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Magazine    January 2003

Divine Decadence

Jean Dunand lacquered eggshell screen and pair of Northern European Empire chairs

An Ingrao favorite: lacquered furniture
such as this japanned chair, circa 1735-40

Circa 1760 Irish marble-top serving table
with Chippendale-style carving

Designers and collectors attending the International Fine Art and Antiques Show in New York in October were wowed by Anthony Ingrao's new antiques gallery. Ingrao, an interior designer with a Versace-like flair for drama and luxury, is showcasing elaborately carved 18th-century chairs upholstered with animal prints, stately bureau bookcases, gleaming marble-topped console tables and lacquered chairs alongside cutting-edge contemporary art, all in a very modern and minimalist setting.

After 25 years of decorating and collecting, Ingrao decided to share his taste for the sumptuous with the cosmopolites in Manhattan—and he's doing it his way. "Over the years as I shopped for clients, I got bored seeing antiques displayed in the same context," says Ingrao. "When I decided to start my own business selling antiques, I thought hard about how to bring new energy to the display and presentation. I wanted to create an inspirational setting for these beautiful antiques, something that would make them vibrant and relevant in the 21st century."

Ingrao and his creative director, Randolph Kemper, gutted a landmark 19th-century townhouse and designed a luminous three-floor gallery accentuated by gleaming white marble floors, a bright atrium, sinuous walls and an open granite staircase that weaves its way up through the airy space (bottom left). With natural light streaming in through windows and the furniture set on pedestals or plinths, the pieces are virtually spotlit and displayed like works of art.

Ingrao, edged on by his desire to modernize the notion of collecting and living with antiques, added some contemporary paintings to the mix, such as Ross Bleckner's Starry Night and a Kenneth Noland Target painting. "It's about time fine furniture met contemporary art," says Ingrao. "I'm both comforted by the beauty and craftsmanship of tradition and inspired by the joy and color of modern life."

Many of the antiques Ingrao has put on view are pieces he has bought over the years. His collection is voluminous and spans the 17th to the 20th centuries, with a substantial holding of classic English furniture from the Queen Anne, Georgian and Regency periods. The French monarchs starting with Louis XIV are represented on through the Directoire, Empire and Art Deco periods. What the various items in this vast assortment have in common is elaborate carving, dramatic form, striking scale and excessive style. At Ingrao Antiques & Fine Arts one may like or dislike a piece, but no one would disagree that there is impeccable artistry and craftsmanship throughout the gallery.

Early-19th-century Russian chair English rococo girandole mirrors, ca. 1760

There are extraordinary, very expensive antiques at every turn. Attention is immediately drawn to a huge Jean Dunand lacquered eggshell screen (top), which was designed circa 1927 as part of a total room scheme. A five-foot-tall gilt bronze torchere, marked with the name Andre Arbus, the popular French designer of the 1940s and 50s, is monumental; only a few were produced, according to drawings and paperwork obtained by the gallery, and the one Ingrao is displaying was from a stateroom on the oceanliner La Provence. Then there is a 1760s Chippendale serving table with a most remarkable jasper top, and what about that pair of 2-foot-high ormolu chenets, each in the form of a fantastical dragon with a long and curly tail. Attributed to the English firm Vulliamy and dating to about 1825, the asking price is fantastical, too: $250,000.

The keeper of all of the treasures at Ingrao Antiques & Fine Arts is Jennifer Olshin, a former decorative arts specialist at Christie's who is quite studied in the world of antique furniture and interested in the concept of juxtaposing new art with old furniture. "There are so many exciting opportunities for creating novel visual relationships," she remarks. "The sky is the limit."

Granite staircase curves up toward the atrium
Another Ingrao favorite: a mid-18th-century English
bureau bookcase with a broken swan's neck pediment

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Ingrao Antiques & Fine Art
17 East 64th Street
New York, NY 10021
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