Design & Decoration S01 ep6: David Leon, Dalva Antiques, [New York]
Interview with David Leon
The French Period furniture making industry was analogous to NASA. When this was made, very, very smart people were making it. It had the people who did this in the eighteenth century are designing computers, are at Mercedes Benz engineering, no one would be able to pay what these things would have to be worth if you had people doing it today.
KM: What is Dalva Antiques?
1. Well, it is a time machine, I guess. It was started about 75 years ago, by my
father and his brothers, … 18th century furniture
2. His brothers were originally from France and we have always been in
KM: Why French period and not Renaissance, Italian, why not English period.
1. The thing about French period is that every piece has an originality. The
English furniture is very often a series, they resembled each other. These are
really works of art.
2. There were no pattern books in French Furniture as there are in English
furniture, where you bought a book by Duncan Fife or somebody like that and
there were patterns in there and you just recreated the furniture. Here it’s all
original it is all…
1. And you know it was a huge industry in France and people came to be
cabinetmakers, from all over Europe. The Italians, the Dutch, the Germans
came there also people came from all over Europe to buy in Paris, it was
something one did.
1. I think the things, the furniture is being seen as something more than just
an applied art, when it is at a certain level.
2. A lot has to do too, with the Victorian Period when a lot of books and a lot
of things were written and the Victorians were very much into worship.
Paintings are real art because one can only touch them with their eyes.
KM: So you are saying that today..
2. That influences us because that is called art and that is the definition of art,
and that is when all the definitions of these things were written and the other
things well they are pedestrian.
KM: In pricing I guess what you are looking for is, the highest price goes to
that thing which has been touched least ..
1. It is a question of degree and how sensitively it was done but the hierarchy
is really kind of aesthetics.
2. What is it about is the beauty, the artistic movements, when you see it,
does it create an emotion?
1. Americans have been collecting French furniture since the 1880's
1. Yeah, I mean George Washington, Jefferson. They had wonderful, I
wouldn't say wonderful but they had very good solid pieces of French furniture.
And after the Revolution Colonel Swan from Boston went and bought back
fabulous pieces, because those were royal pieces and a lot of those are in the
Boston Museum and they are really kind of the jewels in their collection. So
that taste has been here really from the inception of the country.
2. There are a lot of French furniture in the White House in Washington.
1….some of which we've sold.
KM: Do you have the ability to restore things here in New York?
1. We actually have the shop here and it actually allows us to go down and
say STOP! Or you know continue..
You have to watch the restoration because you are restoring something that is
200 years old and you want to go to the original and no further.
2. Especially in Paris they can do too much.
1. Several years ago the Metropolitan Museum had the exhibition of the King
Tut Tomb and there was a chair there. We had each seen the show separately
and you know we came and we said "Oh you know wasn't the show
wonderful…." And we each said almost simultaneously "did you see the
chair?" and we said "yes" and what was intriguing to us was that it was
constructed the way and 18th century chair…
KM: King Tut's Tomb?
1. King Tut's chair !
2. Tongue in groove and then the dowel.
the art of joining wood is ancient and there is really only way you can do it.
KM: What were some of the extremes of technique and technology that they
had back in those days?
1. Furniture veneered with feathers,
KM: Come on?
1. Yeah, feathers.
KM: How do you veneer something with feathers?
1 …with patients and time and with some beautiful dead birds.
2. None of them survived.
Well there is one in Versailles, there is one in Versailles. There is a cabinet in
Versailles, which has the feathers. I think a lot of it is under glass but never the
less… there was straw marquetry - where you know you would take a piece of
straw and flatten it, stain it, and glue it down.
KM: Come on.
KM: They do all this crazy stuff?
1…Well I wouldn't say they were doing it a lot, but I mean the wood marquetry
is just as crazy when you think about it. I mean someone had to go into the
rain forest, chop the tree down by hand, lug it to the river, bring it down to the
port, get in on the sailing ship, you know bring it to Paris, saw it into a veneer
that’s crazy too. But the wood was much more beautiful than the indigenous
ones and they thought it was worth it.
2. One of the reasons why it is marquetry is because the wood on the surface
was so valuable that you did not make a whole solid piece out of it. And very
early when you look at mahogany, which was started to be used in the Louis
XVI period, it is almost all veneer. When you get later into the Empire period
when they started importing more of it into Europe it starts to become solid.
1. To a very, very large extent the furniture making industry was
analogous to NASA.
2. Yeah, because the French government was pouring in huge amounts of
money to state owned decorative arts enterprises. There was Searve, there
was the tapestries at Goale Blanc and there were bunches of cabinet makers
who were working directly for the King in the Lourve.
KM: why are you chaps in this business
2. For us it is very easy because you look at it and say Oh…
KM: Yeah, but you could have done something else with your life. This is a real
2. This is continual discovery, continual exploration.
1. It is a continual education, you know there is always something new and
wonderful that you, you may have never seen before.
It is a tremendous joy finding something that has been essentially
unrecognised and seeing behind the dirt and paint and whatever other people
have put on it, to see what is underneath it. Bringing it up and suddenly
restoring it back to its former glory. Ah look at this thing, this was sleeping and
now it is awake.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: David Leon, Dalva Antiques, New York