Address: 109 Bridport St West, Albert Park VIC 3206
From an interview with Tricia that has been edited
Ernst Zacher started this business over 42 years ago.
Ernst was German, but he emigrated after we met in Switzerland.
He always had an interest in antiques so he decided to open this shop. To start with, he collected furniture that had been thrown out on the street.
He taught himself how to restore pieces and, eventually, he built up and improved on his stock.
Over the years we went to auctions in Melbourne, interstate and then started buying in Europe.
Now, almost all of our furniture come from Europe and most of the pieces come from France.
He was a pastry cook in Germany.
When he came here the opportunities to work as a European pastry chef were not particularly good.
But, the interesting thing is that he applied a lot of his attitudes as a pastry chef to working with furniture.
He held very high ideas about completion. I used to say to him, “Ernst, you don’t have to finish 10 pieces of furniture in one day.”
“You can spread it out.”
But having come from a background where he had to complete pastries by a certain time he had this incredible drive to finish things.
He set very high standards.
I helped him out on weekends but – when Ernst died about 12 years ago – I inherited the business.
We moved to Albert Park because housing and shop rentals were affordable.
Ernst was able to bargain the rent down from $9 to about $7 a week.
It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it?
In those days there were 3-4 butchers in the area, 3-4 green-grocers and shops that served the community. We had butchers on every corner, but now there are none.
And so many of these mansions and 2-story terraces were rooming houses for the disadvantaged. The people who lived there were really supportive, they used to leave furniture on the street for us.
But these houses have been done up and gentrification has pushed these people out of the area.
I buy a very eclectic range of items.
I find with contemporary décor that younger people aren’t wanting to fill their homes with the same pieces as that of the previous generation. So I’m going for items that fit a modern environment.
In the early days we sold a lot of large pieces – armoires, sideboards and Biedermeier period furniture – but it’s getting harder to find really interesting old furniture.
And I think the taste of customers has changed in the sense that more people are moving into smaller apartments. They have low ceilings and not many walls, so I think it’s easier for them to buy smaller furniture that comes in packages and is easier to assemble.
That’s been a big generational change, but it is not necessarily older people just buying antiques. I’ve noticed there’s been a bit of a return of younger people buying interesting pieces to make their place unique. They’ll have modern settings and a modern interior, but they might get an antique mirror or a Persian rug which then reflects their identity.
Technically, an antique is an item that’s over 100 years old. But a lot of younger people like vintage furniture – which is often from the 1950’s or 1960’s – and that’s what is antique is to them.
But antiques carry the soul of the maker, and of prior ownership. There’s so much minimalist interior décor around, so including a few antiques adds a bit of difference to ones’ home.
Usually people do come back.
When customers buy from here it’s not just a one off.
They’ll buy something, then look to buy a different item for someone else. I also do a lot of weddings. A group of friends or family members will pool some money together to buy a piece.
I’ve seen a lot of people grow up here, and customers tend to come back when they’re about 30. They may ‘rebel’ in their teen years – they don’t want antiques in their bedroom – but they start to come back when they’re older.
“My parents used to buy from you.’
But selling antiques is not a hurried transaction.
The customers who come in, look around and want to know more about the item are delightful to deal with.
It’s lovely being around things with a soul.
When I’m overseas and I’m buying, I go to interesting places. Not glamorous – farmhouses and back-lanes – but you meet some really interesting people.
And after Ernst passed away I had to learn how to do they buying. I remember going to my first dealer after he died and I sat in this truck.
I closed my eyes and thought “c’mon Ernst, help me” as I didn’t have a clue how I would do it.
I got out of the truck and I bought what I recognised. But, after about a day and a half, I saw there was a small piece I really liked.
It wasn’t about if it was right or not, but about buying from the soul.
That was a huge leap in confidence.
I enjoy the process of caretaking.
I buy the furniture, restore it in some cases and – when they’re sold – it’s the buyers turn to care-take. And we were fortunate that we started our business during a period when antiques were popular.
Today there aren’t many businesses in Melbourne dealing in European antiques, but the ones that do are very supportive of each other. If I don’t have a piece that a customer wants I’ll refer them to another shop.
I receive a lot of referrals as well.
If we support each other, we all benefit.
Written by Aron Lewin & all photos by Tatiana C C Scott