Hopscotching the globe feels as natural and essential to Vicente Wolf as breathing. Not formally schooled in interiors, the Cuban-born veteran designer turns to travel for his training — parts unknown are the classrooms of his continuing education. The decorative arts, architecture, and fine art revealed in each destination — the more untouched and far-flung, the better — educate his eye and expand his creative vision. Augmenting his design business with a showroom to house treasures from his travels was inevitable: In 1999, he launched VW Home.
"I love to travel, and since I was already traveling at least once a year, it was the perfect new project for me — to create a place in New York City where I can share all of my global influences," Wolf explains. VW Home sprawls in a 3,000-square-foot Manhattan loft bathed in natural light and brimming with antiques from Asia, Africa and Europe.
"My main goal when traveling has always been to find inspiration (for my own design projects). Now my goal is also to buy objects that I can share with the people who shop in my showroom." An unspoken compliment, a preponderance of those shoppers and other designers.
Wolf's roving occurs in spurts of two to three months at a time. Different regions appeal at different times. Indonesia, especially Bali, is a current favorite.
"Things are changing all over the world and special pieces are getting harder and harder to come by. I find that Bali, as it is a gathering place for objects from all over Indonesia, is a great place to buy," says Wolf, one of the most esteemed U.S. designers; not surprisingly for a creative with wanderlust, his handiwork — both residential and commercial design project — is scattered all over the world.
A true adventurer, he is keen on discovery. Pieces from Myanmar graced his inventory even when the Burmese government was prickly toward tourists. "I've been to Myanmar for the last ten years, and I have always found beautiful objects while there, before and after the political change."
In his designs, which have a clean modern bent and sculptural form, the exotic antique is an element of warmth. Given the debut of VW Home in the '90s, it's fair to say Wolf was an early exponent of the global influence that, decades later, has become a go-to for designers of all stripes. After 17 years in the showroom business, Wolf remains its sole buyer — and influence.
"I still do the buying. That's the fun part of owning VW Home — the fact that I get to explore and discover these wonderful objects that are carefully curated back in my showroom. VW Home is truly a humbling experience."
Because Wolf is the buyer, there's a continuity to the showroom's changing inventory of furnishings and accessories, regardless of the pieces' origins. "As I am always selecting with the same eye," he explains. "It's whatever appeals to me. Whether it's sophisticated and refined or primitive pieces; I go with my gut reaction."
So how to put a finer point to that gut reaction? Analyzing two of his favorite antique furnishings in his current inventory, Wolf makes it clear it's not only the initial aesthetic appeal that prompts him to buy, but the function — how imaginatively he can envision his clients putting the piece to use.
"Two of my favorite pieces are the Japanese gilded altar table and the bamboo wood table. The Japanese gilded altar table is glamorous and detailed and would work great as a side table or on top of a console table with wonderful objects placed on top of it. My other favorite is the long console table with a bamboo motif. This 18th-century carved wood table is the perfect balance between clean modern lines and the patina that age can bring to wood."
Asia is a hot and fertile marketplace, less pillaged than European haunts, but Wolf believes he would be remiss to ignore the seminal design sources of western Europe. "I still enjoy shopping in Paris and Italy at the flea markets for my showroom," he says.
Letting go, as any hoarder-in-the-making knows, can be tough. Does Wolf have misgivings about selling the bounty from his vagabonding? Some treasures do end up gracing Wolf's own projects, but he prides himself on not showing favoritism. Once a piece is on the showroom floor, it's fair game. "It's a first come, first serve policy. He who buys it first gets the treasure."