The vintage advantage

Find the effortless cool most of us chase after with one-of-a-kind items in Tel Aviv’s most contemporary retro shop.

Retro TLV 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Retro TLV 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘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.
Shahar is the purveyor of refurbished antique furniture, lighting fixtures and knickknacks, specializing in goods from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.
Her 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 retro-merchant.
“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.
She 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 see.”
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 Shahar’s creation.
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.
Desks and 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 die.”
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 apiece.
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