“It all grew out of an untrained passion,” says Paul Donzella, whose store, Donzella, is a temple of post-war design. “I’ve been doing this for over 20 years and I never don’t look forward to coming to work.”
How did you get started in this business?
In the early 90s, I was living in the East Village and working at El Teddy’s. Walking to and from work, I’d pass by several midcentury shops, and they caught my eye. I lingered and stopped to talk. I started learning about midcentury design, and then going on buying trips with a friend. When I filled my apartment, I started selling at the 26th Street flea market.
When did you open this store? Why here?
I had a much smaller East Village space—800 square feet—before moving here in 1997. I loved Tribeca; I knew it from working at El Teddy’s (and before that I worked at the Odeon). I found this place by luck. I connected with a broker who was connected with the building. It was actually Jim Dine’s studio—he was giving it up, and I saw it before he even moved out. It was kind of kismet.
What is Donzella known for?
Furniture and lighting by American designers and architects, and furniture and lighting by Italian architects and industrial designers. And contemporary work by U.S. artists. I started out as midcentury, but I settled into post–World War II to contemporary. It’s my version of that. You can go to twenty different 20th-century stores and everybody’s vision is different.
Most popular item?
Italian lighting from the 50s and 60s. It’s by far the most popular genre. As I’ve dug further into it, more comes my way.
That console against the wall is $160,000. It’s by a husband-and-wife architect team, Ico and Luisa Parisi. It’s a unique piece for a home they did in Como, and it comes from the original family.
Least expensive item?
A Danish pewter candlestick for $750.
Your very favorite item right now?
This Robsjohn-Gibbings chaise longue. It’s one of my all-time favorite design pieces from the last 20 years. And I actually own it!
Where do you source stuff?
I shop in Italy at last once a year, getting in a car for hours each day and never knowing if it’ll be worth it. But having been in business this long, pieces come to me now: All I had to do was buy it well more than 50% of what’s here—I didn’t have to search for it.
Tribeca has obviously changed a lot. Any changes that have surprised you?
I’m not that surprised. Twenty years ago, I used to wonder, Why isn’t the neighborhood more popular? Why isn’t there more retail? When is the area going to happen? There were always restaurants, but why was the rest taking so long? Of course, it’s disappointing to see old buildings getting torn down. And it’s extremely disappointing how unrealistic commercial rents have become. Landlords are driving stores out of business.
How has your business changed?
It hasn’t, really. As popular as Tribeca gets, my store has always been more a destination. I rarely sell to people in the neighborhood—it’s maybe 10% of my business—and when I do, it’s to designers from uptown who come and buy it for them.
What does the future hold?
We do exhibitions here in the space now and then. In 2017, we’ll have been in Tribeca for 20 years, so I’m thinking of doing a retrospective or something like that. We’ll see.
Photographs by Claudine Williams, who specializes in head shots for actors, business professionals, or anyone looking to be photographed.