Art House

Adam Vassar’s sunny waterfront condo is the perfect showcase for classic examples of modern furniture.

Summer enjoys the lounge, which features a
pair of platinum tulip arm chairs.

Photograph by Thom Thompson

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Sometimes, a chair is just a chair. But in Adam Vassar’s home, a chair is an artistic statement.

Take the sculptural scarlet cone chair, designed in 1960 by Verner Panton, the Danish engineer known for vivid colors and fluid lines.

“Beautiful geometric form,” Vassar says, “and beautiful from all directions.”

It’s comfy, too. Though the chair looks as if it’s balancing on the tip of a cone, it’s solid, with a firm, inviting seat.

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Modern furnishings—starting with the Bauhaus Movement of the 1920s through the 1970s—are a passion for Vassar. He not only lives with them, he sells them to clients throughout North America from his store, Vassar Interiors, on Market Street in Wilmington.

“We choose pieces that have proven themselves over the years, licensed furniture that is still being produced today,” he says.

A George Nelson sunflower clock, its petals formed from molded plywood, keeps time in the trim galley kitchen. That design has been ticking since 1958.

There’s a pair of tulip arm chairs in the lounge, a classic design by the Finnish architect Eero Saarinen, first manufactured in 1957 and still produced by Knoll.

“The finish is platinum, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the chair,” Vassar says.

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Born in San Francisco, Vassar moved as a boy to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, then settled in Wilmington with his mother and stepfather when he was in his teens.

Vassar describes his childhood homes as “tastefully transitional—low mahogany tables, very streamlined, very clean.”

His stepfather’s classic car collection also had a profound influence on his design sensibilities.

“I love the sinuous lines of the old Jaguars, the Porsches, the Ferraris,” he says. “I’ve discovered that a lot of people who are excited about modern design also love great cars.”

He became intrigued with modern furniture and architecture while a student at American University in Washington, D.C. He did graduate work in furniture history at the University of Pennsylvania.

When he began searching for a place to buy in Wilmington, Vassar naturally gravitated toward homes with a contemporary vibe.

“I knew I didn’t want to live in a Colonial or a McMansion,” he says.

He settled on a condominium on the creek in historic Brandywine Village, built in the 1980s on the foundation of a 19th-century flour mill.

Outside, the site offered lovely views of the water and unfussy, contemporary lines. Inside, the space was pared back and simple, with an open staircase constructed from old lumber from the mill.

“It’s very linear, a clear, shoebox space with lots of natural light,” he says.

Shelving units house Adam Vassar’s design library
and a collection of LPs.

In the living area, Vassar defined each space with blocks of ebullient, happy colors, hues that might have been squeezed from citrus fruits: tangerine in the kitchen, lemon in the dining area and lime in the lounge.

“They aren’t colors I might have thought of immediately,” says his wife, Elizabeth. “But after living with them, I’ve come to appreciate how fun and fresh they are.”

A vibrant palette also is a hip backdrop for the dramatic lines of the furniture. The Vassars favor a sparse arrangement, conducive to conversation and listening to music.

In the lounge, a flying-saucer round Kirk chair designed by artist Rene Holten—“it’s a 2005 interpretation of the classics,” Vassar says—is flanked by two tulip chairs. The cocktail table is Marcel Breuer’s timeless Laccio design, a white laminate rectangular top on a tubular steel frame.

“The pieces need space to breathe,” he says. “You shouldn’t have a lot of clutter around them.”

With two daughters, 12-year-old Sophia and 21-month-old Summer, and a pug named Sid, the furniture must be functional, as well as beautiful.

“It’s definitely kid- and pet-friendly,” Vassar says. “These pieces were designed for the way people live.”

The brainchild of design icon Charles Eames, the lounger and ottoman have been produced by Herman Miller since 1956. Originally, the manufacturer teamed black kid leather upholstery with shells of exquisitely grained rosewood. The 50th anniversary edition features santos palisander, which offers the same distinctive grain but is a more sustainable species.

A quartet of white molded chairs that surround a circular dining table were a marvel of engineering when Panton introduced them in 1967. They were made from polypropylene using a single-form injection system.

“It was revolutionary because the chairs have no legs,” Vassar says.

Sophia reads in the dining area that revolves
around a white dining set that was introduced in 1967.

The table, topped with a slab of gray-veined white marble, has a slender pedestal metal base, which creates a sleek, streamlined aesthetic, as well as the pragmatic benefit of giving diners extra space to pull up their chairs.

Two tall shelving units, placed side by side, house Vassar’s design library, as well as an expansive collection of vinyl LPs.

“John Coltrane, Louis Armstrong, Dexter Gordon,” he says, “and the Rolling Stones and, of course, Led Zeppelin.”

A pair of signed, black-and-white lithographs is from Robert Longo’s 1980s “Men in the Cities” series, which depicts writhing businessmen.

“Longo dressed people up in suits and shot hit-pressure tennis balls at them through a cannon,” Vassar says. “Then he photographed their contortions and turned it into art.”

The two large canvases in the lounge are the work of Portuguese artist Paulo Machado. “Grey Mount #1” is a “scrape” painting, in which the artist works very quickly, sometimes placing the canvas flat on the floor in order to make broad strokes. “Toxic Garden” resonates with preternaturally intense colors.

“His philosophy was to paint in very bright colors that aren’t found in nature, a commentary on what industry is doing to society,” Vassar says.

Upstairs, the walls of the master bedroom are a deep red, a rich hue that warms a space that is large and gets lots of natural light.

“Plus, red is romantic,” Elizabeth says.

Beyond the Case Study bed in the master bedroom
is a scenic view of the Brandywine and the stately
waterworks building.

The Case Study bed, with its blond wood headboard and platform base, was inspired by the Case Study houses, built from 1945 till 1966, when Art & Architecture magazine commissioned such giants as Pierre Koenig, Saarinen, and Eames and his wife, Rae, to design efficient homes from inexpensive industrial materials.

“Our dream is to build our own Case Study house someday,” Vassar says.

The bedroom isn’t completely modern. A large rosewood chest of drawers with a milky marble top hails from the turn of the 20th century. It was passed on to the couple by Elizabeth’s mother.

“Not everything in a home has to be from a specific era, and we’ve found that modern pieces can be integrated into a traditional space quite beautifully,” Vassar says. “You don’t have to throw everything out and start over.”

Get in touch with your artistic side.
Think of the pieces you live with as
art you can appreciate every day.

Take a geometry lesson. Look for
pure circles, crisp triangles and
spare angles that give furniture an
intriguing visual edge.

C’mon, get happy. Infuse life into a
space with blocks of ebullient color.
The Vassars chose healthy doses of
citrus hues such as tangerine, lemon
and lime.

Be uplifting. Chairs, sofas and tables
elevated on lean legs enable each
piece to stand on its own visually
and give a room a light, uncluttered

Open your mind to furnishings from
various eras. It’s OK to mix modern
art and furniture with more traditional

An Arden welder does art with a twist—and better than you’d hoped for.

Got metal? Phil Fisher will tell you what to do with it. He specializes in welded-steel art—with a sense of humor. So somewhere on that spectacular garden gate he designed, there’s an insect chewing up a leaf.

“I take my time on each piece, and I take a lot of pride in what I do,” Fisher says. “When I make something, it’ll be here in a thousand years. So, I guess, the fact that I design something unique for each customer is pretty meaningful.”

And pretty affordable, considering that a Fisher gate will keep intruders out for the next millennium. “A lot of my work is made from scraps,” Fisher says. “I basically make a pattern and cut it with a torch.”

Don’t let the pattern thing throw you. Fisher can make 100 Celtic crosses, lamps or bells, but no two will be alike. If you’re interested in a Fisher piece, visit Fisher Sculptures in Arden. You won’t necessarily get what you envisioned—you might get something better. “Customers explain what they want,” Fisher says. “Then I tell them what I can do.”

What he can do is the reason Fisher has become so highly sought. He doesn’t advertise. He has no cell phone or computer. Yet for 16 years, referrals have kept him booked. He recently allowed a friend to create a website, The site features a few pieces but no prices. Fisher won’t talk price until he talks project, though he admits that the sailfish coffee table featured on the site is not something he has energy to duplicate. “The amount of work that went into that was enormous,” he says. “But if someone wants it, I’ll do it”—then he pauses—“for $7,000.” Reach Fisher at 475-2398. —Maria Hess

A Well-Stocked Market
Heritage Antiques remains heaven for collectors of antiques and novelty pieces.

Real estate agent Susie Hudson knows a good deal when she sees one, so when a client opted against buying a commercial building on Del. 1 near Five Points in Lewes, she jumped. “I thought it was the chance of a lifetime,” Hudson says.

The purchase proved to be more than a good investment. It opened the door to a new career. The property is home to 20-year-old Heritage Antiques. The 9,500-square-foot market holds merchandise from more than 48 tenant dealers. Offerings include vintage clothing, sports memorabilia, dolls, and antique and vintage books.

Popular commodities include oyster plates, dishes, mirrors, sterling silver and tin sand pails—which are a big hit among owners of homes on the coast. But not all the merchandise is old. One dealer builds and displays country-style furniture. New items, however, are kept to a minimum. “Only 20 percent of their booth can feature new things,” Hudson says.

Diehard antiques aficionados visit at least once a month. “They had a French armoire that was absolutely beautiful,” recalls Douglass Mowrey, who has furnished her Chadds Ford home with antiques.

Customers can record a desired collectible in the shop’s wish list. Many dealers visit at least once a week to stock shelves with new items and replace those that are lingering too long. They also attend estate sales and auctions on a regular basis.

“The dealers who are the most successful, tend to work the hardest,” Hudson says. “I guess it’s a lot like life.”
—Pam George

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