In Search of Elegance's 'Humble Soul'
The lure of history and architecture has led Marston Luce into some less-than-attractive places — with some beautiful results.
In the early 1980s, he would “prowl D.C. in areas where buildings were being torn down” and he vividly recalls the rats that often scurried around as he was on the lookout for the decorative brickwork and architectural ornaments that his excursions would unearth. (“I was recycling before it was fashionable,” he chuckles. “I’m an environmentalist.”) His finds were sold from the trunk of a red MG at the Georgetown Flea Market.
Today, the stock of his eponymous upper Wisconsin Avenue shop, which opened in 2001, comes from far more congenial spots. “I do my buying in France, where I have a house in the Dordogne, and some in England and in Sweden.”
His eye, though, still is trained on the beautiful, no matter the source. He describes his aesthetic as “humble elegance.”
“I deal with very elegant things, but they have a humble soul. I like the tension between the two.” He points to an early-19th-century English bulls-eye mirror as a perfect example of that outlook. The elaborately carved frame is not gilded, the way a grander piece might be. Instead, it gets its character from a warm white finish that gives it a welcoming lightness.
Look around Luce’s airy, light-filled shop (which he shares with Dink, a Jack Russell terrier, and Penny, a schnauzer) and you’ll find tabletop arrangements that mix refined objects, folk art and furniture ranging from a Swedish comb-painted armoire to an iron table fashioned from industrial salvage from Belgium. You’ll also see charming juxtapositions, such as a 19th-century French tin weathervane in the shape of a rooster and a cement version of the same animal that sports an equally extravagant curving tail.
That sense of combination is part of a trend that Luce sees among his customers: “People are buying fewer things, but better quality, and they are mixing styles more.”
On a recent visit, a shop associate was unfolding a circa-1800 painted French screen that depicts a hunting expedition in a tropical landscape. Who knows what those long-ago gentlemen may be stalking? It might be fun to imagine that they, like Marston Luce, are on the trail of something beautiful.
1651 Wisconsin Ave.
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