Chat with Design lover Michael Marcy
A few weeks ago Michael Marcy opened his new Design Gallery. His passion for furniture and design started at the age of 17. He invited us for a visit and we talked about how he went from young hippie to gallery owner. But some things never change, he’s still as wild at heart as he was back then.
We enter a light space full of hidden corners and high ceilings. How did you find this place?
Actually I found it 12 years ago. I sold another property and was looking for something new. I always liked the idea of big spaces hidden behind a small facade. In the beginning it was a ruin: the basement was full of water and there were trees growing inside! The result of a huge gap in the roof for many years.
You didn’t transform this house as a gallery right away. What did you use it for all these years?
First there was a lot of work to be done. We bought a new roof and I let the place dry for six years! After that I used it as storage. I was exporting furniture to the United States, so the extra space came in handy.
You moved away from the Antwerp Kloosterstraat after 35 years. Was this a conscious descision?
The Kloosterstraat is a nice street, but it’s a bit to commercial for the things I have to offer. What I sell is for a very niche market. I felt like I had outgrown the Kloosterstraat, it was time for something new.
Your gallery is now situated between the Jewish quarter and the Mechelsesteenweg. Why this area?
First of all because I was lucky to find this house here. But I like this area. It used to be the most important neighbourhood for interior design. Times change, but I believe this neighbourhood will be important again. Already a lot of new art galleries and interior shops opened over the years. I really see interior designers, antiquarians and art galleries move over here. It’s a good neighbourhood and rent is quiet low. In the city center rent can be ridiculously high sometimes.
Ofcourse everything started before the Kloosterstraat for you. How did you enroll this business?
I started as a young hippie, a bum almost, and I was a squatter. But you can’t compare those therms with today’s standards. I was fifteen and you could find me hanging in café’s like The Muze close to the Melkmarkt and Wolstraat. We used to call that side of town ‘De Kanten’. That’s where kindred hearts met. I was already working in the Wolstraat then. Later, when I was 18, I also moved there. We went from one empty house to another. My first interest back then was to survive. I started selling things that I found in empty houses or in containers to antiquairian. At the age of twenty one, I opened my first shop.
Did you start selling design right away?
No, back then I sold ‘grandmother’s stuff’ as we called it. (laughs) It was very much in fashion those days. Anyone who was hip had an house filled with little, retro things. From china dolls to little boxes and other nick-nacks. This trend came from Amsterdam.
How did your style evolve?
That evolution came with the Art Nouveau movement. I got really interested in Jugendstil. It was the first time that I came in touch with a specific style. I went to buy a book on the subject. Later this interest grew into a love for Art Deco. This also became a trend. But like every trend it comes and it goes. Just like the fifties trend. I saw it come, go and come again.
When a certain trend ends, do you hold on to those pieces or try to get rid of them?
I always keep them, because some pieces are museum pieces. They are so important that I can’t just give them away. Even if they don’t sell, I could keep them for museums or for exhibitions.
Do you see yourself more as an art collector or dealer?
I’m not a collector. Everything I have is for sale. I know someday I might bump into that piece again.
Is there more interest in vintage design today as there was back then?
The things I’ve been selling with heart and soul for all those years still atract the same group of people, kindred spirits. I know most of them from the flea markets in Brussels. Those people where there from the beginning. I really believe that’s how certain movements grow. Kindred, young spirits who come together.
You only have first editions. I can imagine it’s not always easy to find them?
You learn as time goes by. It’s like a game and you get better and better at playing it. But ofcourse when I can get my hands on something very special, I’m still a very happy man. In some cases you know where a certain piece is, for many years, and you wait and wait until you can buy it. It’s all about timing and patience sometimes.
Do you have a favorite piece in your gallery?
Not really a favorite, but for now I’m very intrigued by the pieces of Renaat Braem. He didn’t make a lot of furniture. I bought some pieces of him at an auction. I was amazed that I could actually buy them. I don’t understand why the city didn’t buy them! Those are pieces that should be in a museum, it’s heritage! I hope I get to sell them to a museum someday, instead of an art dealer.
What was the pinnacle of your carreer so far?
The exhibition I organized in the Atomium in Brussels two years ago. It was an exhibition on the work of architect Willy Van der meeren. I organized it together with Thierry Belenger en Mil De Kooning. It was an amazing experience as the Atomium is an architectural master piece of the fifties. It was build for the World Expo of 1958. This was one of the most important Expo’s as it was the first one to be held after World War II. I always found it to be an amazing building and it’s very exciting if you get to organize a exhibition there. In the morning we got to operate the lights, we had all access and I walked trough pipes with no stairs. We took over the building, it was awesome.
If you look back, did you ever expect you’d be sitting in your own gallery someday?
No not really. I always knew I would continu selling furniture. But when I opened my first shop people said it was a bad time to start a business. That’s been 40 years now and I’m still standing. As long as I’ve been in this business it was always a bad time. I don’t believe in those things, just do your thing.
You can visit Michael Marcy’s Design Gallery from Thursday till Sunday in the afternoon, Sint-Jozefstraat 78, Antwerp. More info