a shared vice. Every now and then we pop into one of the 4 amazing shops in San Telmo belonging to one or other of the Guevara brothers. While apparently the brothers no longer talk, they are still the undoubted kings of high end Art Deco, growing as others wither, serving an almost exclusively international clientele (at least that is my presumption).

When we first visited for inspiration, we were immediately immersed in a one stop shop that provided all our furnishing needs. Then we asked for a few prices and realised that a couple of armchairs and a desk had blown our entire budget and that our guests would have to sit sharing them in the dark because we wouldn’t be able to afford the appropriate lighting. So we decided to go the “Americano” route. Light, small, comfortable furniture, whose retro charm is very fashionable here at the moment as people try and give some character to their increasingly modern and decreasingly sized, apartments.

“Ah,” said the bird from the fish and chip shop. “You’re trying to go for the set of “Mad Men” look?”

“No I’m bloody not,” I replied. “I’m trying to go for Buenos Aires, golden age elegance and Art Deco styling.” She smiled knowingly. I realised that the Americano was not going to cut it. I pulled a couple of photos of stuff I liked out of my back pocket and asked her to tell her boyfriend to get his hammer out.

So this weekend we went back to the Guevaras for a little look-see. And while we were still impressed we weren’t overawed. We listened quietly to their sales pitch, the provenance of the articles, the dates, the designers and then giggled at the prices. The reason being, we already own half of this stuff. They had two different chandeliers for sale that were identical to ones we had recently bought. On average they were selling them for 22 times the price we had paid. I went home and looked up dealer prices in New York and London. Even higher. I realised I had learnt a new profession, so the last 6 months in grubby antique stores has not been a waste of time. Throughout the war years Buenos Aires benefitted from its country’s enormous export capacity, and as 40’s design revolves back into fashion and Poteños move from elegant mansions into high-rise penthouses, there is lots of the good stuff on the market if you know where to look. Which now we do!

Secondly, I was contacted by someone who actually read my blog. He and his wife are interior designers coming for a stay in BA. It got me thinking about what they might be interested in. Maybe they too would like to see what lighting or furniture is available here, though for most it might be too bulky and difficult to ship. However, they should certainly have a look at some Argentine art.

The fact is, other than Quinquela Martin (who sadly is my favourite), early to mid 20th century art here is surprisingly affordable, and surprisingly good (at least to my tastes). The market for Argentine masters is actually quite liquid, but strangely doesn’t seem to increase much, at least in dollar terms. Buenos Aires is one of the few places where you can go to a national gallery or museum, browse through exhibitions of its greatest painters and then go to an auction house preview and discover comparable works that are actually within your price range. And unlike many “emerging markets,” Argentina’s artistic tradition and accompanying European style documentation makes issues such as provenance far more reliable. Further I would recommend the auction house previews as an excellent way to get a feel for the tastes of the private collectors of the era, and an idea of how Argentina then saw itself. Currently, you can acquire unique paintings by many of Argentina’s well known artists for a couple of thousand USD and upwards, while good limited edition serigraphs and agufuertes, start in the early hundreds. I suspect few are the tourists wandering round the Museo de Bellas Artes who find a favourite work and think “I’ll have one of them”, while in reality they could acquire something stunning for little more than the price of their plane ticket. Further, as long as the work is not over 100 years old there is apparently no problem exporting it.

Anyway, back to my own past months of acquisitiveness, and some photos for those who might be interested;

la foto

This light now hangs at the top of the stairs, and frankly looks as though it has been there forever.

la foto

Though it’s a lot bigger than it looks in the picture.

la foto

This now hangs proudly in the bar, with a matching alabaster standard lamp.

la foto

Something for a bedroom above.

la foto

And another bedroom (don’t ask me why the sizes of the photos come out differently, I know about lights not technology).

la fotoAnd another, one of the classic designs.

So, I won’t bore you with the rest. After all there are quite a few rooms. Though the only modern ones are the studio bedroom and the dining room. My friend Gustavo is designing a far reaching and thus food illuminating, bronze sputnik for the latter.

la fotoAbove is his mock up.

I do occasionally ask myself whether my guests will care. Would they be equally happy with nice chrome circles above their heads. Am I doing this for the pleasure of my future clientele or to feed my new obsession.

Well the other thing I do care about is comfort, and during my banking days I stayed at too many cutting edge design hotels where the furniture looked cool but gave you a backache in 5 minutes. Not for me! So here are some of the things we are/ have been restoring.

la foto

la foto

And it you really need to relax and put your feet up with a large scotch in hand see below;

la foto

Just hoping mine doesn’t arrive with a resident blonde!

It’s frustrating when people ask you to send information about your hotel, but it is still a work in progress. We are opening in six weeks, but I wont have any marketing material before we do, as it isn’t quite finished yet. So for those of you with imagination, envisage the above accoutrements, installed in a place that looks like this;

la foto

la foto

With an excellent breakfast included, and an owner who will make you the cocktail of your desires before you venture out in the evening and partners that know their way round the best that BsAs has to offer.

Are you ready to book?

8 thoughts on “Interior Design? Just let me buy the lighting! And buying art in Buenos Aires.

  1. I won’t be staying with you as I have an apartment but are looking forward to visiting for a dinner and look/see!

  2. hello Brett

    Do you know of any mailing lists etc… for art auctions and exhibitions? I’d like to start keeping an eye on the local art market. Recommmendations would be great

    • Yes, I know of lots. I will try to put together an info blog listing them all. All the big auction houses now have e-catalogues and once you subscribe you are invited to their opening viewings and cocktails. An excellent way to get to know Argentine art!

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