Lou Blass and Don Friday of Ad Lib Antiques Take Off Into The Future
By Jamie Larson
Browsing the high-end antique haven of Hudson NY can make shoppers feel as though they are lost in time. What’s old is new again and beautiful art objects pulled from a thousand different moments in history exist together alongside designs right at the cutting edge.
At Ad Lib Antiques, 522 Warren Street, owners Lou Blass and Don Friday (pictured left and right) are a case study of this town’s stylistic “theory” of relativity. The shop is mostly filled with their refined taste in classical design, but scattered throughout the collection of antiques are explosions of truly unique new forms, objects that seem like they could exist in a multitude of moments, past and future. These are chandeliers, lamps, sconces, tables, and sculptures that are all originals, created by Blass over just the past two years, that range in influences from Mid-century Sputnik ($3,400) and 70’s metallic flamboyance (at bottom, $6,800) to, more recently, futuristic pieces, chaotic and skillfully organized sections of metal piping mixed with elements like glass orbs, flowing copper sheets, and unique bulbs. Light loves them yet is always being tricked, not knowing where it’s off to next. (An example below right, $10,000). The material is hard but the angles and light refraction created by a chandelier can feel very natural, in the way a supernova or the construction of a molecule is natural.
“It’s all space related,” Blass says of his current line of pieces, the first of which he made as a Thanksgiving table hanging centerpiece two years ago. “The initial idea was a stylistic throwback, but I quickly adopted a lot of modern design features.”
It’s undoubtedly this complex interplay that made these works wildly popular almost immediately. Blass and Friday, with the help of two vital assistants, have been building one-of-a-kind pieces for clients across the country and around the world, selling pieces to private and corporate customers in Europe, Hong Kong, and Dubai.
“On the website 1stdibs.com, we’re global now,” Friday says, remarking at how much faster the art and antiques industry moves in the internet age. “Before, we had to rely upon the trade marts; now we’re filling an order for nine chandeliers for hotels in Manhattan, and they won’t even tell us which ones until they’re installed.” There’s currently a four-week-long waiting list for one of Blass’s creations. Conceptualizing, building, and welding each piece, then handling orders, clients, and installation is a lot of work—especially for newlyweds.
The inseparable couple has been together since they got out of the armed services 52 years ago. But it wasn’t until three weeks ago (with the help of that little change in state law) that they were finally married in a small ceremony at city hall, right next door to their shop. Having been together so long, they were interested in a financially pragmatic affair, as well as an unconventional honeymoon. Instead of taking a vacation, they’re remodeling their kitchen. “We’re always the ‘old couple’ in the pride parade,” Friday says with a little smile, “now we’re official.”
Their long history together has imbued them with a lot of wisdom when it comes to balancing work and life. In the 60s they both went to work for a firm in Dallas where they designed fountains. Their lives became nothing but work as orders piled up and they found themselves four years behind. “We decided to quit,” Blass recalled. “I told Don to call the showroom and tell everyone I died. We were supposed to do a two-story fountain for Mall of America. We just left it on the table and took a year off.”
They went to France for a year and worked exporting antiques but missed America too much and soon returned, setting up shop in Atlanta. Eventually, friends in Hudson convinced them to relocate to the little city and 15 years ago they made the move. They’ve been an ever-present piece of the Hudson antiques community ever since.
Blass says he doesn’t expect to find himself overwhelmed by their new boom in business the way he and Friday did back in the day. Being their own bosses has the perk of deciding how much work they feel like doing. But, currently there’s no sign of a decrease in orders or production.
The work coming out of Ad Lib today is unique and surprising. It’s never certain when something is going to connect with the market, but in a little shop beside city hall, the time is right for Lou Blass and Don Friday.
Ad Lib Antiques
522 Warren Street