The Curious Case of Benjamin Albucker
He can be hard to warm up to. And his Lambertville, NJ, shop isn’t that fashionable. But you don’t have to be a furniture geek to appreciate his genius.
By Scott Edwards · Photography by Josh DeHonney
The morning after Benjamin Albucker showed me around his Lambertville, New Jersey, shop, he sends me the following text:
scott during my rant I should have been clearer on my taste/merchandise.
I primarily sell this:
EARLY Modern American Design, i.e. Early Herman Miller and Knoll
Some radical Italian design
20th Century French Design
Hardly seen industrial: much of which comes from a close friend Leanne Lipston (INDDESIGN)
Albucker, obviously, is as particular about his perception as he is with his tastes. After eight months, he still hasn’t named his shop. And without a name, there can be no Web site, of course. “Well, that’s just because I’m nuts,” he says. “I can’t come up with a name. I want a name. I want a Web site. But I need a name before I can do a Web site. I’m not doing that to be hip. It’s screwing me a little bit. Not being on the Internet, I’m doing a lot less business.”
What to make of a shop that’s such a pure reflection of its owner, and that guy, he readily admits, can be difficult to embrace.
“I don’t think it’s something you want to write about,” Albucker says, “but I think I alienate people because, not just the prices being expensive, but it’s so specific, from my point of view, that certain people, not so many of them around here, understand it.”
His demeanor, during the afternoon I spent with him at his North Union Street shop, is straightforward, unsentimental, almost challenging at times. I felt like he was observing and gauging me as much as I was him. It can come across as youthful arrogance—Albucker’s not yet 30—but I think it’s more the default stance of someone who’s accustomed to proving himself in a world where knowledge and savvy are all you have. Even stripped of that context, this is a space filled with Albucker’s most prized possessions. Reject them and you reject him.
Albucker claims to me that the only reading he does is in relation to furniture and designers. He’s being self-deprecating. He may present a little rough around the edges—on this day, he’s wearing a thick beard, a charcoal Baja pullover and a baseball hat that’s been on his head every day for the last couple of years—but an email exchange over the weeks leading up to the interview impressed me with his intelligence, maturity and articulation.
“I’ve amassed a good amount of knowledge over the last eight or nine years, since I started buying stuff for my father’s store,” Albucker says. His father is Stewart Ross, who owns Bucks County Dry Goods. His shop is a couple blocks across town, and there are others in Princeton, NJ, and Old City. It’s through his father that Albucker learned how to forage flea markets and developed his taste in art. And it was while working for him that he honed the concept for his own shop. “I might do two or three sales in a week. I might do no sales,” Albucker says. “Like, if I sold this desk, it would pay my rent. I want to see if I can do this and make a living and build a brand with only what I like. I guess I’m stubborn that way.”
Klockner roll-front, fire-safe cabinet (circa 1940s-1950s) | $3,500
Built in Buenos Aires, features 39 drawers, many tilting, and it’s crazy-heavy.
Wastepaper basket by Grethe Bang & Finn Juhl | $700
Simply a great design by the Danish master.
We’re standing over Milo Baughman’s iconic scoop chair, crafted in salmon-colored naugahyde. There were several iterations made across a few decades in the middle part of the 20th century, but Albucker will only buy and sell the original design, with an iron leg, in this one color.
“People bring me stuff all the time, and nine out of 10 times, I don’t like it,” he says. “It’s not like I like midcentury modern. I just like certain pieces. It gets a little too fancy after a certain point. Like the Eames Fiberglass shells. I really only like them in gray and two or three other colors. I don’t like bright colors, usually. I like interesting objects. And I like humor.”
You wrote me, I say, “A little humor is important to me when done in a beautiful way.” The comment was made in reference to an antique porcelain bedpan and urinal that he had on display in the shop. In the bedpan, he arranged some fake apples. And he stuck some flowers in the urinal.
Bottle opener by the Werkstätte Carl Auböck
(circa 1960s) | $325
Run by four generations of Carl Aubocks, the Vienna-based Aubock Workshop turns out some of the world’s most beautiful, handcrafted, small objects, mainly in horn, brass, leather, cane and wood. And they usually serve the most esoteric of uses.
Collection of 11 German monkey hand puppets | $2,200
Each is made from mohair and erected on a purpose-built stand. It’s the world’s only “chorus” of German monkey puppets.
Zenith Rope-edge Shell Chair by Charles and Ray Eames for Herman Miller (circa 1950 to 1953) | $3,200
An obscenely low shell chair in my favorite shade of Fiberglass. This is one of the rarest and earliest Eames shell chair configurations in existence. It could easily be argued that it belongs in a permanent collection somewhere.
Belt-driven aluminum bicycle (manufacturer unknown) | $2,200
I bought this from Leanne Lipston of INDDESIGN, the best picker/dealer of industrial artifacts and exquisite metal in the world. The form and material of this small bicycle make me smile. If I don’t sell it by July, it’ll be hanging above my bed.
“I sold them to some architect for a lot of money. I guess he agreed with the humor in it,” he says. “And it looked good. I don’t just like funny, gross shit. I’m not sure whether I’ll buy any more of those, but I did it once and proved that I could sell it as something pretty.”
Albucker restores most of the things he sells himself. But only to an extent. Again straying from the majority rule, he prefers his midcentury modern with some patina. He devoted two years to restoring a dilapidated barn on his family’s property, across the river in Solebury, and converting it into his home. He has yet to move in. The project was put on hold when he moved into a co-op next to the Golden Nugget Antique & Flea Market, just south of town. Four months later, this store became available. For about a month, he was there renovating it until four in the morning, even installing the reclaimed, wide-plank floors himself.
We’re finishing up. A couple’s walked in and they need his attention. But first he turns and says, “This, I wanted to show you so you know.” It’s an Eames shell chair, which will always remind me of elementary school.
Albucker flips it over and draws my attention to the rope that’s embedded in the Fiberglass along the edge. “They only did that for the first year.” Which means that the shells without the rope sells for a couple hundred bucks while the ones with it can fetch up to $1,500. Treasure hunting’s not my thing. I have a hard enough time picking up on the obvious, so I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with this knowledge. Nor does it really matter. More importantly, I feel like I’ve passed some kind of test.
The Sum of His Parts
A portrait of Albucker, as depicted by a few of his most coveted things.
Sonambient tonal sculpture by Val Bertoia $5,000
A kinetic, musical and elegant sculpture by the son of the late sculptor and chair designer,
Modernist log holder by Smith/Temper/Sunberg of San Francisco (circa 1950s) $750
This useful thing does a lot for me. It’s early California modern design, which is hard to come by in the east. It’s constructed of perforated metal, a material I’m addicted to. And it retains a warm patina that only enhances its great looks.
Bouloum Chaise by Olivier Mourgue for Airborne | $1,800
Everyone needs a little radical-1970s-French design in his or her home. As wild as the Bouloum Chaise looks, the ergonomics are inherent. It’s the most comfortable lounge chair you’ll ever sit in. This thing is wrong in all the right ways.
Aluminum Coat Tree by Warren McArthur | $900
Collectors of McArthur’s furniture are few and far between. You have to be a bit of a metal-head to collect his stuff in great quantities. But I think it contrasts beautifully with almost any piece of good furniture. His use of aluminum tubing and ingenious hardware resulted in some of the most elegant, modern designs.
My hat | Not for sale
A fixture on my head for two years running.