NOVELTY STORE: A visit to The Gallery at Buck House
By Victoria C. Rowan
"...I mention the above by way of vamping for the entrance of this blog entry's main subject: an only-in-NYC character, Deborah Buck, the salonista shopkeeper whose two emporiums, the tiny teaser store, Buck House, and her lavish gallery, The Gallery at Buck House, have already gained her fortune and growing fame for purveying what she calls, “eclecticism to the extreme.”
Having written about consumer culture for many years, I'm pretty jaded, but when I noticed that one of my favorite museums, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum was sponsoring an event at The Gallery as if it was an artist studio visit, my skepticism compelled me find out what the dot-org found so noteworthy in this dot-biz.
What's immediately apparent is that The Gallery at Buck House has what no amount of brand-building millions can provide a chain store: authentic, boffo personality. And the moment Deborah Buck enters the room, it's immediately apparent that she is the font of that personality. And that the boldness, hell, radness on display here is unlike anything a store stylist designing for nationwide distribution would ever dare; a radness that must shock the tortoiseshell spectacles right off her innocuously tasteful neighboring antiques dealers of the Upper East Side.
Her eccentric store is an oddly appropriate extension of her eccentric career. First she pursued a degree in fine arts from Trinity and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture where she was mentored by minimalists. And after college, she worked for seven years for the very maximalist Walt Disney productions creating animated displays for their stores. She then became a full-time artist long enough to exhibit in Baltimore, Boston and New York galleries and museums. After she met her husband and had a child, isolation in the studio lost its full-time appeal; so it then felt like the right time to train as a chef. After renovating and decorating her NYC apartment, she hatched the idea of creating a store, “Buck House,” that could be a kind design lab, allowing her to use all her skills as an artist, visual display designer, collector and a chef of many exotic ingredients.
Her signature is the “Tableau,” the name of her recently published book, its definition “a striking scene” also defining her approach to her store. Experiments with color, texture and form are always in play. (It's fun to compare the images above of her home to the ones assembled for her book and you can see many pieces in new configurations.) Vehemently opposed to the sterile white box gallery, Buck likes presenting art and other elements of the room “in conversation” with each other. For her, these inanimate objects are as animated as writers and artists exchanging witticisms at Gertrude Stein's salon in Paris.
When I was at The Gallery at Buck House, I saw as many objects that I thought were stunningly beautiful as I thought there were stunningly ugly; but for every coterie, the sum succeeded at being far greater than the parts. Less grandiose than Tony Duquette, and less explicitly wicked than Simon Doonan of Barneys, Buck makes the most of her scale and resources to make her store a must-see-it-for-yourself treasure hunting experience. Buck's genius with arranging these still-lives evokes the French phrase “jolie-laide” (literally “pretty-ugly”), which refers to women whose features are so strikingly unconventional that they are considered the most unforgettable.
Victoria C. Rowan has written for The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Moscow Times, National Public Radio and many others. A longtime producer of literary events in New York City, she was the Artistic Programmer for the 92nd St. Y/Unterberg Poetry Center's 2006-7 literature series featuring the world's greatest living writers. Since leaving Mediabistro.com, where she developed its nationwide school for media professionals, she has founded her own enterprise, Ideasmyth.com, which won a 2008 DailyCandy “Sweetest Thing” Award. She is also the writing expert for Ask.com.