Winter Antiques Show: Liz O’Brien
Liz O’Brien’s booth stood out as a beacon of creamy dreamy modernism in a room full of the serious brown furniture we associate with antiques shows. Yes, modernism at an antiques show — let your brain mull that over for a minute while I take you on a tour.
The booth included a delicious mix of very special things — lighting, tables, seating and accessories in brass, bronze, silk, steel and glass. Most were from the ’50s to the ’70s. Liz O’Brien is a bit of a superstar in the world of modern decorative arts and can be credited with educating designers about the work of people like William Haines and Karl Springer (long before those names started commanding wild prices on 1stdibs). We had a lovely chat, but entre nous, I got a little case of the shys when we spoke. I may or may not have been just a little starstruck, allegedly.
Liz O’Brien wrote the book on Samuel Marx (2012 Pointed Leaf Press), an American architect and designer whose name is not widely known but whose influence is widely felt in the design world.
This magnificent cabinet, seen at the back of O’Brien’s booth above, is by Samuel Marx. It’s wrapped in parchment with a silver-leafed back, glass shelves and very pretty hardware. It looks like it was designed today, but it wasn’t.
I’ve had this photo from O’Brien’s website in my favourites folder for ages. It’s all Liz O’Brien all the time, and that lovely Lucite-legged table front and centre is a Samuel Marx piece.
But back to the show. These lamps caught my eye immediately. The details: “Pair of lamps with crystal ovoid base with brass details and brass dome shade. Gabriella Crespi, Italian. C. 1965.” So sexy, don’t you think?
Also on my favourites list was this amazing item. As it turns out, this is also by Gabriella Crespi and from the ’60s. It’s real coral mounted on a brass plinth with a frosted glass base that is actually lit — so it’s not just an objet — it’s a lamp.
Oh, and looky here, what do you spot on the table beside O’Brien in this portrait that ran in Architectural Digest? Quite fantastic.
This pair of Edward Wormley chairs circa 1955 had me conjuring a lounge scene involving a gin and tonic, a Pucci shift dress and a soundtrack of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.
This bench looks 100% today but is in fact a John Dickinson piece from 1968. If you look very closely you will see the yummy texture play between the raw silk upholstered frame and the suede cushion. Incredible.
And speaking of John Dickinson, thanks to Liz O’Brien I finally came face to face, or rather, face to paw with a real deal Dickinson plaster animal leg table. You’ve surely seen interpretations of this thing by a few modern makers, but this, my friends, is the original. The provenance of this particular table is that it comes from the collection of a photographer named Jeremiah Bragstad, who had shot Dickinson’s home, a converted San Francisco firehall, for The New York Times. So cool.
Too bad I can’t find that photo on the interwebs. But I did find this shot of the space, and you can spy the table right there in front of the sofa. I am immediately filled with the urge to go coat something in plaster.
Thank you Liz O’Brien!
Take a tour of this mid-century modern home for more inspiration.
1-2, 6-7, 9-11. Margot Austin
4. What is James Wearing blog
5. Liz O’Brien
8. Architectural Digest, photography by Anthony Cotsifas
12. The Visual Vamp blog, photography by John Vaughan