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 the still life in art—Morandi is a huge favorite—you could say I’m obsessed with them, something over which I bonded with 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 learn about how he started his company and to discuss our mutual obsession with vases.
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!
Barry: How old were you?
Steve: Five or six. So I was obsessed with vases from an early age.
Barry: I would say your were precocious, but that was the age my mother took me to Breakfast at Tiffany’s and that’s the moment I decided I would live in New York.
Barry: Then what?
Steve: I joined the local Boy Scouts just because they were known for running the best rummage sales on the Island. By the time I was eight years old 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 of my favorite pieces from the store.
Two “Gemmo” vases by the German porcelain company Heinrich, designed in 1954 by Karl Leutner and made using a diamond wheel to cut the porcelain. I love the tiny etched dots on the yellow piece.
A 1960s gold decorated vase with a dancing figure by Hans Achtziger for the German porcelain company Hutschenreuther. This is spectacular.
A set of three 1970s German orange and black ceramic vases from Hutschenreuther, designed by Renee Neue, who was the creative director of the company at the time.
A 1950s decanter by the Rainbow Glass Company of West Virginia. The distinctive flame stopper was a company signature.
The End of History, 548 1/2 Hudson Street. 212 647 7598