To say a visit to TEFAF Maastricht is a pilgrimage may be a bit dramatic—but so vaunted is its reputation, and so hallowed are its booths, that planning a visit feels like a requisite rite of passage. Several years ago while scheduling a European buying trip, to purchase furniture for projects in the States, I happily discovered that my dates would allow me to spend the first few days finally visiting this fair that held such a great place in my imagination.
In the few years that I have been fortunate enough to have my own decorating business I have tried to distinguish myself by creating spaces that feel natural, but informed; that illustrate my love and passion for decorative arts. My own aesthetic is so informed by a sense of nostalgia—not referential of the past, per se, but rather the illusion of what has always been, coupled with what is, now. In short, I try to create spaces that look as though they have always existed.
I grew up in a home so layered and varied; filled to the brim with a remarkable mix of flotsam and jetsam. This was attributable to the unconventional eye of my mother, and as a result our house so naturally, but succinctly, combined bits of grandeur with more naïve and ephemeral objects. The result of which was a space filled with such beauty, but completely lacking in pretense, that appeared as if it had always been there—but was of an indiscernible period.
That I was extremely fortunate to have grown up in such an environment is an understatement. I try to capture the visual magic of my childhood home in the work that I do today. It is my goal that every project should look and feel natural and unstudied—no matter how grand the contents may be. I do not believe in being bound to any single era, and loathe rooms that feel ‘period’. The spaces I find most inspiring are those that appear to have evolved over decades, or centuries, even if they are in fact newly created.
As such, I developed quite an interest in decorative arts. While my personal favorite is English furniture of the 18th and early 19th century, I’m quite fond of anything from Spanish Baroque to early American folk art—and on occasion, a bit of French modernism. Combining these somewhat disparate elements is what I love to do. It is this bottomless hunger for objects that makes TEFAF Maastricht the highlight of my year, and what drew me in the first time.
I landed in Europe on a dreary, rainy March morning in 2018, and after finding the strength to push through my jetlag I entered the vast and overwhelming MECC. My persistence was almost immediately rewarded. There, directly in front of me, on the stand of Galerie Kugel was the most perfect pair of mirrors that I had ever glimpsed. Octagonal in shape and encrusted in arabesques of minute pieces of coral—they quite literally stood out from the crowd. Without skipping a beat, I took my phone out, and dashed off a few photos to a client—followed by the quite erudite message, "these are a must!".
"It is this bottomless hunger for objects that makes TEFAF Maastricht the highlight of my year, and what drew me in the first time." — Remy Renzullo
While my initial captivation was based solely on their decorative properties, I soon made an enquiry to the dealers for more information. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the woman who rattled off dates and names with alarming alacrity, was probably no older than myself; something both reassuring—and alarming. That is one of the beauties of TEFAF Maastricht: many of these businesses are family run, often with three generations working on the same stand. In business and in life, I spend vast amounts of time speaking to people twice my age (at least) but there was something quite comforting, as a Maastricht novice, that I was attempting to conduct my first ‘deal’ with a peer.
Much to my dismay, the pair of mirrors, which I had by now learned were made in Trapani, a Sicilian coastal town that specializes in this technique of encrusted coral, and were made in the late 17th century— the most desired date for Trapani-ware—were regrettably already reserved and shortly thereafter, sold.
While I was disappointed, I felt emboldened and encouraged by the encounter. Rather than feeling intimated or self-conscious about my lack of expertise and experience I felt oddly confident—and at ease, such was the care and interest that had been taken with my query. And, most importantly, I now had a burning desire to see and learn more.
It is a commonly held fallacy that fairs like TEFAF Maastricht, specializing primarily in pre-twentieth century decorative arts, as well as the dealers within this general area, are snobbish or exhibit an air of superiority. On the contrary, much like the furniture and art they peddle, the vast majority of dealers at Maastricht are earnest and straight-forward; devoid of the pseudo-intellectualism that often permeates art fairs.
The simple truth is that every dealer I encountered, young or old, spoke to me with genuine enthusiasm and excitement. They could not wait to describe a technique, demonstrate how a latch might work, show off an ingenuously disguised hidden compartment. I found their energy and zeal infectious—I was being dazzled by objects that I had never known existed.
Certain eccentric obsessions that I now have began with this first visit to Maastricht. Never again will I see a piece of coral and not think of Kugel’s glorious Trapani mirrors that slipped through my fingers; just as I go weak in the knees upon glimpsing an amber casket from Augsburg in a sale catalogue—or on display in a museum.
That I have been lucky enough to actually purchase pieces from Maastricht for clients is an added (but most welcome) bonus. The simple act of spending days wandering the fair, learning and seeing, that is the true magic of TEFAF Maastricht. That is what takes my jet lag away, that makes me practically skip through the rain on my way to the MECC—so overcome am I with excitement—and most importantly, it is that magic of learning and discovering that keeps me coming back year after year.
About the Author
Remy Renzullo is an Interior Decorator and Antique Advisor based between Connecticut and London. He founded his practice in 2016, and has since completed residential projects in the United States and England.
In addition to decoration, Renzullo sources rare European furniture and objects, primarily of the 17th and 18th centuries, for private clients.
The Musical Still Life: Exploring the Development of Instrumental Iconography in 17th-Century Italian Art
- Karen Chernick