Decoding Mid-Century Modern at White Star Antiques
The South Main Street emporium offers advice for smart shoppers.
Setting Up Shop
Ask the four owners of Providence’s White Star Antiques why vintage and antique furniture never seem to go out of style and they’ll agree: Great design spans time. It’s a mantra that guided the two married couples — Alex and Melanie Correia and Josh and Karen Peterson — when they opened their shop at 357 South Main Street in June of 2015. All four have had a long love of antiques. Prior to opening the shop, Josh and Karen were dealing out of their East Side home. Melanie and Alex were doing similar work, selling their finds at pop-up shops in New York City before hopping in a vintage camper to sell their stock at shows across the country. When they returned to Rhode Island, the foursome started talking about turning their shared love of antiques into a bricks-and-mortar operation and together they opened White Star — named after the model of the camper Alex and Melanie took on their cross-country excursion — a few months later. “We wanted to open a shop that was reminiscent of something you might see in major cities in the United States,” says Alex. “A place that catered to what is happening currently in culture and design and brought quality, carefully curated items to the local market.”
A pair of 1920s French leather and mohair club chairs hold court over a mid-century biomorphic coffee table designed by Adrian Pearsall. Hanging above, a modular rosewood 1950s Danish wall unit by Poul Cadovius displays a few of the collectible items White Star carries.
Universal design principles, rather than a specific period, guide White Star’s aesthetic. A stop-in could as easily yield a seventeenth-century-old master painting as it could a pair of Art Deco club chairs or a Danish credenza. “We didn’t want to be a shop that only caters to a specific period, but we also try to ensure that every item is something we believe in, love and that adds to the world of design,” Alex says. The owners try to keep inventory moving along by pricing items fairly and sourcing a mix of unusual curiosities and solid examples of design from different periods. Recently, customers have been increasingly interested in mid-century modern styles, fueled in part by national chains taking inspiration from the period. Alex says he and White Star’s co-owners also see a trend toward downsizing living space, which has increased the appeal for the cleaner, more simplistic style that’s exemplified in works by mid-century designers such as Mies Van der Rohe, Eames and Le Corbusier.
A wrought-iron “Cat’s Cradle” table by Paul McCobb, with walnut “Heart” chairs in the manner of Hans Wegner.
A 1950s teak chest-on-chest credenza by John Stuart NYC holds a 1960s Italian fish sculpture by Fantoni for Raymor and a French modernist stained-glass window by Gabriel Loire.
In another corner of the store, 1950s Danish “Ringstol” chairs by Illum Wikkelso share space with a chrome glass table by Milo Baughman for Trimark, an early twentieth-century electrified brass student lamp and an antique Oriental carpet.
Bring It Home
Looking to claim your own piece of mid-century modernism? White Star’s owners have some tips for smarter scouting.
Consider your space. The negative space around a chair or dresser is just as important as the piece itself, according to Alex. “The idea behind a lot of these pieces is that they were meant to be in more open settings. So if you’re thinking of buying modernist furniture, make sure you measure and consider the space as a whole.”
Buy the best within your budget. Furniture is an investment, so if you’re considering an authentic vintage piece, strive to buy the best you can. Buying the real deal is always better than buying a reproduction piece, which won’t hold its value as well.
Be wary of reproductions. It’s easy to spot a knock-off if you do your homework. Many manufacturers, like La Cassina, will have information on their websites on how to determine if a piece is a fake. Often, it comes down to construction and quality. “If it seems cheaply made and the price is too good to be true, it probably is,” Alex says.
Go with your gut. If an item speaks to you, buy it. In the world of antiques, where most items are one of a kind, ask yourself: “When will I see another?”
Above: A 1970s Italian olive burl, brass and marble bar cabinet.