Seductive Shapes: An Obsession with Vintage Vases

The End of History, 548 Hudson Street, New York

The first place I look for decorative accessories—especially vases—is The End of History, an amazing shop on Hudson Street in the West Village. They have the best variety of vintage hand-blown glass and rare ceramics in colors, shapes, and textures I’ve never seen before. I seldom walk out of there without having bought something, which lots of times ends up in my apartment. I’m also strongly attracted to vases in art—Morandi is a huge favorite—you could say I’m obsessed with them, as is Stephen Saunders, the owner of The End of History. Stephen grew up on the Isle of Wight off the south coast of England in a family of antiques dealers and auction house owners. Recently I sat down with him to discuss our common passion.

Barry: How did you get started in this business?

Steve: One of my earliest memories of the business is me sitting on the lap of my Uncle—the one who owned the auction house—on the lawn of a big Georgian country house during a sale. They were holding giant Chinese vases out of the window for my Uncle to see and I kept telling him to bid on them. But he said we couldn’t get the vases, because it was the furniture that the Americans wanted! I was five or six years old, so my vase obsession started at an early age. I joined the local Boy Scouts just because they ran the best rummage sales on the Island. By the time I was eight I was already picking and selling to my cousin up in London, where he had an antiques shop on the Portobello Road.

Barry: When did you move to the States?

Steve: In 1980. I worked in the fashion industry, but I was always buying and selling antiques on the side.

Barry: What pushed you into starting this business?

Steve: There was a moment in the early 90s when I was finding exquisite Italian glass and ceramics for a song. One day I found a piece of Alfredo Barbini glass with a 1951 price tag of $351 still on it. That’s close to $4,000 in today’s dollars. It was the light bulb moment: I realized that these were luxury Italian goods made for the American market. So I bought every piece I could find and filled several large storage rooms with glass and ceramics till I finally had enough to open The End of History in 1997.

Barry: What formed your design aesthetic?

Steve: At the time The End of History opened, New York was praying only at the altar of high minimalism. It’s not that I hate minimalism, but who wants to live in a white box with no stuff? Everything back then was clean surfaces with Wenge wood—remember that?—being the only color allowed. The explosion of color and form at The End of History helped change the game and set the tone for the use of decorative accessories in early 21st century interiors.

Barry: It’s true, if you look at today’s shelter magazines there are lots of pieces from The End of History and similar resources. Every room has a grouping of colored glass.

Here are some great pieces from the store.

Cobalt blue diamond-cut porcelian vase by Heinrich, 1950s

A cobalt blue porcelain vase from the 1950s by the German manufacturer Heinrich. The Art Deco-style pattern was created by painstakingly cutting through the glaze with a diamond wheel. 

Three ceramic vases from the 1970s by Renee Neue for Hutschenreuther

Three brilliant orange and black ceramic vases designed in the 1970s for the German manufacturer Hutschenreuther by Renee Neue, who was the company’s creative director at the time.

Two 1950s Italian ceramic vases, one with a lid, probably by Bitossi

Two stunning 1950s Italian ceramic vases, one with a lid, probably by Bitossi, the great Florentine manufacturer. Chocolate brown matte is mixed with stripes of citrus colored high-gloss glaze to mouth-watering effect.

Two 1950s American decanters with flamestoppers by the Rainbow Glass Company of West Virginia

 Two 1950s American decanters by the Rainbow Glass Company of West Virginia. The evocative flame stoppers were a company signature.

A 1954 German porcelain vase from the Gemmo collection designed by Karl Leutner for Heinrich

A German porcelain vase from the Gemmo collection designed in 1954 by Karl Leutner for Heinrich. The vessel’s shape and diamond-cut design motif appear to be inspired by art of the Japanese Meiji period. 

A group of Ankara vases designed in 1964 by A Seide for the German manufacturer Carstens

A group of Ankara vases, a collection designed in 1964 by A. Seide for the German manufacturer Carstens Tönnieshof.