An Exclusive First Look: The Extraordinary New York Interiors of Federico de Vera
Come with me for a first look at the new and ultra-private apartment of Federico de Vera, the highly talented founder and owner of de Vera, the ‘insider’ art and jewelry and decorative arts galleries in San Francisco and NoLiTa.
I’ve known Federico de Vera for many years, since he founded his first ‘objects gallery’ in San Francisco.
Originally from the Philippines (his elegant and cosmopolitan parents are antique and art dealers and connoisseurs), Federico has traveled the world with an open mind and open eyes. At hidden French antique shops, Bogotá workshops, Murano foundries, Paris auctions, Brussels flea markets, Prague galleries, Indian jewelry shops, Miami book shops, Cambodian alleys, Filipino treasure troves, Provencal artisan studios, Venetian by-ways and London dealers he seeks and finds the rarest and most exquisite things. (Whenever I am traveling to Venice or London, Rome, or even Jaipur or Antwerp, I ask Federico for hidden and secret places—and his tips are always delicious.)
Federico has the most fastidious, fascinating, and fabulous eye in the design world—and his shops have gathered a very rarified coterie of like-minded collectors, including Giorgio Armani, Karl Lagerfeld, and editors, film directors, gallery owners and curators, stylists, artists, designers, architects and style-followers around the world.
His mysterious shops are cabinets full of antique décor, paintings, and very curious curiosities. His art is to display and illuminate rare and lovely and arcane beauties in vignettes and tableaux and antique cases.
Almost an extension of his galleries, Federico’s apartment offers rooms of delight and originality.
Come with me on a magical mystery tour, as we head to Lower Manhattan, and a newly completed private apartment that has never been published.
I sat down for a chat with Federico de Vera recently. Join us for a few moments to learn more about Federico’s vision—and to be inspired.
DDS: Where is your apartment exactly?
FDD: We are at 20 Pine Street, in the Financial District, a block away from the NY Stock Exchange and Wall Street and behind the Federal Hall, which was the first capitol of the United States.
DDS: What's the history of your building?
FDD: It was built in the 1920's and recently been converted into condos. The building was designed, with Egyptian motifs, by Graham, Anderson, Probst & White as the headquarters of the Morgan Guaranty Trust Company, a predecessor firm of J.P Morgan Chase. Graham, Anderson, Probst & White was the successor firm to Daniel Burnham's firm whose famous and very influential buildings include the Rookery, Monadnock, Reliance, Wrigley and Merchandise Mart buildings in Chicago and the Flatiron Building in Manhattan.
DDS: What do you love about it?
FDD: The neighborhood, history, and the simplicity and integrity of the building. We are in the financial capital of New York (or the world), but we have found it is a very pleasant and peaceful place to live. Sometimes it has a the feel of old Europe with it's old buildings next to 21st century structures. At times you even hear church bells coming from nearby Trinity church, which is the oldest parish in Manhattan. It is very close to Tribeca with all its great restaurants. Luxury shops like Hermes, Tiffany, Maison du Chocolat and Pink have opened nearby in the last 2 years.
DDS: Did you have to do a lot of remodeling and restyling?
FDD: The layout and finishes for the entire building were specified by Armani Casa, so that meant quality basic foundation that my partner Randy and I built on. Aside from paint colors, mirrors, glass divisions, built in bookshelves, extra cabinets and closets, curtains and shades, we didn't have to move any walls or take down any tacky fixtures as one would normally do in almost any old or new construction. This was the only place we looked at where we felt like we could move in without doing any major alteration.
Regarding decorating, it's a different story. Since it's our real first residence as a couple, everything from the colors of upholstery to the placement of objects needed to be approved as a committee. It was almost like Randy was the client. It was sometimes difficult especially for me since I don't work for anyone. In the end, it worked out perfectly.
DDS: What are your favorite collections?
FDD: I don't intentionally collect but inevitably end up with a collection of a certain type of objects that tend to serve the same purpose, come from the same period or artist, or made of the same material: chairs, portraits, figurative and religious paintings and sculpture, candlesticks, Roman and Greek glass and ceramics, Venetian glass, books, and enamels by June Schwarcz.
DDS: Which piece do you love the most?
FDD: That's a tough choice. I love every single piece we have at home. They're here for a reason, whether I've rescued them from my shop or obsessed about for months before acquisition. I tend to bring home things that I've had for a long time in the shop and had not found their new owners. And once they're here, they probably won't be leaving for a long time.
DDS: You're a life-long collector.
FDD: I started collecting shells and driftwood as a child, and then dabbled in little antique trinkets as a teenager. When I first moved to San Francisco, I started collecting rocks and rusted objects. Sometimes I feel like I have to exhaust the knowledge and resources before moving onto the next territory. My obsession with objects is like life itself - always changing as one matures.
DDS: Are you constantly editing, or have the rooms been the same from the start?
FFD: The paintings tend to stay in the same place (after all that deliberation involved in the installation!), but the objects tend to shift around especially when new things or furniture are brought home. Mostly, they just get "nudged" into place. When that doesn't work, they get relegated to the storage or the country place.
DDS: Advice to collectors on displaying and presenting their favorite things.
FDD: 1) To avoid looking cluttered, always group objects with the same material, form, historical context or sometimes color in the same space, table or cabinet.
2) Be ruthless in editing objects that don't work with the group. Most probably, those objects need to have their own space. It's much easier to edit an arrangement rather than integrate something that really is not working.
3) Try telling a story by the arrangement of the objects. Let them talk to each other or make up an imaginary scenario.
DDS: I love the collection of portraits—especially the mix of fine old and new.
FFD: I have collected pictures of people, new and old, historic and contemporary, for a long time without necessarily having the space for them, so they were mostly in storage. I just couldn't pass up a good portrait. The long wall provided the perfect showcase and the random (though studied and duly deliberated with Randy) installation allows for easier integration of new paintings. Sometimes I feel like we're having a party and sometimes I feel like these people are all looking out their windows telling me something from a forgotten time.
DDS: Thank you, Federico. It’s always a great pleasure to see you—and to dream of your beautiful and poetic collections. They always set me dreaming.
Next week we'll be visiting your wonderful de Vera gallery in Soho.
Photo credits: All photographs by New York photographer Don Freeman, used with permission.
1 Crosby Street
New York NY 10013
phone 212 625 0838
fax 212 625 0208