Thursday, December 16, 2010

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

A holiday message from Tony and Freddy. Best wishes to all of our friends for a happy and healthy 2011!

Monday, December 13, 2010

F.P. Victoria + Son Trade Tips 4

Hello! We have taken far too long to put this next batch of videos together, but we are happy to finally have one for you to see.

This video is the first of a three part series we are devoting to upholstery. All too often these days, we find chairs that have had some foam thrown on a frame, with some fabric haphazardly stapled over it, accepted as standard practice. Upholstery is truly an art and can, without a doubt, make or break a chair. We have divided the series into "Upholstery Styles and Appearance," "Upholstery Trim," and "Upholstery Construction." Three short video clips certainly aren't enough to cover a broad topic like upholstery, but we hope it will help remind us all of what to look for in high-quality upholstery and how upholstery can enhance the unique character of a piece.

We hope you enjoy the first video on Upholstery Styles and Appearance.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Preview shots of Todd Romano's Los Angeles showroom

First, it has been far too long since we posted anything, even for a poster as infrequent as us. Sorry for that. On the plus side we have been busy and are planning more Trade Tips videos.

One thing keeping us busy was a trip to visit Todd Romano's new showroom in Los Angeles, which is carrying a few of our pieces. Todd has done a magnificent job with his new space, which includes 2 buildings and an outdoor courtyard and walkway! He has finished the walls of each of the rooms in a different color high-gloss lacquer style finish and even built out a wall for a faux fireplace which he covered in antiqued mirror (on which, I am proud to say, hangs our Faceted Serge Roche style mirror). Todd has brought the same attention to detail and refinement to his new showroom as he does to his inventory selections and decorating jobs.

Todd is in the process of re-doing his website, which will include the new showroom. But until it is ready, here are some snap-shots I took. Enjoy!

Todd Alexander Romano

930 North La Cienega Blvd

Los Angeles, CA 90069

(310) 855-1280

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Trade Tips: 18th Century French Chairs

Here is our third Trade Tips video clip! Tony Victoria covers the defining characteristics of Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI chairs as well as the transitional periods. He offers some great details to look for to help you identify the different styles. We hope you find it useful and enjoyable!

Note: you may need to to turn up your volume since we had to film a bit farther away this time to fit everything in the shot. Sorry!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Trade Tips: Chair Frame Construction

We just finished our second Trade Tips video clip. This segment covers some of the basics of traditional chair construction and some key dimensions to keep in mind regarding chair design and comfortability. We hope you find it useful! Have a great Labor Day weekend!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Trade Tips: Gilding Techniques

Tony and I are trying something new - video blog clips! We shot our first "Trade Tips" clip yesterday. It is a quick overview covering tricks Tony has taught me to identity mercury gilding versus electrolytic bath gilding of brass mounts. The topics will vary, this one being a bit more advanced, but will also include some furniture and decorative arts basics for both antiques and new designs we are working on.

We know we need to work on the our production quality (!) and my "screen-presence" needs to be improved to say the least, but we hope you enjoy this and find it useful!

Hope you are enjoying the last bits of summer.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Learning from the design process

The development of this table has been a bit of an odyssey and a learning experience for me. Believe it or not, we starting working on this table in 2008!

There were some structural problems that we had to fix: primarily the "wobbliness" of the frame. Without cross supports or the right gauge material, this basic "Mallett" style of table is always a bit shaky. We solved this this by using heavier gauge brass both for the legs and the shelf-supports and the difference is remarkable.

That first, wobbly, prototype had wooden shelves too - that was the original look I had in my mind; something rustic yet contemporary, industrial but refined. But as we were improving the frame, a finisher friend of mine saw and fell in love with the idea of the table and offered to lacquer the shelves in a new technique that she was working on. I consider this friend to be an extremely talented and innovative finisher, so naturally we went ahead and lacquered the shelves instead of using a natural wood finish. This was the result:

And here is a close up of the lacquer:

I really love this lacquer. The pattern is hand applied using a metallic dust that sort of bleeds out into the white lacquer, creating a soft halo-effect or shadowing around the lines. And more importantly, I like how it makes the table look. It gives it a more modern feel. However, I must admit some degree of satisfaction now that we have the table as originally thought of with the wooden shelves. Perhaps that is just because it fits the expectations I had in my mind. But it taught me a lot about the design process. There is a hard balance to maintain between your own inspiration and external inspiration. Truly, whenever I go to my friends studio, I get inspired. And I am thrilled by this lacquer technique and using it. But, somehow I am just a bit more fulfilled by seeing the table as I originally envisioned. It may be a tired axiom, but you really must stick with your vision for a project. Of course outside inspiration is vital, but I believe you must somehow take that inspiration and adapt it to your vision instead adapting your vision to the inspiration.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Price and Quality, this weekend in Massachusetts

This weekend I was in western Massachusetts, in an outlet store, and I stumbled across a perfect example of an issue I’ve been thinking about since I started working with my father: the trade-off between price and quality. It was a chair very similar to the one in this image.

It’s a knock-off variation of our Rope chair pictured here.

Perhaps “knock-off” is the wrong word to use. It is clearly a bergere form, whereas the back of ours is open. Plus, the original chair was not our design anyway (I believe we are perhaps the only firm with patterns based on the 1870's Napoleon III original, however) and “knock-offs” are a part of this business anyway. What shocked me was the price. The bergere was selling for about $2,000 in the store.

Suffice it to say, we could not carve, finish and upholster one of our chairs for even close to that cost!

Now, there are some important differences that must be pointed out. Ours is a gilt finish. Ours has tufted upholstery. Ours has a stretcher. Our carving has greater detail. The proportions of our rope is consistent. The tassels of our arm-posts are free-standing from the posts. And so on...

But at some point you have to ask, does the client signing the check care? Would they rather have the more expensive, detailed example of fine craftsmanship, or would they prefer the inexpensive example that gives a similar idea of the original?

I believe that more and more, clients are opting for the later.

Certainly, the current recessionary times do not help, but it’s my opinion that the average client is more interested in the “idea” behind a piece and the look or feel of their home as a result. You could call them the “aspirational” client. The apsirational client may make the choice based on price, or simply because they are unware of the custom option, or the reasons behind the cost difference. But, for whatever reason, they decide to spend their money based on how they want their home to feel.

Now, there is still a client out there that does want the detail and does want the craftsmanship, and is willing to pay for it. But, similar to knowledgeable collectors becoming fewer and fewer, I think there are fewer and fewer of these clients around. From a personal perspective, when these clients place an order it is exciting from the production end, because these are usually jobs that push your boundaries a bit and require you to really engage your creative side. But if I am right and there are fewer of these types of clients, it means that high-end customized furniture and craftsmanship will continue to be relegated to its niche. And, without getting too Malthusian, we will continue to see a dwindling of the bespoke production trades in America. Small talented craftspeople and firms will need to find others ways to stay relevant.
I pulled this post together quickly and did not take the time to find supporting hard metrics. Most of my opinions here are a result of my observations and then stumbling across this chair. So please tell me what you think, or if you feel differently. I would love to know. Just one clarification: I do not place a value judgment on these two diffferent client groups – one is not superior to the other. The 2 groups are themselves a gross over-simplification I used to illustrate what I think I see happening in our business. In fact, sometimes the same client can act both "aspirational" and more custom oriented. I simply want to note these observations to help us make more informed business decisions, and if I am lucky, some of our readers’ as well.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Found in the Warehouse

We recently "re-discovered" these candlesticks. My father calls them the "Jelly Mold" candlestick for reasons only he knows, but the name has stuck. We used to carry these at Chez Soi in Bridgehampton where they were a popular small gift item. You can see the old protoype in the background before we gave it the rustic, irregularly patinated finish. We might have to bring these back...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Architect's Barstool

We just took these new pic's of our Architect's Barstool in a Bridgehampton Kitchen and wanted to share them. The model was originally used as an architect's bench, hence the name. We used some of these at our kitchen counter at home when I was much younger! The model has always been a favorite of my family so we decided to include it in the "Essential FPV" collection. Hope you like the images!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Found in the Warehouse

These are some of my favorite items hiding in the warehouse. This is one of a pair of Louis XV 5-light candelabra gilt bronze mounts. Originally, they were used to display a porcelain figure or object in the center. I can't wait to use them for a special project!
Have a Happy 4th of July!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Found in the Warehouse

This is one of several headboard models we have floating around the warehouse. Only, when I went to write this post, my father actually informed me that this was an 18th century original that we've had for ages! Not only that, but it's signed by its maker, Jean-Baptiste Lebas, which of course was not always the case. Never know what you'll find.... Have a great weekend!

18th Century Louis XVI Headboard by JB Lebas
Molding detail of 18th Century headboard by Lebas

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

My Wishlist for Architectural Digest

Yes, I'm joining the fray of debate surrounding what will happen next for Architectural Digest. I was prompted by a lively post on the blog The Blue Remembered Hills. There are lots of rumors floating around ranging from who will take the helm all the way to AD going out of business. Any speculation on my part about who takes the lead there, would be just that - uphelpful speculation. But my secret hope is that AD will use this chance to substantially re-invent themselves. Two recent New York Times articles on Elle Decor and Lonny might provide some clues as to how to do that.

You may have your own opinions on each of these publications, but both of these magazines are doing something right. Most importanly, both have embraced new media outlets. With a more developped infrastructure, Elle Decor has been able to strengthen their brand with reality TV and social media, while other publications have folded. Lonny also has a strong social media presence, and perhaps the most compelling format for a "publication" out there - and at a faction of the infrastructure and, I'm guessing here, a fraction of the cost.

AD already has perhaps one of the best brand names to build on. It is occaisionally subject to some criticism regarding its content, but you always find top-end decorators' work there. The problem for some of the critics is perhaps that top-end does not always equal cutting edge. As someone in the trade, seeing these decorators' work is informative, and sometimes inspriational, but I would not consider it a trade resource.

So, my wishlist for this re-invention of AD: That the next editor is able to somehow marry the best parts of a traditional publication and an online one, while building on AD's high end reputation by being more of a resource for high-end decorators and designers. I can just see a junior decorator somewhere reading AD on his/her iPad and bookmarking the links of the pieces she/he likes to a "look-book" folder. But I may be dreaming...

It is safe to say that our industry is undergoing major changes, and in my opinion, those are usally associated with inflection points during which new paradigms are put in place. For our trade publications, in case the closure of House & Garden, Metropolitian Home and others wasn't a clear enough sign, they need to change as well. My fear is that the publishers of AD will make a safe pick with someone who hews too closely to their current formula. In my opinion, this will simply be putting off the inevitable folding of the magazine.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Found in the Warehouse

Large blown glass
We aren't 100% sure what this large hand-blown piece of (very dirty) glass was used for, or how it got into our warehouse for that matter. But we have two. We think they were used somehow in an old pharmacy display. Fun shape either way. Maybe for a light fixture? Have a great weekend!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Found in the Warehouse

This is a raw wood body for a Louis XVI style barometer and thermometer. Could also be used for a clock. Or for one of each since we have 2...just in case! Have a great weekend!

Luxury Industries and the Internet

As we all know, last Friday was another bad day for the equity markets. Most US indices lost just under 3.5%, triggered by the monthly payroll report. Payrolls were up (and the overall unemployment rate was down, but this measure is pretty much useless unless you happen to be in politics), but nearly all the payroll gains were temporary census workers who will be looking for jobs again soon.

So why am I bothering to write about this, when for the most part people in our business seem to agree that things are on the mend? Things may be getting better, but I haven’t heard ANYONE saying they are back to where they were 3 years ago. The bottom line is; things may be getting better, but business is going to look and feel a lot different for a while yet.
Reuters recently held its Global Luxury Summit and senior executives from Saks, Barneys and Oscar de la Renta all said that business had improved since the start of the year. One measure of luxury spending put together by SpendingPulse (of Mastercard Advisors) puts luxury spending up 14.3% versus this time last year when things were at a stand still. This, plus our own anecdotal experience, makes me think it is safe to say that high-end spending is coming back some.

But this spending looks much different now. More and more, the luxury fashion brands are embracing the internet and online sales. Bain & Co. estimates that online luxury goods sales rose 20% last year – not much rose 20% in 2009 at all. Luxury fashion houses seem to be getting over their fear of the web damaging their aura of exclusivity. Now, it’s a safe bet that most of these sales come from the fashion houses “second tier” lines, which are more widely available online. But regardless of whether the sales increases are from second tier or their more exclusive lines, the point is fashion houses are actively managing their brands online and as well as increasing sales instead of being worried about any potential downside of a greater online presence.

You can debate the decision to introducing second tier lines and I realize that the fashion industry is not a direct correlation to ours. But what we must take note of is the way these fashion houses have reversed course and are embracing the web. I think just about every designer and decorator is using Facebook and Twitter now to manage their virtual presence, but I think we would be mistaken to think that Facebook and 1st Dibs will be the only profound changes the web has in store for our industry. We have already seen some of the best trade publications go under, only to result in Lonny which is the next step in trade publications. Blogs are more important than ever. 1st Dibs has clearly revolutionized the business.

So what is next for the industry and its dealers and decorators? I’m not sure. But you can bet there won’t be any pricing power for a while and, if the effect on the web in other industries is any indication, there will be more transparency. When you consider the parallels of exclusivity between top fashion houses and our industry, as well as the relatively lack of transparency in many relationships in our industry, there are many aspects of our industry that could be in for a change. Case in point; Restoration Hardware’s website includes, in some cases, bio’s on the vendors that supply the pieces in question.

I’m not saying that in 5 years our industry will be one big transparent operation with regard to pricing and suppliers and everyone will be happily holding hands. By its very definition, luxury home furnishings will remain exclusive in certain respects. But we are already seeing the changes in how we manage our brands on blogs and social media. And I think we would be naïve not to expect some sort of changes in how we interact with clients and manage our supply chain.