Alan Eckstein Shares His World Of Vintage Wonders At The Somerset House


Great design tells a story. A chair isn’t just a chair. It’s craftsmanship. It’s history. It’s the memories it holds when it enters your home. And if it’s found at The Somerset House, Alan Eckstein’s new Williamsburg outpost for collectible design, it definitely has a story worth being told. 

You may know Eckstein as a Forbes 30 under 30 alum for his accomplishments in the world of fashion. Today, his life paints an equally aesthetic but functionally different story. It’s not about your Timo Weiland pants, rather, it’s about what they’re sitting on. Eckstein now spends his days thoughtfully curating vintage pieces and custom work in the space he created for aficionados and newcomers alike to look, buy, and get excited about furniture. The Somerset House might only be a few months young, but the treasures found inside are often decades old. 

I had Eckstein show me around The Somerset House to talk about starting a collection, getting into vintage, and if there is in fact such a thing as good taste. 

Natalie Stoclet: Where does one get started in their search for vintage furniture?

Alan Eckstein: Auctions, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, antiquing. The trick I would give someone just getting into it is to learn how to fix broken things. I couldn’t afford certain pieces. I couldn’t afford Vladimir Kagan, so I’d get the version that was torn up and needed to be reupholstered or needed new legs. I always wanted a Sonna Rosen chair, and I found one that was cracked in half. I had to put it back together. I learned how to rework things so that I could afford it. 

NS: How do you decide what pieces to reupholster?

AE: It’s always worth reupholstering. Just think about it, mid-century furniture is from the 50s, that is 70 years old. 70 years of life. Somebody probably conceived a baby in that chair. Reupholster it, bring new life to it. It’s worth it, every step of the way. But don’t ever reupholster a new mass-produced chair. Only reupholster something that is made really well and will last. 

NS: Is there a real investment opportunity in furniture?

AE: There is an investing take on it, but I don’t believe in it as much. It is so personal to have something in your home, it better be something you like and not something that someone else tells you to like. I don’t have to hire sales-y people that are ramming things down people’s throat at The Somerset House. I tell people, either something works for you or it doesn’t. I’ll tell you why it works for me but I will never try to sell you on anything. 

NS: Is there such a thing as having good taste?

AE: Yes. Taste is the reason why I’m here doing this. I’ve never had a lot of money. I’ve never been a wealthy person, but we’ve always lived really well. I think taste gets you far, and taste accompanied by the knowledge surrounding it changes what you’re doing. My taste changes as I learn and grow. The Somerset House is different from most stores because we don’t focus on a type of furniture in terms of the time period. It’s my personal style, and it’s a mix of cultures. There are certain things you can only find if you have taste and you really know how to look. 

NS: How did your taste develop over time?

AE: My taste used to be a little bit more mid-century, it was definitely Danish-inspired. And then I went to Italy. My very close friend’s mother comes from a diplomatic family and has houses all over the country. She is a master of putting pieces together. In their apartment in Rome, she has a throne chair from Sri Lanka next to a Gio Ponti chair next to a Knoll sofa and that changed the way I viewed design and collecting. Today I would say my taste has evolved to be Italian-modern, mixed with Postmodernism, mixed with African, it’s really just a mix of cultures. 

NS: Do you look for aesthetics over function? 

AE: I love furniture that looks sculptural itself. I have chairs that you don’t really want to sit on. Take this Jeffrey Greene chair, you can look at the work that he put into it, it’s very unique. I tend to think of it this way: I love Prada and all of their silhouettes. They might not always be comfortable, but they make you feel something. They make you feel good. Sometimes they are really comfortable too. Same with our collection. 

NS: What was your first serious furniture purchase? 

AE: It was the same Kipp Stewart dresser that I have here in the store, and it changed how I felt about furniture. Kipp Stewart made what was considered very middle-class furniture at the time. This dresser is solid walnut and is beautifully made, but what he did was put these white porcelain knobs on it. And that changed everything. It became instantly unique, instantly modern, instantly fresh. The dresser weighs about 280 pounds. It is solid walnut. Pieces like this are why I really don’t think of buying things that are made today. This dresser is the equivalent of or a little less than a West Elm price at the time. You couldn’t actually make this and make a profit today. It would need an overwhelmingly high retail price and you would have to limit your market tremendously. 

NS: What happened in the furniture industry to drive up prices?

AE: It’s competition, but also in order to peak in the world of furniture you will most definitely need to be making things overseas. When you make things overseas they have to be lighter, so a solid wood dresser just isn’t in the cards for something that’s manufactured in Vietnam or China and sold in the US. 

NS: What are some of your favorite pieces currently at The Somerset House?

AE: Every piece in here is one that I love. These sculptures for example came to me through a monk. Well, he became a monk to dodge the Vietnam War, and he became silent and celibate for 10 years. He had great taste and loved traveling, he would collect artifacts from the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Africa. These sculptures came to be when he met this tribe in Cameroon. He taught them how to carve these little shapes and imported them. Now I buy them from him, mount them onto steel, and paint them. That’s a Harvey Guzzini lamp, it’s an original from that year, I love it, it’s like a space-age 70s lamp. That is Marcel Breuer lounge chair, it is pretty rare.

NS: Do you have sentimental value towards the pieces in The Somerset House?

AE: There’s a lot of stuff in The Somerset House I actually don’t want to sell. Every time something gets sold it’s kind of a sad moment because I love them so much. I don’t really have many things here that I get happy to see go out the door. If I didn’t love something it wouldn’t go in here, and that’s sort of the irony of it all, it’s bittersweet.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *