My work was pretty boring before I became a dealer,” says Wade Terwilliger, who once co-owned an environmental engineering company and spent his days overseeing budgets and personnel. Now, at objects20c — the West Palm Beach modern furnishings shop he launched with his partner Rico Baca in 2003 — a day at the office can be spent selling vintage furnishings to Johnny Depp for his house in the Bahamas one minute and mid-century treasures to foreign royalty for their Palm Beach vacation retreats the next.
Before meeting Terwilliger some 14 years ago, Baca had pursued a more glamorous career path, working as an expert hair colorist in Palm Beach. The client connections he forged during those two decades in the salon have proved invaluable when it comes to dealing in 20th-century furniture. “I know the way people like to buy and the importance of service,” says Baca, who hails from a small town in Louisiana, where as a young boy amid the soybean fields he hungered for the glitz of a place like Palm Beach. He says he also learned that shopping and service must “always involve having fun. If our clients are interested in a twenty-thousand dollar Tommi Parzinger cabinet, they want to have a good time while buying it.”
These days, there’s plenty of fun to be had at objects20c, which occupies an entire building in the epicenter of Antique Row, West Palm Beach’s design destination. “For years, Rico and I had been shopping for twentieth-century furniture along this street to decorate our own home,” says Terwilliger, explaining how he and Baca got their start. “When a dealer who owns several incredible stores here saw us window shopping late one night, he told us this loft space was available, and we fell in love. We were both ready for career changes.” And so they opened their shop, filling the loft — all exposed beams and raw-wood floors — with the pieces they had been avidly collecting: mid-century modern furniture and decorative art from between 1930 and 1970.
In the spring of 2011, the dealers acquired the loft’s downstairs area, thus doubling their space (it now totals 8,000 square feet). Initially, they divided their inventory into two categories: Upstairs was Objects in the Loft, concentrating mainly on vintage rattan and split-reed furniture. Downstairs became objects20c, where they zeroed in on the mid-20th-century furnishings and decorative arts that today comprise their whole inventory. (The store stopped selling rattan and split reed last fall.)
Now, both upstairs and down are populated with pieces by the likes of Harvey Probber, Edward Wormley and T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings. But the pair have also added edgier pieces to the mix to keep the mood current: “Normally, the twentieth-century designs we carry have a predominantly traditional feel to them, due to their familiar materials,” explains Terwilliger. “But this subset of pieces, by people like Louis Durot and Philippe Starck, are made with materials like plastics and resins — it’s unfamiliar territory.” By way of example, he cites a sculptural Durot cocktail table whose base is shaped like a tongue and Starck stools that rock back and forth like rodeo steers.
“It’s been so important for us to evolve over the years,” says Terwilliger. “We still believe very much in the modern movement, and the strength of modern in this current market. But we are also big believers in changing not only our displays, but also the look of our gallery. We want clients to always have a reason to come back.”
Another lure for clients is Palm Beach Modern Auctions, which Terwilliger and Baca started last year, just down the block in a former blinds factory. “There are no twentieth-century specialty auction companies in the South,” says Baca of the new business, which hosts as many as five auctions a year. “We had the clients, the resources and the experts, and it just made sense.” Their next auction, called “Art, Glass, Jewelry, Sculpture and Silver,” will take place on November 2, followed by “Modern Design” on November 30.
When the duo aren’t fielding bids, meticulously tending to the store or fly-fishing with Terwilliger’s father in Upper Michigan, near where Terwilliger was raised, they are cultivating their extensive garden, its bounty bringing endless delight. “We are like kids when we see the first bean sprout come through the dirt,” says Baca. “And we are in absolute awe when we pick a tomato or watermelon or make a salad completely from our garden.” Sometimes the most fun comes from the ground up, dirt and all.
Baca and Terwilliger shares their thoughts on a few choice pieces