Items from WYETH x Barneys New York shot in their Spring Street store. Photographed by Sidney Bensimon.
Walking into WYETH on Spring Street, you may find yourself making sweeping declarations, such as: “I want everything.” It’s not an uncommon reaction to the spacious, showroom-like store, which carries an impeccably curated mix of furniture, lighting, art, and objects at its locations in Soho, Sagaponack, and, soon, Tribeca. Since opening the store in 1995 with his brothers, owner and founder John Birch has filled the space with high-quality and often unusual vintage pieces (mostly from the last 100 years), newer reproductions, and his own designs crafted in a Brooklyn workshop.
Here at Barneys New York, we’re fans of all things rare, extraordinary, and, of course, beautiful. So you can imagine how excited we are to announce a special collaboration with WYETH. Birch and the team curated a selection of pieces—many of which are vintage one-offs—to be sold both online and at our Madison Avenue store. We wanted further insight into the intriguing world of WYETH, so we sat down with Birch to learn more about not just the collaboration, but also his impeccable taste and why it’s always a good idea to invest in great design.
The Window: Why did you and your brothers decide to open WYETH? What was the mission?
John Birch: I was motivated to create a store that I would want to live in or shop at. I wished to bring together a wide range of designs and objects that I found and loved, regardless of their time period, and combine them together under one roof. My brothers are brilliant artisans in their own right and have contributed so much to WYETH.
How do you describe the WYETH aesthetic?
We embrace great and exciting design in its many manifestations, from primitive and industrial pieces up through the 21st century. The unifying theme for all of it is integrity and quality. I especially admire Craft Movement artists like George Nakashima and all the great Danish architects and cabinetmakers, who produced so many unbelievable and timeless pieces. Hans J. Wegner and Finn Juhl are two of my great design heroes, as are Gio Ponti and Edward Wormley. But I also love that so much of our inventory is made up of interesting and beautiful objects created by anonymous designers.
In your opinion, what makes for great design?
Great design is when I see something as if it always existed—as if it were created in nature.
What excites you about your work?
I love being surrounded by beautiful design and having the opportunity to share it with others.
What’s your favorite destination outside of New York to get inspired?
Japan and Denmark are inspirational places to visit. I am moved by the harmony, integrity, and lack of pretense of their architecture and furnishings. There’s such a tangible connection between architecture and interior design.
Describe the style of your own home. What are your favorite personal pieces?
My house is a pared-down version of what we do in our stores. I have a few great Hans Wegner pieces (including a beloved leather Papa Bear chair for reading) and a big, comfortable Edward Wormley sofa for watching TV. That said, WYETH is as much my home as where I sleep at night. It is where I spend the majority of my time, and I believe in every piece we have.
Why should people invest in furniture and décor?
Good design of great quality simply looks and feels wonderful. It is a sound investment and is in harmony with today’s more casual and flexible lifestyles. We spend so much time in our interiors; I believe in surrounding oneself with furniture and décor that elevates a space and resonates warmth and quality.
What tips can you give to people who are apprehensive or indecisive about shopping for furniture and objects?
First of all, buying the best that you can afford is always a great investment and will bring you the most pleasure and usefulness. In addition to researching online, I suggest that people go to our showrooms and see, touch, and feel a considered piece in person, if possible.
How did you curate the pieces for Barneys New York?
Barneys has long featured new, great design, and we have selected complementary vintage objects that are in harmony and accessible. We will offer out-of-production Fornasetti pieces to complement the contemporary ones that are carried, as well as a range of other unusual objects that are reflective of our aesthetic. Hopefully, it will be a pleasant surprise for Barneys customers to discover our WYETH collection.
Below, Birch walks us through some of the highlights from WYETH x Barneys New York:
This candleholder is beautifully crafted from a single piece of polished bronze. It has a flow and elegance typical of so much of Jens Quistgaard’s work—it’s really like a sculpture that you can put a candle in.
Leather Dachshund by Deru
The animals made by a German company called Deru in the 1960s are always delightful, expressive, and incredibly made. This dachshund is crafted from a single sheet of trimmed, pinched, and riveted natural leather.
Pipe Holder by Carl Aubock
Carl Aubock’s incredible and imaginative range of objects really is sculpture for the table. This patinated brass and leather-wrapped pipe rest is lyrical, beautiful, and crafted to the highest of standards—as are all of his pieces. These materials just get warmer and richer with age.
Ice Bucket by Dansk
Though you wouldn’t know it from first glance, this is actually an ice bucket. The Danish, cylindrical staved teak ice bucket was designed by Jens Quistgaard in the 1950s and has a sublime shape with a beautiful and subtly sloping lid.
Water Pitcher by Gustavsberg Studio
This Swedish water pitcher is from the 1960s and can also be used as a vase. I love practical objects that have unexpected designs like the irregular sculptural shape of this piece. It’s lightweight and features an original paper label.