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Dear Friends and Clientele,
Over the years, I have been frequently asked how I've managed to acquire such an extensive collection of fine 18th and 19th century French antiques so early in life. My response has always been “I started early”, but I always got a sense that perhaps this was taken as tongue-in-cheek. Not so. My collecting did start early, in my teens in fact. While I had a lot of similar interests as other teenagers, I also started developing a taste for arts and antiques at an age when for most, hockey, baseball and football ruled. My first so called “treasures” were acquired largely in Montreal when I was at McGill studying for my Music degree.
The real thrust of my collecting started in the most unlikely of places, Buffalo, New York! At the time I was doing a second stint at the University of Cornell in upstate New York. On the frequent commutes home between semesters, I would often pass through Buffalo, on the border with Ontario. To many, Buffalo is known as a faded cornerstone of America’s industrial revolution and the site of the shameful Love Canal environmental disaster in the 70’s. Little is known of its past splendour, old money and European style palatial residences built by the industrial magnates for their families. These stately homes, many of which were sadly demolished, were furnished and decorated with the best of the best that the 18th and 19th centuries had to offer.
Through mentoring by a number of sadly long gone Buffalo-based dealers, I acquired my first serious pieces which I was told came from these mansions. How could I afford them you may ask? Through a “lay away plan” that’s how. By the time I graduated from Cornell, I had become a small time cognoscenti on many periods ranging from American Chippendale to high Victorian. It was, however, the English Regency and French Empire periods that caught most of my imagination. This was the era of Nelson and Napoleon when high society throughout Europe embraced neo-classicism with gusto, and styles of ancient Rome, Greece and even Egypt were manifesting themselves not solely in architecture but throughout the entire decorative arts, furniture and textile spectrum.
In 1981, long after I graduated from Cornell and while still working as a hospitality and tourism consultant, I opened a little part time shop called ‘Three Centuries Shop’ on Toronto’s exclusive Davenport Road. A hotel consulting business assignment brought me to Vancouver in 1987 and when all of a sudden I became a casualty of a merger with another consulting firm in 1991, I took a leap of faith which saw the re-awakening of the Three Centuries Shop on a full time basis. Originally I acquired a lease on an established antique and decorative arts business in Gastown that largely specialized in Art Deco. When I assumed the lease, out went the Art Deco and in came inventory I had amassed over the years and which up until that point languished in two warehouses in Vancouver and Toronto.
Rather surprisingly the business took off very quickly, a phenomenon that I attribute firstly to the fact that the venue was already known for antiques and art locally and secondly due to the gallery’s proximity to Canada Place and the cruise ships. The demographics of cruising have long become mainstream but at the time cruises to Alaska were new and expensive and attracted tourists with a certain cache both in their bank account balances and in their appreciation of luxury items. Luckily, Three Centuries was on the radar for many of these tourists. Compelled by unfavorable new lease terms plus increasing complaints by clients about the pan handler harassment syndrome in Gastown, I decided to leave the area.
After a search of potential sites including a burgeoning Yaletown, I acquired the building which all of you know at 1662 West 2nd Ave., Vancouver in 2003. When Three Centuries relocated to the building, the area was a place you drove through on the way to Granville Island. There was precious little to invite lingering. This has since changed dramatically and the area has been infused with high end condominiums and an eclectic mix of art galleries, foodie stores, interior design business and more. The neo-classical themed building which now houses my gallery as well as my residence was the culmination of two very extensive and at times challenging projects with one completed in 2003 and the other in 2007.
Although furniture and decorative arts from the French Empire period covering the first quarter of the 19th century dominate my personal collection, I am finding that my taste has evolved over the years to include pieces from the pre-revolutionary and the Louis XV and XVI periods. Known as the Grand Siecle, the nobles from this era had everything they desired and no expense was spared in the pursuit of beauty and absolute comfort.
A central room across from a Tuscan Themed Courtyard is exclusively furnished with English Regency, Sheraton and Chippendale pieces. The single themed rooms change over time of course but in general there is some effort devoted to grouping pieces of the same period and style in pockets throughout the gallery. Well, that is my story.
For the next newsletter and ones after that, the focus will be on recounting anecdotal, historical and provenance of the more important pieces in the gallery starting with a very interesting common thread that, at the moment, exists between the English Embassy in Paris and Three Centuries Shop. The one after that will recount a similar connection between Three Centuries and The “Patrimonio Nacional” of Spain. There are many more anecdotes. So stay tuned.