Cult Shop: a Brooklyn temple to vintage design
Spread across two light-filled floors in Williamsburg, The Somerset House – a new design mecca in Brooklyn – is not to be confused with London’s neoclassical landmark. “This is a Covid baby,” says Alan Eckstein of his temple to eclecticism. Here, Danish midcentury and modern finds and gilded 18th-century French mirrors sit comfortably with Ethiopian nesting stools ($450). Each is a prime example of Eckstein’s enthusiasm for “finite pieces of great design”.
Eckstein grew up in suburban Long Island, on Somerset Street, which lends its name to the shop he launched last year. The pandemic gave the former designer at menswear brand Timo Weiland the spur to realise his retail dream at last. “With people caring more than ever about their home surroundings, it seemed like the ideal time to open a space where I could spark an interest in collecting.”
Eckstein has long had an eye “for things in desperate shape that need repurposing”, he says of his philosophy. “I now spend my time sourcing, fixing, creating and explaining.” He describes his clients as being everyone from bankers and artists to social-media influencers – people in search of “pieces that last, make people feel good and have a touch of quirk”.
His restoration skills are matched by a flair for display. A glossy-red c1950 BMW Isetta bubble car (from $50,000) occupies the floor-to-ceiling front window and sets the stage for a series of theatrical set pieces once inside. There you might see an iconic mohair-covered Vladimir Kagan Cloud sofa in a subtle shade of slate ($18,000), positioned next to a Y-shaped Dogon ladder from Mali (from $3,500), which has been “passed from generation to generation and used to access the roof of a home”. The scene is lit by the glow of a Gianfranco Frattini brass Lotus floor lamp ($3,800).
The atmosphere is more sitting room than showroom. In part, this is due to the mélange of shape, colour and texture on the floor – witness the combination of a Hans Wegner Papa Bear chair in sumptuous lapis velvet ($11,500), a butterscotch-leather and rattan ottoman by Marcel Breuer ($3,100), and a sculptural chair in wool bouclé ($5,100) by Swedish maker Otto Schulz. A sleek McIntosh hi-fi stereo system from the 1970s (“Never for sale! They don’t make things like this any more”) pipes out Miles Davis, Wu-Tang Clan or Glenn Gould piano classics, depending on the proprietor’s mood.
“Starting out, I loved good design and the hunt, but I couldn’t afford to buy the good stuff,” says Eckstein. “I bought cast-offs and fixed them, or I repurposed them with other pieces; a Philippe Starck lamp melded with a Tucker Robbins sculpture ($2,800), for example”. This upcycling spirit, nose for quality and a unique eye for the mix has meant Eckstein has been able to keep sourcing pieces throughout the pandemic – from Italy, France, Scandinavia, and south-east Asia – as well as Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist.
“If you’re looking for something that’s rare, has a history and tells a story, then I hope you’ll come for a visit,” says Eckstein. At the very least, stop by for a discussion on Jean Prouvé or the culture of punk – he’s fascinating on both, whether you’re a connoisseur or just curious.