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  • Rose Bennett Gilbert

HOW TO BREATHE LIFE INTO A ROOM By Rose Bennett Gilbert

Updated: Apr 29

Collecting the antique and the unexpected from the far corners of the world



Left: Braderie de Lille, France, 2023: Do-it-yourself delivery – Yonadi disassembled the six-shaded lamp he had just bought so he could hand carry it home on the plane. Over his neck, a bag with more market finds. In his other hand, a gift of fresh strawberries from wife Jackie. Center: New York City, 2016: The New York Design Center (200 Lexington Avenue) spotlighted the Albert Joseph Gallery among its ‘52 finest antique and vintage dealers.’ Right: Springfield Avenue, 2024 – Reassembled and ready to brighten another collector’s home, the articulated lamp illuminates art from other times, including a 200-pound alabaster Buddha, one of many Buddhas on display at the Albert Joseph Gallery.

Step just beyond the black awning in front of the Albert Joseph Gallery and you’re in for an enchanting world of art, furnishings and decorative objects from all around the globe.

Here you may also find a unique solution to a knotty decorating problem of your own: how to make a home truly your own, reflecting your individuality and your family’s lifestyle.


Albert (Joseph) Yonadi’s Gallery at 1988 Springfield Avenue in Maplewood is rich with bespoke answers. Its 3,000 square feet are filled with one-of-a-kind antiques, vintage art and artifacts from many centuries, several continents and myriad secret sources that Yonadi’s not revealing. (“Does Macy’s tell Gimbels?” he likes to tease.)


Zhongshan City, 2004: Tibetan door dating to the mid-20th century is displayed by Smiles, the son of the consolidator who worked with Yonadi when the Chinese market was active.

He is willing to reveal why he has spent the past 25 years traveling the world hunting down and bringing home his extraordinary collection of out-of-the-ordinary artworks and furnishings.


“Every home should have an antique or vintage piece,” he says. “Not only are they sustainable, but period pieces also change the environment. They breathe life into a room.”

Otherwise, considering the ongoing reign of Mid-century modern design, with its “Less is More” motto, right-angle silhouettes and unadorned surfaces, Yonadi says, “you might as well be living in a doctor’s office.”


He is a case in point. Idiosyncratic antiques and artifacts cured the case of burnout he suffered from a first career as a restaurateur during his late 20s and early 30s. “I had this globe I used to spin to look at all the countries I could go to. It ignited a fire in me,” he says. “I had this creative urge to go to other places, learn other cultures, do business in other countries.”


He traces that “creative urge” to his father, an executive in the printing business who often took him to art and furniture galleries in New York City. Those excursions inspired the first of Yonadi’s continent-spanning searches for art, antiques and vintage decorative objects. He traveled alone, bargaining through translators, treasure-hunting in small village markets, doing business on a handshake, mastering local currencies, braving dicey neighborhoods and falling into at least one country latrine. He was always dealing with the clouds of dust endemic to anything coming out of long-time storage.

Zhongshan City, China, 2001: Really big deal! The wardrobe panel cabinet dates to 1850. “You can’t find pieces like this today. That market has since disappeared,” Yonadi reports. “The Chinese are now buying up their own antiques.”

“The fun of it was for me to get dirty,” he says. “My clothes needed washing every night. If there was no laundry service where I was staying, I had to wash them in the bathroom sink.”


It was all part of “learning a lot about other cultures,” he says. “Traveling became a way of life. I had an apartment in Thailand. I made relationships. Friendships grew into a global family. It’s a never-ending quest that’s always been fascinating.”


His quest was sometimes shocking. One morning he woke up locked down in a Jakarta hotel, surrounded by tanks and barbed wire. He was forced to flee to Bali for four weeks and wait out the violent uprising that shook Indonesia in l998.


The quest that started in Indonesia on the advice of a friend gradually expanded from Southeast Asia to Europe and beyond. In the old markets in China he discovered his “special attraction” to traditional Chinese antiques. Accessible and abundant then, now those markets are gone, Yonadi says with regret. Today he and his wife, Jackie, share their Maplewood home with several special Chinese pieces that are “continually intriguing.” A massive l8th-century Chinese cabinet, a particular favorite, towers over one aisle in the Albert Joseph Gallery.


“Every day when I walk by that cabinet I have to turn around and say ‘hello’ to it,” he says.

In fact, Yonadi develops close personal relationships with nearly every antique, artwork, and vintage article that finds its way to his store. He knows all their stories in exquisite detail, often based on his own persistent research.


“Every piece should inspire you, should have a story, create an emotion,” he says.

Yonadi’s enthusiasm is contagious. Ask him a question about, say, an unusual white glass cocktail table that’s just arrived at the Gallery. He’ll have you crouching down to feel the distinctive ridges on its underside, because “the ridges tell you it’s authentic Vitrolite, a glass product last made in 1960.”


Next, he’ll have you craning your neck to inspect the articulated, six-branched brass chandelier hanging from the Gallery’s pressed-tin ceiling. It’s keeping company up there with the pair of sparkling brass and crystal chandeliers made in France from 1910-1920 that he found at the Braderie de Lille, Europe’s largest flea market. He managed to bring them home in his suitcase. “They’re collapsible,” he says, still delighted by his discovery.


Yonadi is a connoisseur, collector and knowledgeable curator. “Ninety-five percent of what I buy I already know what it is. The rest? When I realize something is special I want to learn more about it. That’s easy with the internet today. It’s made the world a very small place,” he says.

Most pieces have had some maintenance. “What’s most important to me is that a piece is authentic. The whole quest is to find something that’s really it. The sincerity, the built-in integrity, that’s a huge part of it for me,” he says. “A bit of refinishing is sustainable and acceptable. Say a veneer may be lifting or the French polish needs a touch up, but you have to keep the piece itself authentic.”


Copenhagen, Denmark, 2013: Chasing the ‘authentic’ in Scandinavia took Yonadi to the 500,000 square foot showroom of Mads Holst, a friend he first met at the ‘Dirt Market’ in Lower Guangdong, China.

Authentic, yes, but never dull, as Yonadi is quick to point out. He and his wife have cycled all over Europe. He says that when he rides his “mind is on fire. I get the same rush when I go into a marketplace! You have to have 360-degree vision. Your brain has to be taking in everything at once.”


What is he looking for? Does the collector himself have a personal favorite style or design period? Biedermeier, Art Deco, Bauhaus, Arts & Crafts, even modern (pre-the year 2000)? They all get a nod if they are “well-designed and well-proportioned. They will remain timeless and classic,” he says.


What about current trends? Is “brown furniture” really out of favor? Is Mid-century modern ever going away? What’s trending now? “The industry focuses on trends, but trends are here today, gone tomorrow,” Yonadi says. “Everybody dismissed ‘brown furniture,’ but we are finding our way back to traditional furnishings that are very design oriented and timeless. We are coming back to antiques and vintage furniture.”


“Younger people appreciate Mid-century modern,” he says. “It’s simpler, cleaner. Some of the craftsmanship was exceptional. Remember, the Gen Xers were the babies of the mid-century. This is the aesthetic they grew up with.”


Yonadi says tastes are changing again. “People have become more worldly,” he says. “They’re looking for quality, for authenticity. They’re looking for something special, something ‘Wow!’ that enhances their home and becomes their own aesthetic.”


Yonadi also has a gallery in the New York Design Center at 200 Lexington, where he is one of 52 top antique and vintage dealers. The gallery in Maplewood welcomes visitors Monday-Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. (and some Saturdays “by chance.”) Ring the doorbell. “We’re usually busy in the back.”


Journalist Rose Bennett Gilbert, who’s written seven books and a nationally syndicated newspaper column on interior design, is gobsmacked at finding Albert Yonadi’s trove so close to home!


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