Diana Vite, Antiques Restorer
Diana Vite and I are cozied up on two old leather chairs in the back of her vintage furniture shop in Eixample, drinking coffee and wearing our scarves.
It's not a normal state of being in temperate Barcelona, but she has a cold and the wet fall weather is driving a draft through the open door out back. The rain that came down in buckets this morning has dissolved into a mere drizzle, but the shop is quiet today. It's not unusual, she says. Barcelona tends to hunker down at any sign of inclement weather.
Diana's shop is tucked into a nondescript block in Eixample Esquerra between a shoe repair shop and a store that sells cleaning supplies and makeup. The name is Déjà Vu Concept, fitting for a shop jumbled with pieces from all different eras. Art deco lamps are crowded onto tables with oriental platters. Aging books are piled up on stools next to Indian printing blocks. China hutches are packed with delicate English teacups and 19th century silver marmalade knives. It's a lot to take in at once.
Each piece Diana selects herself, and each undergoes its own transformation by her own hand or under her direction. A walk through her shop is like walking through history, with bits and pieces of Barcelona's past scattered throughout. A pair of French doors from a grand old apartment in Eixample grace the wall by the back desk, their windows transformed into mirrors. She once had an old cabinet whose doors were repurposed from an apartment in the neighborhood. The lamps on the table next to us are Miguel Milá. Each of her pieces, she explains, are one of a kind.
"I love to see the changes that each piece experiences. This bench for example." She waves her hand at a bright blue bench in front of us. The pop of indigo stands in marked contrast to its traditional design. "It's old, but when you give it a color like this, you make it into something totally new. It has new life again." It's no longer your mother's bench, she explains. It's your bench. But it's also your heritage, so it's even more special.
Diana hasn't always been in the vintage furniture business. Originally from Peru, she came to Barcelona with her family many years ago. She was studying labor relations in university here when she was given the first chair she would ever restore. She brought her find to a local restoration shop and asked if they would work on her piece. Instead, they offered her a spot in their workshop so she could learn how to do it herself. She took the class, and was immediately hooked. She finished the chair and moved onto a mirror, and then had to decide what to do about her intended career. That was 15 years ago, and she's never looked back.
"I've always loved to work with my hands," Diana explains. "For me, it's a necessity."
For Diana, the best part of her job is not actually collecting or restoring the pieces she finds. It's seeing people stop in the window of the shop, or knowing that they got off the bus just to visit. She loves matching people with pieces that they love and helping them build a home.
Her shop is filled with pieces that she's chosen herself. She eschews trends, choosing all types of pieces, from different periods, countries and styles that reflect her own personal taste rather than what she thinks her customers might want.
"I would never put anything in my shop that I wouldn't put in my own home," she says.
A couple comes in while we're talking. They're looking for chairs. She pops up, smoothes her paint-splattered apron, and in a moment she's walking them through the history and periods of the pieces that catch their eye. They move from a stately wingback to a classic 1970s arm chair. A roll of chartreuse velveteen fabric comes out, a hint of possibility unfurled. The couple negotiates fabrics, prices, delivery schedules. The chair and its future becomes theirs.
Diana believes anyone can have a nice home filled with the things they love. She says creating a nicely designed home doesn't have to be expensive. It can begin with pieces found on the street. "One coat of paint can totally change a piece," she explains.
She also recommends buying neutral pieces and giving them life with decorative touches. A neutral-colored sofa will come alive with a melange of brightly colored pillows. Changing the pillows from time to time will give it a totally new look.
Especially important to her is the idea of taking furniture handed down by family, such as an old lamp and giving it a new lampshade for a unique touch. In this way, the piece maintains its traditional bones and its lineage while becoming something modern and fresh in the process.
"I love people who are open to new ideas, who are willing to mix styles and who take risks," she says.
Although she does admit that it's often a matter of intuition, that sometimes people can go overboard with their choices. Sometimes people have too many things, she explains, and the pieces themselves get lost in the jumble. Nevertheless, it's important to try. Better to give something new value, she believes, than to leave it to the junk pile.
She believes decoration is on an upward trend in Barcelona, that people are more concerned these days with "beautiful things." Shops like hers are also on the rise, and "vintage" is the catchphrase of the day. People don't throw things away like they used to, she explains. Instead they restore things. Young people especially might continue to buy IKEA furniture, but now they are more concerned with beautifying it by adding their own unique pieces into the mix.
What once was a city filled with traditional brocanters is now a city that is diversifying in the antiques business. Where antiquarians once bought and sold old expensive pieces, based largely on their age, people are now giving new worth to all kinds of furniture through repurposing and reinvention.
Although competition has grown over the last few years, she believes that each store has its niche. "The people who come in always tell me, 'There's no other store in Barcelona like this one.'"
Diana retreats to her workshop where her assistant is busy sanding down a small footstool. She gives some advice, and stands back to watch the process. The piece was once plain and gray but with each stroke of the sandpaper, it's returning to its naked state. It doesn't have a lot of character yet, but it's destined for rebirth.
Although Diana has an assistant, she continues to work on many of the pieces herself. She recovers chairs, refinishes mirrors, and rewires lamps. She uses the vintage fabrics she collects to create a collection of lively lampshades that take turns adorning most of the lamps in the shop. She is forever rearranging the shop, moving old pieces to the back, showcasing recently refinished pieces in the front window, and adding new pieces to fill the spaces that claimed ones have left behind. In a way, the shop itself is a bit like a work of art.
While Diana loves her shop, she also has dreams for the future. Some day she wants to create a multi-purpose space, that seamlessly blends design and lifestyle.
"I want to find a space much bigger than this one, with a patio and dedicated spaces for people who create beautiful things. Because I don't just love any old thing," she says. "I love beautiful things. There could be space for someone who makes necklaces, but delicate ones. For maybe a florist. For a crafter who makes pillows. It could be a place where people can come for a coffee and a pastry, do yoga, and buy handmade items all in one space. That is my ultimate dream."
Déjà Vu Concept
Barcelona; M: Rocafort