Since Georgiana Bland was a girl, her father’s antiques shop on Manhattan’s Upper East Side has been like a second living room. “In high school, passersby would often look in horror at the sight of my friends and me hanging out on 18th-century furniture, but my father taught us never to hold back when throwing a party,” she says. “After all, he has always known good restorers.”
Not just generous with his patience when it came to his daughter, Gerald Bland also imparted his abundant knowledge of history, flipping over a Chippendale chair to point out its extraordinary craftsmanship or explaining why a 19th-century walnut table was most likely Portuguese. Today, Georgiana has blossomed into a well-versed young woman, having earned a B.A. in art history and Italian at Wheaton College, in Norton, Massachusetts, and then living for four years in Rome, where she worked at a company that organizes bespoke tours throughout Italy and Europe.
Since joining her father’s business in 2011, she has emerged as his invaluable right hand, filling the role of gallery director at his eponymous shop. In this capacity, she’s helping Bland père ensure that his 26-year-old company maintains its status not only as an invaluable neighborhood destination, but also as a favorite source for an international array of designers via its online outreach, an area to which Georgiana brings her generation’s panache for technology. “Expanding our presence via social media and 1stdibs, and constantly updating our website, not only helps us reach a larger client base, it generates constant dialogue, too,” says Georgiana.
Since she first inquired about filling a position that opened here,” says North Carolina–native Gerald with a big smile, “I promised I would never comment on her wardrobe choices and I would be flexible about her travel schedule. It turns out I’ve never had an employee who cares more about this business. It’s been entirely gratifying.”
Together, the Blands are committed to keeping the old things feeling fresh and the new ones referential. “Twenty years ago the inventory of the shop was totally period, with the range of furniture, art and objects dating from between 1690 and 1840,” says Gerald, who headed up the English furniture department at Sotheby’s New York when he was just 23, and went on to run the English antiques powerhouse Stair & Co. for three years. “But I began to diversify after 9/11 in an attempt to capture a design market I felt was more focused on the future than the past. An 18th-century commode looks new when it’s paired with a contemporary painting.”
While the Blands’s shop is a cozy, ground-floor space on upper Madison Avenue, it could just as easily be in London or Paris. “I wanted my shop’s layout to feel domestic but also to have a slight edge, the way the European galleries often do,” says Gerald. To that end, he’s stacked boldly stroked modern art against 1780 Adam giltwood armchairs, and he’s placed contemporary artist and gilder Eve Kaplan’s Rocaille copper-glazed ceramic mirror to keep an 1825 Regency mahogany table on its toes.
The Blands present their inventory casually and intimately, allowing visitors to touch and circle it, becoming dazzled by its quiet glamour. As in every great room, each piece has a unique story: Design idol Albert Hadley gave his friend Gerald the black-ink quadruple portrait of Jean-Michel Basquiat, drawn by the so-called godfather of street art, Richard Hambleton. A close friend of Basquiat, Hambleton sold the piece directly to Hadley years ago, and then, says Gerald, “Hadley just walked in one day and handed it to me, saying he thought I would appreciate it.”
“I also carry artists here that no one has ever heard of,” Gerald adds. “Sometimes, they even walk in off the street to show us their work. It’s fun to then see the paintings end up in shelter magazines.”
Some of the gallery’s offerings are a literal mix of new and old: “I began adapting antique elements into contemporary furniture about seven years ago,” Gerald explains. Case in point: his transformation of a late-17th-century English Japanned cabinet on a giltwood stand. The stand had been badly altered by a previous owner so that only the four carved Baroque legs were original. Gerald restored the legs, joined them by double-steel rods and added an antique marble top, creating a contemporary table with retro roots. He also restored the cabinet, mounting it on a clear acrylic stand and turning it into another piece of furniture. “If something is already not so pure,” says Gerald, “then I feel I have creative license to give it new life.”
Sometimes, it’s a customer who gives a vintage piece fresh meaning: When fashion designer Tory Burch saw a taxidermy armadillo in Bland’s shop window, she bought it right away. “It became a football substitute for her boys,” says Gerald with amusement.
It is this stylish yet informal joie de vivre that defines the shop. One recent day, the phone was continually ringing with calls from designers; a young couple was eyeing an Art Moderne steel and leather desk; and Bland’s sister, Connie Newberry, who oversees the interior-design side of the business, was striding down the steps to the shop’s offices, saying, “People often walk in and ask us if we can decorate their entire place based on the look of the shop.”
Later, Mita Corsini Bland, Gerald’s cosmopolitan watercolorist wife of 33 years — they met after she was placed by Sotheby’s Works of Art program in the Islamic Art Department — stops by with the family’s English cocker spaniel, Tosca, to say hello. Surveying the scene, Gerald looks ahead to what’s next: “It’s ultimately cyclical,” he says. “I feel the eighteenth century creeping back, but with a contemporary edge.”
As for his daughter: “It’s constantly evolving,” says Georgiana. “I’m working on incorporating exciting new artists and several custom pieces into our repertoire. And I’m still planning gatherings in the shop, this time for clients who are also friends as they often become interchangeable. I love being part of it all.”
Gerard Bland shares his thoughts on a few choice pieces.