Design & Decoration S01 ep15: Karl Kemp, Kemp Antiques, [New York]
Interview with Karl Kemp
I was at a house last night where a man just finished his new quarters and they were so stunningly beautiful. It radiated the owner, the owner was in heaven - you could feel it.
I grew up in Germany and my mother had collected Biedermier in Europe and
neve came home without a "travail" and so at some point it was quite natural
for me to start it for a business.
KM: What is Biedermeier and can you tell me a little bit about its history?
1810 to 1835 - it is the originally period for Biedermeier furniture. Historically it
is the last face of the neo classicisim but what fascinates me is that, that early
period has a strangely modern appeal. It is very streamlined, it is very
architectural and it has been a great success with young architects.
I left my family when I was twenty one, I came here rather unfinished but my
friends here somehow took charge and one of them had a very influential job
with the public library system and he said " listen, look whatever you do later,
right now you can work for us as a clerk, and you will make a decent living".
I was in my late 40's and just by chance I met a man who had just come from
Switzerland and who had opened a store with antiques on 12th street and his
name was Uwe Christensen and I told him if you ever need help in your store
let me know, he had travelled a lot, he was very seldom in the store so I really
had a chance and unfortunately three years later he died.
My clients came to me, my landlord came to me and said Carl you cannot give
this up, you have to, have to keep going. I had a store but I had no
merchandise. I went to Europe and I put a small container together and it
started rolling, and I was very, very lucky. Today this is a very big operation. I
have six buyers that are totally employed by me two ladies in France and 4
guys in central Europe.
Bidermeir really didn't sign, but there some very interesting sketchbooks left by
him and some work shops. There was a man called Joseph Dunnhousen in
Vienna who had a very successful, high enterprise and he left many, many
design boxes. Let's say that he had 400 chair designs: and they are all
KM: What was the actual reason Biedermeier started?
First of all the possibility was the invention of a new tool. It was developed in
England in the late 18th century - a saw that you could use to cut veneer. You
could shave a tree down to about 1/8th of an inch and people discovered that if
you put the pattern of a tree together you could create wonderful designs. Like
here, like this table. That had never been done before because you didn't have
the tools - you carved, you painted, you gilded furniture. But just to slice off the
natural veneer of a wood was something totally new. And in order to make it
work the best you needed a very plain cubic shape: no curves - that really was
a new and exciting thing, and the need to get away from the French sign of
Napoleon had stamped his rule, with beautiful designs. I mean it was all very
impressive, Egyptian, Renaissance - fabulous sphinxes, but with all the usual
depictions - swans etc, and people were bored with that. Napoleon did that for
18 years , we can't take it anymore. We want to have our own woods, our own
materials, our own designs and until that time furniture was always designed
by the architect for the court. Only then in the very early 19th century a
furniture maker was left to his own resources to find the material, he might go
and cut an old cherry tree, he seasoned it in oil to bring out the pattern, he built
a box of pine or oak, whatever, as a framework and then he put the sheets of
the veneer over it and then he had to sell it. No one had given him the order,
build this for me, here is the money. He was left to his own entrepreneurship to
design it and to find the customer. That was totally new in the early 19th
KM: What is really one trying to achieve with an interior?
If they do their job right they are really trying to mirror the client, with their
comfort in mind, their investment and their needs when they come home. If
that home mirrors the occupant or if it is just a job or a creation that they would
put together with a certain...
KM: So you think there has to be a connection?
There has to be a connection.
KM: So tell me, when that marriage happens, that is when you get the
KM: When you walk into the room?
You can feel it. You can sense it whether the person is there or not, but you
know if it is a private environment or a show house.
KM: Are there any people that come here, that are well known, that you can
Oprah Winfrey is a wonderful person.
KM: OK, so she comes through here too?
KM: I haven't seen her sit on a Biedermeier suite on the show.
Oh but in her home she has wonderful pieces.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: Karl Kemp, Kemp Antiques, New York