Shop Talk

Roark

This week Lisa Bowles, who specializes in 18th-, 19th- and mid-century antiques, is unveiling her new store, Roark, which she relocated from East Hampton to the New York Interior Design Building. Top: A 19th-century French chair with a carved walnut frame and muslin upholstery shares real estate with a 19th-century horn chair covered in elk skin and fur from Austria.
This week Lisa Bowles, who specializes in 18th-, 19th- and mid-century antiques, is unveiling her new store, Roark, which she relocated from East Hampton to the New York Interior Design Building. Top: A 19th-century French chair with a carved walnut frame and muslin upholstery shares real estate with a 19th-century horn chair covered in elk skin and fur from Austria.

On a recent chilly morning under a heavy sky, a quiet hum of anticipation radiated through Roark, Lisa Bowles’s new store that officially opens tomorrow on New York’s Upper East Side. James, Bowles’s 13-year-old Jack Russell terrier snoozed atop a finely weathered de Sede leather daybed, a Cire Trudon candle let off a deceptively summery hint of basil, and through the soaring windows that enclose the space on two sides, glimpses of the Roosevelt Island Tram skimming past offered proof that Bowles is definitely not in East Hampton anymore.

Bowles first opened Roark — named after The Fountainhead protagonist Howard Roark — 11 years ago in Sag Harbor and moved it to East Hampton seven years after that. Largely focused on European inventory from the 18th century up through the mid-1950s, Bowles did a brisk business with the summer crowd, happily adapting to the feast-and-famine pattern that defines business on Long Island’s East End. Yet several years ago, the city, where she spent half her time, began exerting its pull, and after selling her Sag Harbor home (in two days) last June, she began zeroing in on an available space — modern, loftlike and double the square footage she then had — on the sixth floor of the New York Interior Design Building (at 306 East 61st Street). Though she briefly considered maintaining two locations, she quickly decided to devote herself completely to the New York store. “I can already feel a level of drive in myself that is elevated from moving here,” says Bowles. “I’m surrounded by amazing dealers and in an amazing building that has long had a great reputation in the design community.”

Her first week of being (unofficially) open this past fall yielded as many visits from big-name designers as she’d typically see in a whole Hamptons summer: The likes of Victoria Hagan, Madeline Stuart, Steven Gambrel and Randy Kemper and Tony Ingrao all promptly paid her a visit. “For those people to be your first clients,” she says with a laugh, “you’ve got to feel like you’re doing something right.”

Roark
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Roark

An expert eye ensures that Roark’s inventory — including two 1950s Italian marble lamps, a pair of J.J. Hierro oak occasional tables and two 1940s Jean Royere-style black-painted chairs — seamlessly blends together.

During her travels, Bowles frequently picks up unique odds and ends, including a distinctive set of bookends and a collection of white pottery; the large French lamp dates from the 1950s.

The seductive steel curves of a very rare 1930s Beta chair by Nathan Horwitt play off the elegant arc of a travertine table and, to the right, a pair of Marcel Breuer–style chairs with jute seats.

 

Here Bowles sits amid a set of 16 wood-laminate chairs by Friso Kramer.

Bowles is not just doing something right — she’s doing something right, very deliberately. Her inventory, whether it’s from the 18th century or the 20th, Italy or Belgium, rendered in metal or wood, is united by a steadfast commitment to clean lines, a straightforward level of presentation and an emphasis on quality of form over embellishment. “I feel like the base of my business comes from a modernist approach,” she says.

Her commitment to this aesthetic and her proficiency in recognizing (and mixing) its forms across multiple mediums and centuries is visible everywhere at Roark. In one corner hulks an immensely handsome 18th-century Italian walnut cabinet, while a 1960s black metal Paolo Piva table forms a sculptural web on the floor. Elsewhere, a 1970s Neal Small mirror hangs above an 18th-century Venetian baroque console table topped by a Flemish metal tea caddy. The move to the city has affected her inventory in subtle but sure ways — fewer farm tables and more streamlined, versatile pieces, for example — but the baseline look remains the same, as does Bowles’s commitment to how she sources her pieces.

When it comes to stocking Roark, Bowles favors frequent, intense hunts through France, Italy and Spain (and soon, she hopes, Latin America). And she goes beyond known names in favor of distinctive finds. “I don’t like the safety of mimicking what everyone else is doing,” she says. “I try so hard to find things that you don’t generally see elsewhere.”

And, most emphatically, she doesn’t deal in reproductions. “It’s really important to me. I’d rather go to Europe six times a year and find unique things, like the people who inspired me to get into this business did, than produce a line of furniture,” she says. “Because that’s not fun. There’s no story.” And for Bowles, the story — whether of a fine European antique or her own unfolding Manhattan adventure — holds the utmost interest.

Visit Roark on 1stdibs


TALKING POINTS

Lisa Bowles shares her thoughts on a few choice pieces.

I found this chair in a very small antiques shop in Italy. It’s simple and proportionally kind of perfect. When you move the arms it reclines back, so it’s almost like a modernist lounger. It’s just a beautiful chair, that’s all there is to it.

This is a classic Flemish leather screen, with fleur-de-lis detailing and nailheads all around the exterior. It’s been repaired and varnished and is in incredibly good condition. It reminds me of the kind of screen that Coco Chanel put behind her classic Chanel sofa. It’s also invaluable in a New York apartment, if you need to hide your television, a radiator or an ugly door. Screens are a great thing to have on-hand, you can use them in so many ways.

I purchased these lamps, attributed to James Mont, from an apartment sale on Park Avenue. They are so beautifully made: Each Foo dog is a block of wood that was handcarved and then gilded and now has a very old, weathered patina. The thing I love is that the dogs don’t match perfectly; they are made to face each other. They’re carved to fit precisely into the base, but not actually attached to it. They’re beautiful on a console, in an entry or behind a sofa.

This waxed-plaster sculpture is attributed to Parvine Curie (who I always thought was a man, but it turns out was a woman). She made sculptures like this one as studies for large bronze pieces usually found in institutions or exterior spaces. Right now I have it on a concrete stand, which comes with the sculpture. I think it’d be perfect at the end of a hallway or in a large entry.

This is early production Paolo Piva. When I first got it, I hung it on a wall. It can act as a great sculpture piece for that wall that needs something but a conventional piece of art isn’t necessarily right. When the light hits it from a certain angle, you get this kind of spidery reflection on the wall behind it. To use it as a table, I’ve ordered two very thick pieces of green glass, so you can still see the base but it’s not just clear.

These chairs have this free-form, cantilevered shape, but the materials are something of the opposite: very rigid and strong. There’s absolutely no wear whatsoever on the jute weaving used on the seat and the back. For me, the attraction of these pieces comes down to their simplicity; they’re perfectly balanced. They also happen to look great anywhere you put them. No matter where I place them in the shop, they make the space better. I think they’re some of the best chairs I’ve ever owned.

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