It happens all the time. At the Neue Galerie, the museum of German and Austrian art on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, visitors wander into the space just off the lobby where a young woman sits behind a large, very beautiful desk by the great Viennese designer Otto Wagner. They’ll notice the Ena Rottenberg Orient tea service and the Josef Hoffmann Patrician glassware on the shelves behind her. They will spot the Wiener Werkstätte silver, the Biedermeier porcelain, the Thonet chairs, and the jaunty Golden Morning cups in six colors, which look as inviting today as they did when they debuted in 1835.
"They think it’s my office," says Colleen Kinneary, the sales clerk with a philosophy degree from NYU (good day, Herr Wittgenstein). "Or a part of the museum’s galleries." That’s understandable, as this is no common museum shop stocked with souvenirs and posters. Browsing and buying here is actually closer to collecting rare art and design than it is to playing tourist on your travels.
Top interior designers use the shop religiously, for themselves and for clients. Even items as small and simple but exquisite as Hoffmann’s gold-plated picture hooks "are brilliant," says Carey Maloney of the New York firm M(Group), who chose them for a collector with fin de siècle leanings. She adds, "Who wouldn’t want the Hoffmann chandelier," a study in crystal chic made by J & L Lobmeyr in Vienna ($50,500 for the large version). "Everything in the shop is elevated beyond the ordinary."
Founded by cosmetics mogul Ronald Lauder and the late dealer Serge Sabarsky, the Neue Galerie opened in its Carrère & Hastings mansion in 2001. From the outset the Design Shop has been run according to the dictates of the museum’s director, Renée Price. "I believe in making every day as beautiful as possible," says the Viennese-born Price, whose American father worked for the U.S. military and Austrian mother was trained in theater design. Great objects have a "sensual aspect," she says, contending that drinking from Hoffmann’s gracefully thin Patrician glasses can actually "make an inexpensive wine taste better."
Most shop items come in limited editions, crafted to the specifications of their designers, be they the notable names in German and Austrian decorative arts or the occasional contemporary stylesetter Price fancies. She commissioned designer Han Feng to create large pillows, sleep mask–and–scarf travel sets, and kimonos. Jewelry designer Federico de Vera has made a necklace specially for the shop inspired by Gustav Klimt’s 1907 portrait of a bedizened Adele Bloch-Bauer, the painting Lauder bought for a reported $135 million in 2006 and now the Neue Galerie’s signature image.
For those taken with the displays in the museum’s Wiener Werkstätte jewelry exhibition coming this spring, the shop sells several limited-edition pieces designed by Hoffmann, including two pendant brooches ($7,900 and $8,300) and a gold and lapis lazuli necklace ($7,400). Some of Hoffmann’s earliest jewelry creations, these are crafted by First Edition, the Viennese company that also produces meticulous replicas of Biedermeier and Wiener Werkstätte silver exclusively for the shop, such as Koloman Moser’s skyscraperlike orchid vase ($2,070).
These high-quality reproductions are worthy collector’s objects in their own right, but the museum also sells smart designs of a less serious variety. Having recently introduced Neue Galerie Baby—hand-embroidered linen bibs, placemats, and napkins inspired by Mela Köhler’s playful Wiener Werkstätte textiles—the shop will launch Neue Galerie Hund next fall. The line of beaded dog collars and traditional loden petwear will be modeled in the catalogue by Price’s own schnauzer, Milly von Barksky. "She’s going to be photographed in a collar made in beautiful gold and brown and silver," says the director proudly, adding, "there’s nothing in that shop I wouldn’t want for myself."
At 1048 Fifth Ave. and 86th St., New York; 212-994-9496; neuegalerie.org.