Ruth Kimche, Antique Shop Owner Of Kimcherova In Chelsea On This Week's The Scoop [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]
Our design editor visited the carefully curated antique shop of Kimcherova, to sit down with the owner Ruth Kimche on this week's The Scoop.
Located in the heart of Chelsea (NYC), Ruth Kimche was one of the first to bring exclusive design to the neighborhood well over a decade ago. Many people told her not to open the business, but she rejected their input and listened to her gut instead.
What is essentially a modified garage, the industrial space resembles an art gallery in that within the quiet environment rests pieces of vast history and culture.
The impressive collection of Kimcherova has accumulated over years of travel, with designs stemming from various countries around the world and dating anywhere from the 20th to 21st centuries. The assortment of light fixtures, furniture, tapestries and decorative objects, or as Ruth termed them, "living accessories" are methodically arranged throughout the interior.
Each piece is unique in its aesthetic, ranging in diverse materials and unlike anything you can experience in modern-day home furnishing stores.
You immediately realize this woman, sitting sweetly at her desk with wide-brimmed bold glasses, has an extremely uncommon and fascinating taste for design.
She openly shared her story with us and the evolution of Kimcherova.
MB: Why don't we start off with you telling us a bit about Ruth Kimche and your career.
RK: I used to be in fashion. I started working in fashion in Switzerland and then on a more international scale, mostly throughout Europe. Eventually it came to a point where I grew tired of it.
MB: What part of fashion were you in? Design?
RK: A little bit of everything actually. I was in design at one point, I was a fashion consultant for a large department store and became a fashion director for various brands. My most famous brand I worked for would be Swatch during the '80s when we created a fashion oriented watch before a watch was seen as a fashion accessory.
But then it got to a point where I needed to leave the fashion industry and in 1990 I started my own store. My first shop was located on Lafayette street here in New York City and then when the crash came I had to shut it down.
During the time period without a storefront, I would exhibit at trade shows and in 2000, I found my current space in Chelsea. It was really a garage, there were only two other shops at the time in this area. There was basically nothing and it was actually very scary.
MB: How long was it just Kimcherova before people began moving their businesses to Chelsea?
RK: It was about a few years after my store opened when more people began to be interested in this location. Since then more and more galleries and designers began to pop up, but in the beginning people thought I was crazy for being here.
MB: Were you always intrigued by furniture? I believe that if you have an interest in one area of design you most likely can appreciate other facets, it is a lifestyle. From the food you eat, to the art you enjoy — it is all intertwined.
RK: I think it came out through my travels. I traveled all of the time for fashion, especially to Paris and I was always going to flea markets. I was sourcing and seeing new things nonstop and it was just inherent for me to spot unique furnishings. I didn't research this, this wasn't a plan, I've made plenty of mistakes along the way, but it just simply happened naturally.
MB: Were you purchasing these one-of-a-kind finds and ultimately having no place for them? I mean, how was the shopping process for you initially?
RK: Yes. I just bought pieces I personally liked and could appreciate in my own home. This sometimes can be a mistake, but it is simply the way I've always approached this business. I trust my instincts.
MB: I think I can relate to that, I often think if it was a store owner I would only purchase pieces that I would want to experience within my own home or in my wardrobe. Similar to a mind of a designer that you would only create pieces that you would want for your own lifestyle, right?
RK: Exactly. That is me also.
MB: But do you ever find yourself at a crossroads where you've had to edit yourself to some degree?
RK: It really is all in my head. I inherently know what the market is and who is buying what, this is often something I dealt with in fashion. I can't work over my own shadow. I can only buy what I like.
MB: Would you say you have a sense of intuition or understanding of the cyclical nature of trends?
RK: Yes. It was the same in fashion. I was too much advanced at times, sometimes just a bit too early. This is really what happened and in a way, it happens now. Who knows really though if it is advanced or it is backwards, no one can really ever know exactly what the market will want at any given time, but I trust my gut.
At one point in my career I was creating trend reports in the '80s, before trend forecasting or trend reporting was an actual business that companies invested in. I would sell my reports to brands and designers and people began to really seek my insight, industry professionals really trusted my research and observations.
MB: Who is your client? Today the Chelsea neighborhood attracts a lot of tourists, does the majority of your business come from international customers or locals?
RK: It definitely is a mix. Of course the mix is of designers and architects, but also private clients who really are seeking art and who are collectors. My taste is more European so it definitely takes a specific person to appreciate it.
MB: Was there a significant moment that you can recall that propelled you to start this business and to leave your career in fashion?
RK: In fashion, you really have to breathe it. At a certain point, I thought I was too old, even though I was much younger then! But it began to not interest me anymore, nothing significant happened. I just knew it was time to move on.
I was quite successful too, in a way it was much easier at the time in Europe to work in fashion. I just eventually had enough of the industry, I woke up one day and knew I was ready for change.
MB: Tell me about your collection, you mentioned the majority of your pieces have an European aesthetic. Where else do you source for collectibles, do you carry any American designs?
RK: Yes, my pieces mostly come from Europe, however I do have some a small amount of product from other countries. But naturally I just like European designs.
MB: Would you say that is how you differentiate yourself in the market today?
RK: Well when I started there wasn't anyone who was sourcing specialty pieces and now everything has changed and the market is very different. Now everyone wants that exclusive, one-of-a-kind piece.
MB: Do you ever have a client that will reach out to you with a specific design in mind and do you take on researching the marketplace for them? Or are you strictly purchasing pieces and not offering a sourcing service?
RK: It is just if I see something I like, I'll buy it. If others fall in love with a piece that I have fallen in love with, then great. If they don't, that is okay too.
MB: Your selection stems from 20th and 21st century designs, what time period or area in Europe are they stemming from?
RK: When I first started and quite frankly what I am known for is my collection of Viennese Succession pieces. I have sold quite a large amount of it and I was the only one in New York selling it for a long time. Lately it has fallen out of fashion a bit you could say, but I've consistently been able to sell it.
It is such quality design, I really made my name with it. I began mixing other styles because it is a very narrow time period and the availability of pieces are quite rare, only 15-20 years of the Vienna Secession movement.
MB: Have you ever considered designing your own line of furniture or decorative objects?
RK: No. I have never wanted to do that. Today I'd like to experiment and find more contemporary pieces to include in my store. My goal has always been to collect exclusive designs, never mass-produced pieces. It is a fine line. I would love to do something between art and design.
RK: Absolutely. The new contemporary chairs I just got in to the store I found from a designer exhibiting at ICFF. It was just by chance and no one was really looking at them, I ended up running back with no time left and I grabbed his card. And just like that, they are sitting in my store.
I love to go to the shows. I think it provides a great deal of information and you can definitely spot specific design trends, however there is nothing like the shows in Milan or Paris, but others can be very beneficial.
MB: Have you noticed a recent difference in your client demographic over the last few years? Specifically have you seen an influx of younger individuals taking an interest in the styles within Kimcherova?
RK: It definitely is a mix. It is funny because with the Vienesse Succession pieces, they usually speak to an older client with a connection to Vienna or their distant families were in Vienna at the time. But then I also see a much younger collector that is tired with the "hotel look" of today and now more historical styles have intrigued a younger audience.
It is mostly people in creative fields that enjoy my store, when I say young individuals I am talking about 34-40 year olds and they have a new intrigue.
MB: That "hotel look", I know exactly what you are referring to, it is very true today and it seems as though everything has become so homogenized. Would you agree?
RK: Yes. Even in interior design and the development of these new high-rise condominiums, everything looks the same!
MB: Couldn't you say the same for architecture?
RK: Yes. I don't know why we're going this way. I think all of it has begun to look very similar, even with art and design you see the two competing more and more. I think the whole market is changing again though.
MB: What is your current infatuation? Is there a style that has caught your attention lately or do you have a favorite piece in the store right now?
RK: Those new chairs, I think they are so beautiful! I am very much wondering how people will react to them, they are very contemporary. There is a side to me that also loves this butterfly sconce, I guess you could say I can appreciate pieces at two very different ends of the spectrum, aesthetically speaking.
Those chairs are designed by Baltasar Portillio from El Salavador, he is a true artist and it just so happened he made chairs. They are only an edition of three, all handmade and entirely illustrated, no computer involved and each piece is slightly different.
I like fun pieces, I don't enjoy a design or a living space to be so serious.
MB: What is something that you would want people to know about you and your shop that maybe they do not know already?
RK: It's simple, if they are looking for pieces that are not the mainstream, specialty pieces they can appreciate and that you won't see elsewhere, then Kimcherova may be the store for them. I would like people to experience and connect with my pieces and desire to incorporate them into their daily lives ultimately.
MB: Of course. It is quite obvious that each piece has been handpicked and that you are passionate about each item you sell in your store.
RK: Yes, I have an uncommon taste and it is very handpicked.
MB: How would you say you've been able to maintain a sucessful small business?
RK: Well, it is not the easiest career path to take. But over time you learn and I've definitely made my mistakes. But what is happening now is that the client of the designer is researching pieces and ultimately becoming the designer to some respect. The designer today doesn't have the time to go to shops and they are simply looking at things through the computer — the industry isn't the same.
MB: I think that is disheartening, don't you? We're losing the romanticism of stumbling upon beautiful pieces and objects, there is nothing like experiencing quality design in person. The computer doesn't give you the same feeling.
RK: I agree, of course. Every designer today has told me that though. They are busy, the world is becoming more and more busy. It is difficult for them to get out of the office and it is such a pity because when you are actually in a shop you see so much more than what is provided through a screen.
MB: Because on the computer you are looking in a specific category and filtering the selection, whereas in a shop you can experience how items are arranged and how a vignette is displayed. Pieces you may bypass online may actually stand out in a different way if you were viewing it in person, right?
RK: Yes, so what is the future? It is all about the Internet.
MB: I know for me I still love to go into a department store and touch fabric, I appreciate the tactile experience. But the reality is that the Internet has changed this for many people and for many industries.
RK: I am the same.
MB: Over your career was there ever a time when you received great advice from someone and it never left you? What could you impart on others?
RK: I'm not sure. Honestly, I feel like I didn't really listen to anyone, especially when they told me not to do certain things. I've always listened to my gut. For example when I was starting my business in this location, people really thought I was nuts and it really has ended up being such a great thing.
New York has changed so much, it seems to change every 10 years or so. I just believe anything is possible. I think we're all confused about what the future will bring, but hopefully we can hang on to the craft. I don't think many small businesses and shops will be around because of how real estate goes and with the evolution of the Internet.
MB: With the city already changing and real estate expanding, where do you see Kimcherova in 2-5 years?
RK: Well, I hope I am still here. But as online gets larger, I think it will ultimately go in that direction to sell solely online. A lot of art and design businesses today are only selling at fairs and these large trade shows, perhaps I would only participate in those also.
MB: Right. That certainly makes sense for emerging artists and design individuals who maybe cannot afford a long-term space.
RK: Exactly. I hear more and more from artists and dealers that at these fairs they are selling a tremendous amount, whereas during the in-between the market is very, very slow. This could ultimately happen to people like me as well.
Fairs are very expensive, however it is the other option from being in a gallery or owning a storefront.
MB: How would you describe your aesthetic?
RK: It is hard for me to describe, I just am and this is just what I like, whatever that means.
I am drawn to unique pieces, things with an artistic flavor, I am more attracted to pieces such as light fixtures because of the fantasy they create. A chair or a table has to be completely functional, whereas lighting does not. My vision is not about the functionality, but about the aesthetic — the artistic direction taken behind and within each piece.
You can do much more with living accessories, they bring something special to an environment.
MB: I have to say I am thrilled I stumbled in here and met you.
RK: You're so right, people just stumble in here!
Most people discover Kimcherova like that, simply by walking by and wanting or not wanting to come in. I don't have a huge sign outside, you're either interested or you're not. Some people come to this area to strictly see art, so I know my shop isn't for them.
MB: But wouldn't you say that your client is the person who can see the connection between art and design within your shop, that individual who can view art at the surrounding galleries and then come to Kimcherova and view your collection as art also?
RK: Definitely. People thought I was a complete maddest, but this has been the best thing I've ever done. I've made a life surrounded by real art.