‘Flea markets are dead,’ declared Mati Shahar.
This seemed an unlikely
comment from one of Tel Aviv’s favorite suppliers of all things fabulously old.
Shahar is the owner of the super-chic vintage shop Retro TLV, on Rehov Yehuda
Halevi. She is the picture of style with bright blue eyes, long red hair and a
somewhat sharp demeanor. She came across as aloof at first; however, she warmed
at once while speaking of her passion and business, vintage goods.
is the purveyor of refurbished antique furniture, lighting fixtures and
knickknacks, specializing in goods from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.
store has the effortless cool most of us chase after, chock-a-block with those
one-of- a-kind items that connect the heartstrings directly to the wallet. Though
her career was born in the long alleys of flea markets around Europe and the US,
Shahar has come to terms with the current state of the
“Years ago, the prices in flea markets were very, very
low,” she said. While studying in Brussels, Shahar regularly visited the vendors
at the many daily flea markets around the city. Over the years, she became
familiar with similar venues around Europe, in London, Paris and Amsterdam. It
pained her to admit that a significant change has taken place in the beloved
world of vintage retail. Prices have gone up, availability of quality products
down. Her store is one of several upscale antique/retro/vintage outlets that
have occupied a gap left open by this change.
“Now, in Europe, America
and here, in Israel, the prices have gone up considerably. I used to buy a lot
in the Jaffa flea market. But now that the prices are what they are, it doesn’t
pay to purchase in the markets.”
At present, Shahar imports the lion’s
share of her stock from a list of elite vintage dealers in Europe.
went on to explain that although her furniture is priced higher than the
antiques one will find in the street, even today, her pieces are inevitably a
smaller investment when it comes to time and money. “If you buy chairs like
those ones in a market,” she pointed to a pair of 1950’s armchairs,
reupholstered in a stunning Tiffany’s blue fabric by Trisha Guild, which Shahar
handpicked personally, “you have to revamp the wood. And then there’s the cost
of reupholstery and the hassle of taking the chairs to different workmen. I cut
out the middleman. At the store, you can see the finished product when you buy
it, whereas at the markets you have to imagine it, and often, after all the
work, the end product doesn’t turn out how you want it. Here, you get what you
Most of the items on sale at Retro TLV have received a dose of
Shahar’s TLC. Though Shahar is not the original designer of any of her pieces,
her aesthetic tastes are clearly conveyed in the store.
Whether it is
through a new fabric, stain or tabletop, Retro TLV’s inventory is in many ways
She pointed out a sweet, red Formica-topped desk,
which had just returned from the handyman that day. Shahar had opted, in this
case, to stain the wood a darker color and replace the off-white tabletop with a
new sheet of cherry Formica. The end result is gorgeous.
“When we got
this, it looked awful. The wood was in bad shape.” Now, post-Matimakeover, the
desk shines in a better-than-new kind of way.
This piece was once the
work space of a child, Shahar surmised. In fact, she is always on the lookout
for old school equipment, such as books, desks and chairs.
writing tables, she explained, are the most desired items in her store. “I
wouldn’t say that desks were made better back then, but for some reason, we
can’t keep them in the stock for more than a few days.”
Buying vintage is
a great way to get one’s hands on materials that are no longer sold on the
market, namely a myriad of woods. In Retro TLV, almost all wooden objects have
received a full makeover, including sanding and re-staining. “There are a lot of
great kinds of wood that are no longer available like teak, walnut, rosewood and
palisander. These are all kinds of woods that, because of their rarity, are
either very expensive or not available at all. The quality of wood stays inside
and just needs to be brought out. Good wood wants to be refurbished,” she said.
“It’s also better for the environment. It means one less tree has to
Recently, Shahar has taken notice of a new trend in vintage
vending: rough industrial.
This term refers to products plucked from
warehouses, factories, shipyards and hospitals.
Though this is not her
favorite genre of vintage, Shahar has gone out of her way to keep a few
institutional or industrial items in her store. A few weeks ago, she managed to
get her hands on a dozen or so old factory lights. “The workman who took these
down from the ceiling of the factory they were in had to work really hard to
detach them,” she said. These huge, round fixtures sell for NIS 2,000
When it comes to decorating, moderation and integration are key
in Shahar’s eyes. She believes strongly that the best way to place vintage items
in the home is alongside modern pieces. “I’m in favor of a mix of styles. If
everything is vintage, it ends up looking old, or old-fashioned rather. It’s
always good to add one or two pieces in a room,” she said.Retro TLV is
located at Rehov Yehuda Halevi 123. For more information, or to view the online
catalog, visit www.retro-tlv.com.