A young couple, newly rich, poor in furniture, hire interior designer Benjamin Noriega-Ortiz to furnish their brand-new, $2.5 million downtown loft. But as early adopters loaded with dot-com lucre, they don't want their designer pounding the pavement on their behalf -- so twentieth-century. Equipped only with a PowerBook G3, Noriega-Ortiz accepts this mission: He will furnish the couple's apartment, a pine-planked, DSL-wired, 3,500-square-foot space in The Loft, at 30 Crosby Street, where he's already -- in real life, that is -- signed off on the lobby, kitchens, and half the bathrooms. And he will do it in three hours or less.
He arrives, black-clad, sleeves rolled up, ready to type. "Let's look for one-of-a-kind pieces first," he says, seizing the PowerBook's petite mouse. "I'm going with ebay.com. And let's go into the GALLERY first, because you can see all the pictures." He heads straight for post-1900 FURNITURE. Some truly dreadful things pop up in the scroll-down: a tiger-oak chest, a Tiffany (yeah, right) torchère, and an ungainly Lucite magazine rack. "I don't think they'd like that," Noriega-Ortiz remarks, before the cursor alights on a Herman Miller Chadwick three-piece sectional in cranberry wool, now selling for the exorbitant price of $25.
"Six days to go; that will probably go for $300, maybe $500," Noriega-Ortiz estimates like a pro. "Still, that's a deal. We'll take it. Just keep a tally."
One item down. Noriega-Ortiz returns to the GALLERY, scanning for a sofa he saw a few days ago. He pauses on a leather Eames lounge -- "a classic" -- in a barbaric shade of tan. Still, he keeps scrolling, scrolling, until he nets his prize: a ten-foot velour sofa with built-in side tables and a fifties feel. "It's big and extremely stylish. Can't you just see Lucy and Ricky sitting on this?" Plus, it's just $20 now, with ten days to go.
EBay's lamp aisle is filled with historical reproductions bought, Noriega-Ortiz surmises, at Jacques Penet (a.k.a. J.C. Penney): "Very scary. Not hip at all. Let's try typing in Eames." This proves the fastest detour to all of eBay's mid-century stuff -- Nelson, Noguchi, Saarinen, Knoll. Suddenly, Noriega-Ortiz hits pay dirt -- a Saarinen tulip table, in a rare aluminum finish. "We are bidding on this table! We are totally getting that, in seven hours and fifteen minutes. The bid is $150, and it started at $1. Isn't it fabulous? I should have bought that for my own apartment. This is the breakfast table." He settles down and waxes practical: "It's coming from Georgia, so the shipping won't be that much."
In rapid succession, Noriega-Ortiz picks out the Yanagi rosewood butterfly stool featured in MOMA's collection ($405 with four hours to go), a Venini egg-shaped handblown lamp ($159.50 now, probably $300 by the end of the auction, and $2,100 in SoHo), and a Danish pastel-striped ceramic lamp base, perfect for one of the sofa's broad arms. After twenty minutes of shopping, he's selected six impeccable mid-century items.
Next, he heads to Belgian auction site fiftie-fiftie.be; the home page features a George Nelson marshmallow sofa. Clicking on one of its fluorescent cushions brings up images of furniture from the forties to the sixties. Noriega-Ortiz zeroes in on some Nelson bentwood "Pretzel" chairs. "This chair would be fabulous with that table because it's wood. I wouldn't do an Saarinen chair with an Saarinen table, because that's just too normal." He's distracted from the breakfast suite by a pair of low-slung Dutch chairs from the unknown Van Os Meubelfabriek furniture factory, wood with cream fabric seats, and a matching tea table. The price tag: 445 euros. "We'll reupholster the sofa and make it beige again," he says. "Then we can do an arrangement, the two chairs opposite the sofa, with the small table between them. It's a big living room, so the cranberry sectional can go elsewhere."
For beds, Noriega-Ortiz turns to goodhome.com, a favorite for its decorating vignettes; white sample rooms can be colored and rearranged onscreen to your specifications. "We could do Country Romance," he says, clicking on a violently patterned calico swatch in this zone, "but we're not doing that." A cradle bed, in dark-stained wood, queen-size, for $1,595, catches his eye. "The family is hip, but they want me to mix in a little bit of traditional." Just so the master bedroom doesn't get stodgy, Noriega-Ortiz drops into andbobsyouruncle.com for a brace of white turkey-feather lamps.
So far, so good. But he's not even close to melting his clients' new AmEx Blue cards. He tries newel.com, the Website of a local antiques store whose six stories of inventory are all online. He selects art moderne as his period, then clicks on chairs.
"There's nice quality," he says, gazing admiringly at a leather club chair. "Now we're talking!" His arrow skids to a stop on a French forties chair, fresh from Claridge's in London, with an intricate geometric cutout arm. There are twelve of them. "It's rare to find twelve dining-room chairs, but this loft can handle it. Of course, they're $3,500 each, list. But this couple can afford that."