Stepping into the foyer of de Vera can be a confusing experience. The light-filled space with floor-to-ceiling factory sash windows is peppered with statuary – a 19th-century terracotta figure ($24,500), an Italian marble seated boy ($19,500), a German Gothic sandstone head ($16,500) – that calls to mind Sir John Soane’s Museum in London’s Lincoln Inn Fields. To actually enter de Vera one must traverse several stairs and open a proper front door. Is this a shop or gallery? Or, God forbid, someone’s private home? “It is a little intimidating,” admits Federico de Vera (first picture), who opened the decorative objects-cum-jewellery shop in SoHo in 2003. “But if you do come in, you’ll discover all sorts of things – and that we are extremely nice.”
It helps to be approachable when nothing has a price tag, meaning visitors are forced to interact with members of de Vera’s devoted and knowledgeable team – each of whom are quick to produce ring binders filled with details about every object in the two-level space. These run the gamut from Venetian glass, including some rare examples of vases and vessels by Italian architect Carlos Scarpa (a perfume bottle from around 1937 is $4,800, second picture), and 200-year-old wooden figures originally found in churches in de Vera’s native Philippines (a carved Saint Anthony is $1,650) to 19th-century Japanese puppet heads (from $5,800). “This store is about things people were crazy enough to create,” says de Vera of the mix. “I like the handiwork and attention to detail.”
Not everything here is 200-plus years old. De Vera sells the work of a few living artists too, including abstract organic sculptures (from $650) by ceramicist Maggie Wells, cast bronze Java Olive pods (from $550) by William Neil, and sinister but cool rabbit sculptures (from $9,800) by Andreas Caderas.
As to the jewellery, most of it is designed by de Vera himself and is a mash-up of styles and eras. Georgian is a favourite period, and a showstopper of a bib necklace features lace pins set in 18ct gold with emeralds ($24,500). Other gems include 19th-century mother-of-pearl and 18ct-gold drop earrings ($985) and Georgian brooches converted to be worn as bracelets ($2,950).
Jewellery and curios are displayed in mostly antique cases standing beside black walls and on wooden floors. But while this cabinet-of-curiosities look has now become almost ubiquitous, de Vera was a pioneer of the aesthetic back when the fashion was for a stark, white, minimalist box – and many of New York’s so-called cultural elite quickly took notice. De Vera’s client list reads like a who’s who of artists and photographers, fashion and interior designers, editors and models, architects and musicians. Impressive, given he doesn’t advertise, rarely socialises and never, ever has a sale.
“I secretly don’t want to sell a lot of this stuff,” he admits, pointing out specific pieces such as a small Meji-period shibayama trinket box ($48,000) with carved abalone and mother-of-pearl flowers and a gold lacquer interior. “There are some pieces here I was obsessed with for a long time before I could buy them. My customers are the same way. This is a shop of want.”