Todd Merrill: A Look Rich With Ideas And Context
A generational love for art and antiques, Todd Merrill is passionate about inspiring and presenting artists and ideas that are singular and unique.
Representing the third generation of his family in the antique business, Todd Merrill was inherently groomed by his grandparents, Nathan and Margaret Merrill, who, in the late 1920s, owned an art and antiques business in Burlington, Vermont that specialized in Americana. In 1968, Merrill’s father contributed to the family entrepreneurial spirit by establishing an estate auction business.
“I worked in my grandparents’ antique business when I was a teenager,” Merrill says. “By the time I was in college, I was running the business. After graduating, I moved to New York City, where I worked in publishing and film, before joining Christie’s Auction House as Director of Public Relations.”
In 2000, Merrill opened his first New York City gallery, which specialized in mid- 20th Century American and European vintage design. By 2009, he’d expanded the gallery’s program to focus on contemporary studio design, including furniture, lighting, and decorative art from both established and young artists.
Merrill’s commitment and interest in the gallery’s artists focuses on understanding and profiling the singular and unique creations of the selected artists, the techniques they are using and, ultimately, an insight as to what design, furniture and functional art can become. “We try to be on the absolute cutting edge,” Merrill says.
Todd’s motivation to found a gallery was piqued by how the traditional art and antiques business was changing. By the year 2000, people seemed very interested in what was modern and how they could inject something fresh into their interiors. Merrill found that there was a whole undiscovered period of late 20th Century American unique and custom studio furniture that had been designed by individual artists and craftsmen. “I discovered that there were artists working on their own, people like Paul Evans and Karl Springer, and several others, who were producing pieces that were highly crafted, and often very high end. In fact, some pieces were the most expensive furniture that you could buy in America at the time. Those people who had created between the time frame of the end of the war and the 1990’s had been forgotten. I wasn’t interested in the fancy office furniture, or country modern. Instead, I was interested in people who were producing things to their own taste and whim. I was looking for singular and unique pieces that the artist’s hand had touched.”
Todd Merrill Studios, who are known for their vintage studio design, include the premiere New York City studio, which is located on Lafayette Street, in the TriBeCa area of New York City, and the summer pop up studio, which is located in Southampton, (opened May through the end of September). “We have different approaches to how we exhibit at the two galleries,” Merrill says. “Sometimes our pop up Southampton Gallery does single artist’s exhibitions. We try to show things that are more appropriate for the beach. The overall approach in our summer gallery is less formal in the collections, more casual and relaxed.”
Because his grandfather was a cabinet maker, Merrill spent a lot of time in his grandfather’s workshop, which ultimately taught him how to make things. But Merrill’s real strength comes from his designs, which include upholstered furniture – sofas and chairs – original designs that are captured in their own catalogue under the Custom Originals banner.
The commonality of the pieces exhibited in Merrill’s studio, which in addition to the furniture, includes photography and painting are that they are all based in abstract expressionism, popular in the late 1940s and early 1950s, a style and discipline that Merrill himself is attracted to. As such, the painters the gallery exhibits reflect that era. Knox Martin, one of the original abstract expressionists, who is now in his 90s, was featured in a Merrill show last year.
“We choose artists that we believe are advancing the possibilities of contemporary art and design, whether through innovative materials or groundbreaking techniques. The work needs to fit in with the overall feel of where we are coming from.”
A key philosophy for the studio is to show pieces in context, so that people can envision how a whole arrangement would look and how it would work. “When people see things together – a sofa with a coffee table and a great lamp and a beautiful photograph – we are presenting a look and inspiring ideas,” Merrill says.
Todd is also the author of Modern Americana: Studio Furniture from High Craft to High Glam, (Rizzoli, 2008), which is touted as the first ever comprehensive and authoritative guide to the great studio furniture makers and designers, who from 1940 through the 1990s, defined American high style. In 2018, to celebrate the book’s tenth anniversary, Rizzoli republished the book with an expanded edition that added chapters focusing on Women Makers and Showrooms.
Todd Merrill Studio does 8-12 shows internationally a year, across a broad spectrum of chic cosmopolitan cities including London, Geneva, Brussels, and Miami. Closer to home, a solo exhibition of Canadian artist, Przemek Pyszczek, which will feature both his façade paintings and his first collection of functional design that embraces high-end, playful furniture, is being presented by the Todd Merrill Studio at Art Toronto, Oct. 25th-27th.
“Our artists value that we promote unique work –pieces that it are material driven, technique driven- ones that have been touched by the artist’s hand,” Merrill says. “Our gallery clients know that when they are looking for items, whether it be furniture, photography, or paintings that are unique, of excellent quality, and, importantly made by the artist’s hand, they will find them here. We do not want anything that is manufactured or mass produced.”
While Merrill is discreet about his clientele, he is happy to share the names of some of his top designers, which include Yabu Pushelberg, Ingrao, Pembrooke and Ives, Drake Anderson, Veere Grenney, Nicolehollis, and Ryan Korban.
“Most of our designs are available to be customized by the artist specifically for a client or an interior,” Merrill says. “When you come to our studios you are going to get something that is of outstanding quality, very unique and one that is possibly made just for you.”