Bakelita: an emporium of 20th-century style in Madrid

Dramatic and uplifting finds make this Madrid emporium one of the world’s leading dealers in 20th-century art and design

Alfonso Icaza Aresti
Alfonso Icaza Aresti | Image: Gianfranco Tripodo

Alfonso Icaza Aresti took a gamble when he set up shop in his native Madrid 12 years ago. Having just returned from a decade-long spell in London, where he had studied art and worked at Sotheby’s auction house, he “wanted to open a boutique that offered something different. I already had an interest in 20th-century decorative art and design, so that’s what I chose to specialise in.”

A collection of seven different-sized red glass vases from the 1960s, €4,295
A collection of seven different-sized red glass vases from the 1960s, €4,295 | Image: Gianfranco Tripodo

It has proved to be a good decision. “The appeal of antique furniture from the Victorian and Georgian eras has been waning for decades and, in its place, people want the sort of lighter, more interesting pieces that are typical of the genre we focus on,” says Icaza Aresti, whose eclectic emporium in the bustling heart of Barrio de las Letras, near the Prado and Reina Sofia museums, is one of the world’s leading dealers of its type. 

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The sleek and artfully laid-out space displays an ultra-glamorous take on the midcentury trend, focusing on pieces from France, Italy and the US. A neoclassical-style 1960s console (€4,598) by France’s Maison Jansen, for example, has a glass top and Perspex legs finished with bronze animal feet; and a square, double-tiered coffee table (€2,178) by France’s Guy Lefèvre in brushed metal and smoked glass would pair well with the low-slung black leather and teak armchairs (€4,840) attributed to Gianfranco Frattini. It’s a top-rate collection, often sourced from regional salerooms and by word of mouth from an extensive network of contacts rather than from high-profile auctions and art fairs. “I’ve had some quite rare and valuable pieces through my hands, such as a remarkable blue glass and talossel framed mirror by Line Vautrin, and a red lacquer dining table by the celebrated British interior designer David Hicks,” says Aresti.

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One constant about his selection is that everything is in excellent condition. “I can get lacquerware, wood and porcelain restored,” he says, “but I only resort to that if a piece is exceptionally rare.” He also favours finds that are “dramatic and uplifting; these items can be successfully put together with 18th- and 19th-century antiques to create really interesting interiors. You can revive a dull piece of brown furniture simply by hanging a photograph above it – something by Man Ray or David Bailey, say – or by introducing a pair of table lamps by Piero Fornasetti [1950s silkscreen Viso di Donna ones, €4,598].”

It is this combination of furniture, art and objets – such as a collection of seven different-sized red glass vases (€4,295) from the 1960s, sourced variously from Italy, Germany and Spain – that has given Bakelita a reputation as a “one-stop shop” for freshly schemed interiors, attracting both private buyers and designers alike. “We also have lots of visitors, usually older people, who come to the shop to tell us how they once owned examples of the pieces we sell, but they got rid of them when they were out of fashion in the 1980s and ’90s. Personally, I believe you should hold onto everything – because some day, as with 20th-century decorative arts and furnishings, it will invariably come back into favour.” 

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