What do lighting and cooking have in common? They are two disparate subjects on which David Reitner can expound in detail and, of course, make them equally appealing.
Reitner is the owner of Marvin Alexander Inc., the lighting showroom and design company that provides the interior design world and avid collectors with an inventory that covers the history of European illumination and decorative accessories from the 18th- to- the- mid-20th century and a host of styles in between. Reitner is also a passionate collector who invited LuxPOP! into his home where we ogled his treasures and got a primer in the decorative arts. The man knows his stuff.
LuxPOP!: Tell us about your journey "into the light."
DR: It's kind of unusual. I was born into a family restaurant business. I started working at twelve years old but I never enjoyed it. Everyone thought I loved it because I was good at it. I quickly learned that if you really dislike something, doing it well makes people think you love it!
LP!: How did you get into the lighting business? It seems like a total disconnect.
DR: When I was in my early twenties, I experience a pivotal event while with my great-uncle Marvin (Alexander, founder of the company). We were walking on East 57th Street and stopped in front of the then-renowned lighting company Nesle. In the window hung a gorgeous crystal chandelier. Marvin told me in a minute all about it in detail. I was astounded and asked him how he knew so much. He replied, "It's my job to know, just like you can taste a dish in a restaurant and recite the ingredients."
From then on I was hooked on lighting but it took me over five years to get the nerve to ask him for a job. When he agreed to hire me I learned all that I could and even volunteered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where I got an incredible education. I went on buying trips with Marvin and it never felt like work. Fast forward twenty-two years, I purchased the business, and it's still fun.
LP!: What is your mantra for collecting?
DR: It's simple. Every time you look at a piece it should give you pleasure, and remember: It's just an object that you're caring for until it's passed to the next person.
LP: How do your collections evolve?
DR: They find me I don't find them. I see something, it speaks to me and the next thing I know it becomes a collection.
LP!: Tell us about your crystal boxes.
DR: They date starting from the Charles X (France) period, ca. 1830 and go all the way to the 1940s. They were used for storing precious items, medicines, perfumes, and I believe that Europeans even locked sugar in them. Some were used for travel so they have an intricate lining of gilded bronze so they wouldn't break. I have around two hundred boxes that took me fifteen years to collect. I'm in awe of the craftsmanship; the detail of the crystal cutting is something we don't see in new pieces.
LP!: How do you put things together?
DR: It's all about arranging things that are esthetically pleasing to me. I tend to move things around because I like to see the change in my home. I also use everything that I own. I don't believe in buying something for display or just putting it away if it actually serves a purpose. I like to cook and use my antique copper tin-lined pots; I serve on nineteenth-century china, and use my period Georgian crystal glasses at dinner parties.
LP!: What was the objective for your interior design?
DR: I wanted to create a space that was elegant yet very comfortable. I didn't want my home to look like there should be velvet stanchions in front of the rooms. Everyone who comes in says that there is such a feeling of warmth — and that was my goal.
LP! If you were forced to get rid of everything and just keep one thing, what would it be?
DR: A very rare, signed Albert Cheuret silvered bronze and alabaster pendant light ca. 1930 that hangs in my foyer. I first saw it in a Paris shop and at the time couldn't afford it. I kept going back to see it until the dealer finally said, "You've been admiring this for three years already, here's my best price," so I bought it. I had to change my plane ticket to return home earlier because I was wiped out. It was worth it, and for twelve years it still gives me pleasure every time I look at it.