Hidden away at the end of Greenpoint Avenue by the East River in Brooklyn you'll find Le Grenier, an inviting new boutique that mixes a wide variety of "Industrial & Machine Age" antiques with contemporary housewares. Owner Maya Marzolf spent years renovating the late 1800s building and filling it with her eclectic collection, which her friends have dubbed "Apothecary Chic." Each of the antiques seems to tell a story, and many of them are refreshingly affordable, especially the dishware. We recently asked Marzolf to elaborate on some of the more intriguing items, her love for Greenpoint, and the riverfront park that's finally opened at the end of her block. (Click on the images above for more on the collection.)
So what attracts you to antiques? A number of things, really. First would be the quality of craftsmanship; it's a cliché that "they don't make things like they used to," but it's decidedly true. Everything in my store is beautifully made. There's also a question of personal aesthetic—I'm just naturally drawn to antiques—but then there's also the element of history. My store counter is a mid-1800s counter from a general store in Missouri and the paint has chipped in a way to create a really lovely patina; the layering on this type of piece is like a historical palimpsest, which always thrills me.
Recently I found a very ornate late-1800s stereoscope with filigreed etchings, it's in perfect condition, and every time I hold it to my face to look through the viewfinder I get a little rush thinking about how many other people have pressed it to their faces over the last 125 years or so. There's also a Guatemalan desk at the store which is about 350 years old; there are amazing divots on the top surface as a result of centuries of altar candles and the wood is so soft and smooth to the touch, but when you run your hand along the underside you feel how rough-hewn it is as a result of having been hand-cut by machete. It's fantastic. I love the idea of inviting history into your home. There's also an ecological perspective, of course; antiques are very "green," and I'm also keen on green design and like to incorporate it into residential design projects.
What's the most expensive item in the shop now? That would be a flat file that's listed at $4750. When one of my dealers visited the store he was a bit aghast when he looked at the price tag; when I saw his expression I had a sinking feeling, and then he spun around and told me that it wasn't nearly expensive enough! I had a good laugh at that; my idea isn't to gouge people but just to make a living and offer great things at reasonable prices. The value of this flat file comes not just from its beauty—and she's a real beauty—but also its size and history. It's a pretty enormous piece and is an archival file (each of the 16 drawers is numerically bottom-stamped), and not only is it in perfect condition but the story is that it originally came from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I found it in a countryside hidey-hole where it had been culled from the estate of a former Met curator. We'll never know how he got it out of the museum, but it's an intriguing mystery!
The least expensive? I have various hardware that I bought in big enough bulk at an auction to be able to offer the pieces super reasonably; yesterday I sold an early 1900s cut glass & bronze drawer pull for $4. I have glass telephone insulators ranging from $3 to $5 (I use them myself in lamp-making, but they also make great doorstops or just objets d'art), napkin sets at $5, hand-made Amish soaps at $6, etc. It's very important to me to cover a wide price range; I want everyone who walks into the store to be able to afford something nice. I currently have a set of 5 English tea cups at $20 for the whole lot.
What are your favorites? I love everything in the store; having no proper schooling in antiques, what I'm really doing here is selling my eye more than anything else. I only buy things that I love; every item at Le Grenier speaks to me for one reason or another. If I were to surreptitiously steal away a few items for my own house, though, I think at the moment my top three contenders would be a Mission-style rocking chair with chipped yellow paint and a cracked leather seat, an early 1900s 5-drawer filing cabinet with curved top edges and fabulous metal hardware, and a late-1800s 6-drawer work bench that has aged oh-so-beautifully and would work perfectly in a kitchen.
What's the biggest purchase a customer's made so far? Since my opening on May 15th I've only made a handful of actual furniture sales; times are still tight and most people like to mull over furniture a little bit. I'm gratified, though, that about a third of the time that I take measurements for people they come back soon after with a smile on their faces and a spring in their step, ready to take home a new treasure. It's the housewares, though, and the dishware in particular, that seems to fly off the shelves. I've already had a lot of repeat customers who really identify with my style (a neighbor recently called it Apothecary Chic, which I thought was pretty good), a few of whom were in the process of redesigning their own spaces and left the store each time completely loaded down with bags.
What's going on with that land at the end of your block? Isn't that supposed to be a park? It is indeed! WNYC Transmitter Park is officially underway—finally. The park is now open to the public and they've installed a lot of picnic benches in there; it's still an interim "stopgap" park, though, with official ground breaking next spring for the proper waterfront park which will be completed the following year. It looks like it's going to be a real beauty, too, and has future expansions planned on both the north and south sides to join into the whole Brooklyn waterfront development.
How long have you lived in Greenpoint? Since early 2000.
Is your home filled with antiques like the shop? Do new things look out of place? My own home has a mix of old and new, but it definitely skews in favor of old; every piece of actual furniture is antique and of a different variety. For example, an American, 1920s wood drafting table with very spare, clean lines and large-scale metal hardware is in the same room as a Dutch couch of the same era which is instead more sinuous, elegant and feminine in feel and is upholstered with a modern fabric. I like juxtaposing different wood grains as long as it doesn't become heavy, and I also like combining textures; I have rustic furniture with chipped paint and also a couple of fancier pieces with hand carving and pristine finishes. All that being said, most of my accessories are ultra-modern and nearly all of my artwork is contemporary. The modern niche is already quite well-filled in the neighborhood and I frequent a lot of local shops. I'm personally drawn to this combination of old and new, and I also think that putting vintage and modern things together only emphasizes the quality of each. It's for this reason that I have a mix of contemporary housewares at the store, as well, although the ratio between old and new at Le Grenier is less than at my own home. The store has a slightly different feel than my house but is complimentary to it, and is of course reflective of my personal aesthetic.
Why open a shop at the end of dead-end street? Ours was a long-range plan... Since I bought the building with my best friend—who lives upstairs—rather than just renting a retail location, it was important to both of us that it be a livable location on an "upswing" block with plenty of future potential. There are apartment developments happening all around us and a rash of new business springing up everywhere, which is fantastic, and we've got this waterfront Victorian rowhouse with a huge private garden just a few steps away from where a big park development is taking place. So far, at least, it has worked out perfectly. Now that the interim park is finally open, too, I'm starting to see a lot more foot traffic!
How big a project was it renovating the space? The building was built in the late 1800s and it likely originally contained a first-floor retail space, but when we bought it it had long since been converted to a 2-family residential. We put a LOT of work into this building, and I'm gratified—now that it's finished!—to have done so much of it with my own two hands; I've become very crafty and now have a basement full of fun power tools. It was a complete gut job, top to bottom, with the idea being to "Go Back To Basics" as much as possible. I designed my friend's space upstairs, which largely entailed removing all of the walls in an 1800 sq. ft. space and scraping back all the superfluous layers that had been added over the decades.
Le Grenier's antique ceiling tiles came from an old schoolhouse in Missouri, and my wood flooring was salvaged from a building in Manhattan that was slated for demolition. My front display is constructed of an old fireplace mantel lined with beveled mirrors over a fantastic set of mid-1700s stairs I found in Holland, and my bathroom and basement doors were pulled from junkyards. My front doors are Egyptian, encased in a metal frame which ties in to the old-style/new-construction metal storefront I had made locally in Williamsburg. All of my shelving is salvaged joist wood, and my front window platforms are built from salvaged flooring. It was a big project to find all of these elements and bring them together, but the end result is both beautiful and satisfying.