WEST PALM BEACHCOMBING
Tiffany’s Design Director John Loring Sifts Through Dixie Highway Finds
Text by John Loring
n recent visits to Palm Beach, I began to notice with ever greater frequency that comments on a particularly appealing 20th-century antique in a friend’s house led to the reply, “Oh, I found it on Dixie Highway.” If the stated origin had been one of the world’s great streets of discoveries, like the rue de Beaune or the Marche’ Paul-Bert in Paris, or Pimlico or New King’s Road in London, I would not have been surprised; however the idea of discovery on South Dixie Highway in West Palm Beach was beyond intriguing and required investigation. After a half dozen visits and many times more purchases, I’m totally hooked.
Just three blocks west of the beautiful palm fringed and mansion-lined Intracoastal Waterway known as Antique Row has a sleepy, old-fashioned flavor. At first glance it seems that not a lot is going on, but that is hardly the case. In the 50 or so antiques stores that line the highway, the high-spirited eclecticism of the Roaring ‘20s, when the great old houses of Palm Beach were built, is enthusiastically reflected.
My first purchase, a superb 1920s Art Deco armchair by Leleu, was proudly displayed in the stylish window of John Prinster—but not for long. I don’t know if M. Leleu designed it with the Florida room of my West Palm Beach house in mind, but that’s where it’s going.
A remarkably informed man full of youthful enthusiasm, Prinster, while in Paris as an exchange student in the early ‘70s, bought some books on the 1925 Paris exposition and “discovered for the first time that the things I’d collected—that I’d stumbled across here and there and that I had always liked—were called Art Deco.”
After leaving Paris, Prinster lived in Colorado and in Atlanta where he worked as a fashion designer, before settling in Florida.
“Florida was like God’s little waiting room when I came here in 1980. But people here are no longer doing the same old things, and I have many clients now that share my fascination with Art Deco.
“It works so well in Florida. There were so many influences on ‘20s and ‘30s and ‘40s design from France’s tropical colonies. It’s natural to bring the tropically influenced here.”
Along with sleek, high-style Deco furniture, Prinster offers collections of European ceramics and glass, all remarkable examples of the work of leading decorative artists of the period.
Across the highway, Tony Sirianni, of Dolce, has a very personal and enlightened version of 20th-century “objects of art . . . and other inconsequentials,” as his business card announces. Sirianni, an easygoing, affable man of robust intelligence and free-wheeling culture, started out as a concert pianist, moving to south Florida as dean of students at a local music conservatory. “I found the pressure of concert artistry wasn’t for me,” he says. “However, the arts are all based on form, texture, color and emotion, so I’m still on stage. It’s a performance medium, being an antiques dealer.
“I like one-of-a-kind things with imagination—something next to its opposite, or something that’s quiet next to something that’s screaming. And I don’t care if it’s Eames or Acme. As long as it speaks to me, I’ll buy it,” says Sirianni.
I pick up a pair of 1940’s French chairs with fanciful proportions that look like they were designed by a calligrapher, and whimsical bent-plywood nesting stools that, as a label in Russian affirms, started life in Lithuania. “Coastal wealth brought a lot to Florida,” Sirianni comments, surveying the Dolce showroom and pointing out an army of imaginatively designed 1950s Italian lamps and a handsome 1950s Robs-john-Gibbings figural console.
Perched on the charmingly named corner of Roseland Drive and Dixie is an earth-tone building reminiscent of saloons on western firm sets, Malekan Antiques and Oriental Rugs, run by its quietly personable owner, Joseph Malekan, carries very different fare.
The store’s collection of fine 1920s wrought iron grilles, lamps and tables salvaged from the ‘20s “Spanish Deco” mansions designed by Addison Mizner and others along Palm Beach’s fabled Ocean Boulevard draws me in. Malekan’s offerings of piles of fine Persian carpets, Uzbek embroideries, Isfahan ceramics and Palm Beach wrought iron, all stacked helter-skelter, as they might be found in a Middle Eastern bazaar, make perfect sense—even his “attachment to metalwork that developed here in Florida”—when Malekan explains that his tastes spring from a love of fine craftsmanship.
“I appreciate the handwork in all of it,” he says. “The metalwork is so closely related to the carpets. You take a piece of iron and you work on it with your hands and with your imagination until you’ve created something beautiful—exactly the way you make an Oriental rug out of wool or silk.” Two eight-foot-long Art Deco copper panels of ocean game fish are on their way to my Florida house moments later.
I run across Roseland Drive to the local wizards of lamp outfitting, Heath & Company, who kindly say I can go on with my shopping; they'll have it rewired and back to me before I've finished chatting. A man from Heath & Company reappears with my Mizner lamp restored, in what seems only minutes, to its former glory--the end of a perfect day.