About 53 years in the past, an auctioneer held up a blue-and-white, Chinese language porcelain vase as he offered off the contents of an English nation home. Among the many consumers within the entrance yard sat an vintage vendor and his child nephew, Stephen Saunders. The boy begged his uncle to bid on the vase; he beloved the vase. However the man refused — he had eyes just for the furnishings. The Individuals need the furnishings, he assured his younger companion.
“In my little 10-year-old mind, I stated to myself, ‘Nicely I’m bloody effectively going to have a store filled with vases someday,” a grownup Saunders remembers, sitting behind a desk in his West Village retailer, The Finish of Historical past. “And that is actually the fruits of that.”
In a single entrance window of Saunders’ retailer, a military of tall blush- and rose-colored vases line up in rows, their rounded, pointed, and open tops peeking out behind one another. Dotted between them are gold-accented vessels in pearlescent shades of white and creamy carnation. Inside, cabinets stacked with glassware organized by shade tower over clients as quickly as they enter. For individuals who can’t afford the steep costs, it’s pure eye sweet. For the skilled decorators and patrons who goal to carry one thing house, it’s a wonderland of prospects.
“The Finish of Historical past is sort of a groovy hip museum the place you possibly can really purchase stuff. Think about going into the V and A in London and having the ability to purchase the objects on show,” says author and trend inventive Simon Doonan through e mail. “Stephen has a magical potential to current an astonishing quantity of objects with out overwhelming the shopper. He is a superb artwork director.”
Saunders sees his retailer as a scrappy survivor: of 9/11, the financial collapse of 2008, a constructing fireplace in 2009, Hurricane Sandy, and now COVID. The truth is, the pandemic has labored in his favor “in a bizarre, bizarre, bizarre approach.” He says 2021 was his most worthwhile yr. “It’s really immediately attributable to the pandemic. One of many classes that did rather well within the pandemic was housewares, from my luxurious issues all the best way down to love $20 issues on Amazon.”
He didn’t count on the growth in enterprise. However Saunders found that within the face of stay-at-home orders, folks picked up their telephones, referred to as their decorators, and despatched them to The Finish of Historical past. “We’d go away the door open for air, and put on masks and all the pieces,” Saunders remembers of his conferences with house designers. “Even after we had been speculated to be locked down and never open, I might sneak in personal appointments. I don’t know whether or not it was authorized or not.”
Public sale Websites and Flea Markets
As a baby rising up on the Isle of Wight, simply off the southern coast of England, Saunders was fortunately thrust into the antiquing world, exploring public sale websites and flea markets earlier than he may stroll. Whereas most of Saunders’ household was concerned in artwork, his father owned the now-discontinued native paper, The Shanklin Chronicle and Guardian. “He would run an advert for me each week that stated, ‘Native collector seeks blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.’ After which he’d take me round and we’d purchase issues from folks after which take them as much as London,” Saunders remembers. “By the point I used to be 12, I used to be promoting issues at Sotheby’s.”
Saunders’ journey to The Finish of Historical past took him via a whirlwind of careers. He labored as a journey agent in London and in Hawaii, and got here to New York in 1983 to work as a stylist. Within the background, although, he was at all times shopping for and promoting vintage objects. He frequented the Chelsea Flea Market throughout its heyday. There, he had a “lightbulb second.”
It was Murano glass in orange, Saunders’ favourite shade, that set the ball rolling in direction of The Finish of Historical past. “This man supplied me a chunk that had a Bonwit Teller price ticket on it,” he remembers. The unique value was $300. “I used to be like, ‘Wait a minute, this man’s promoting this to me for $25 now.’ So I actually began to purchase each piece I may. I stuffed up a warehouse with these sorts of issues.”
The desires of Saunders, in youth and in maturity, turned actuality in 1997, when he opened The Finish of Historical past on Hudson Road. Again then, he says, it was the “most cost-effective place in downtown Manhattan to hire a store.”
Glittering vases, lamp stands, and miscellaneous mid-century vessels encourage visions of the open sea on one wall, with numerous shades of cobalt, turquoise, and cerulean virtually touching the ceiling. Saunders thought of arranging the shop like a museum, organizing his stock primarily based on nation or by designer. Nonetheless this wouldn’t have served the needs of his clientele. “When an inside designer goes into cloth store, they need to see velvet in each shade. After they are available in right here, they need to see vases in each shade. If you would like orange, you come to this part. And also you may need an Italian piece subsequent to a Danish piece subsequent to a Swedish piece.”
This, in response to Gideon Mendelson, the pinnacle of design agency Mendelson Group Inc., is exactly what a decorator wants when including the ending touches to an area. “I feel what’s nice is you possibly can go there with a great quantity of information and have loads of success,” says Mendelson, who has identified Saunders for 20 years. “Or you possibly can simply go there and know nothing, and are available out of there feeling such as you need to begin accumulating one thing.”
“Jewellery for the Residence”
Nearly all the pieces Saunders sells is ornamental; there isn’t a single teapot or eating plate within the retailer. He affectionally dubs his stock “jewellery for the house.” His glassware and ceramics present the ending touches within the ultimate levels of adorning. “When all of the rugs are down, when all of the furnishings is ordered, when each floor has been painted, polished, and buffed, then they arrive in with the vases and stuff like that,” says Saunders. “It’s like if you’re going out for the night and have a night robe on, the very last thing you placed on is the jewellery. It’s the identical for the house.”
“My expertise with Stephen is he units up slightly desk for me there, and I begin pulling issues. And he provides me the area that I want, as a result of I kind of fashion by myself,” says Mendelson. “However … he’s received nice style, and he’ll at all times discover one thing that I’m not taking a look at. And it would simply be the kind of uncommon factor that offers the area precisely what it wants.”
The shop options objects from all world wide, focusing particularly on the mid-century fashion. Saunders is most drawn to post-war Italian items, although he says there’s not a drop of Italian blood in his physique. “It’s the identical factor that drives you to Italian meals, it’s simply absolutely the deliciousness and uniqueness of it. The Italians are particular.”
“We Like Stuff”
The Finish of Historical past took place throughout “a kind of fascist regime of adorning,” says the proprietor. Nineties house decor ran strictly by the rule of much less is extra. “You need to not have shade. You need to not have knickknacks. You possibly can’t have something. You’ve received to be minimalist. Clear surfaces,” says Saunders, imitating the dictators of final century’s tendencies. “Nicely it seems folks had been sick of that by ’97. Simply sick of it. I got here on the proper time. I gave folks permission to say, ‘Look, we like stuff. It’s okay to have stuff.’”
Saunders, a self-proclaimed, “full-on” maximalist, lives by the liberty to like stuff. His Chelsea condo is bulging together with his favourite objects. There’s extra of a depth of age in his condo, he says, with a number of Nineteenth-century items, organized by type and his preferences. Saunders’ husband of 17 years, an accountant, by no means gave a lot thought to vases earlier than the 2 met. He appreciates the extravagance nonetheless.
So does longtime good friend and famend decorator Jonathan Adler: “Stephen Saunders is doing God’s work. He’s curating and archiving all probably the most fantastically designed objects which have ever been produced and representing them to most people. I’m an enormous fan,” he stated in an e mail.
Saunders has taken to Instagram to serve a wider public throughout Covid instances. The Finish of Historical past’s web page (@theendofhistory) is as jammed with magnificence as the shop itself. He communicates with consumers through direct message, the place he’ll cross alongside measurements and pricing data. Not one of the costs are public to followers.
What’s most vital to Saunders is his individuality as a collector. In contrast to most vintage sellers, he’s not — nor will he ever be, he vows— a member of any large-scale on-line marketplaces. “They simply swallow you up … I’m going to be the final freestanding, impartial vintage store in New York Metropolis.”
Saunders’ husband, who is way youthful than himself, plans to honor his companion’s obsession ceaselessly. “I stated to him, ‘You realize, once I die these items is price some huge cash, you’ll be capable of promote it,’” Saunders recounts with a chuckle. “And he stated, ‘I’m not touching something!’ He stated it will likely be a shrine.”
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