South Ave Treasures Keep Midcentury Furniture Alive

While offering its mom-and-pop convenience, South Ave Treasures specializes in a decorating trend that won't die even amidst the pandemic.

Photo by Vincent Alban

As soon as you cross the threshold of the unassuming, teal trimmed exterior at South Ave Treasures, you are transported to 1960. Arc floor lamps illuminate the sleek lines of teak and walnut furniture, and bar carts are positioned next to low-sitting sofas in a swank style reminiscent of Don Draper's Manhattan office. This is also where Peter Vogelaar, the owner and founder of South Ave Treasures, has spent most of his time during the last eight years. For Vogelaar, who's mother is an interior designer, this lifestyle comes natural and he was raised with an "eye for nice things."

Prior to opening South Ave Treasures back in 2013, Vogelaar set up shop at Rochester's Public Market, which he quickly outgrew. For a few years after, Vogelaar sold at other local flea markets which he says was "lucrative for getting rid of some of my common estate stuff" before predominantly focusing on acquiring merchandise for antique shows. What started as a hobby evolved into a business, and eventually, what Vogelaar would refer to as a passion.

"It's a labor of love," Vogelaar admits. "People ask me, 'What do you do in your free time?' I do clean outs in my free time. It's all work-related. Everything I do is work-related."

Vogelaar's work extends beyond what is visible to the eyes of customers. After years of use and handling, furniture that makes its way to South Ave Treasures may be in need of attention. All restoration, in terms of woodworking, is done in house. Vogelaar has been refinishing furniture for the past six years after being taught by Rochester's best. Although Vogelaar is quite skilled at refurbishing pieces and does enjoy the work, his heart lies in, what he calls, "the hunt." He loves buying and says 99% of his fun is doing just that, though assures once he becomes deeply engrossed in a project, he enjoys doing that just as much. Considering the sheer amount of furniture he has come and go, he admits that there is one piece he hasn't been able to get his hands on—an authentic rosewood and black leather Eames lounge chair.

"It's the most iconic midcentury piece in existence, and one everybody knows. I've just never found one for sale in the wild."

In the early days of South Ave Treasures, the style of furniture displayed was not as curated as it's like now. Vogelaar's business was once an everything shop with secondhand goods. However, Vogelaar was sure to observe how long certain styles of furniture remained in his store, and noticed that one style was selling much faster than the others. A decade ago, the term "midcentury modern" was not as ubiquitous as it is today.

"The first word was 'retro,'" Vogelaar said. "There were people coming in need of 'retro' furniture. Coming from a design background, I knew what 'retro' was, and I knew that Victorian style antiques were on the downswing."

Photo by Vincent Alban

Over the years, other furniture dealers did not necessarily share the same opinion as Vogelaar. While they conceded that midcentury style was popular, they didn't expect it to remain so, and certainly did not expect the trend to grow further.

"They were like, 'Midcentury is on its way out. It's gonna die.' This is as I'm coming into the business and doing well with it. But I kept at it, and definitely proved them wrong," Vogelaar said.

On account of Vogelaar's outspoken enthusiasm about the success of midcentury style furniture in his store, he admits that his works follows him home.

"My house is an ever changing canvas," Vogelaar said. "It's like an extension of my shop. I have a little eBay area and I have items that are destined to be on eBay. Sometimes I'll have a piece in there that I sold that has to come and then it will be empty for a while before I'll put something else there. It's always changing."

The change in Vogelaar's own home reflects the change in many other Americans’ homes as well. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, business has looked different in Vogelaar's shop.

"A lot of people are changing, you know, people are downsizing their houses" Vogelaar said. "Some people are going crazy and getting huge houses right now, so it's creating change, and change creates inventory in this business. People are moving, they need this or don't need that. Either way, people are calling me."

The pandemic has also increased Americans' attention to the aesthetics of their homes. Prior to COVID-19, America was a country preoccupied with work. The number of Americans who are choosing to work remotely has changed our entire culture.

"I think even if people are gone now, they were home for a few months, and realized the importance of having nice things in their home and a comfortable home environment," Vogelaar said. "You know, it's a little bit of an eye-opener which is awesome."

Photo by Vincent Alban

America's shift in the operation of everyday life means that businesses are expected to operate differently as well. Many businesses have chosen to focus more heavily on their online presence. In the business of antiques, Vogelaar admits how the internet has been a "double-edged sword" and the wealth of knowledge he gained just from being able to look something up in two seconds on his phone or computer is immeasurable. And in the same regard, the internet has brought about challenges for many local, independently-owned businesses. In the world of antiques, the internet has replaced a hierarchy of dealers. Vogelaar explains how dealers of 30 or more years were once selective about who they conducted business with.

"You had to earn your way into buying from and selling to certain dealers, there was a sense of loyalty," Vogelaar said. "Now buyers and sellers who are new to the business can go directly to the largest dealers in the country. While this is arguably more convenient, it eliminates the personal connections and sense of community built when visiting mom-and-pop shops."

Though Vogelaar has no plans of selling his own "mom-and-pop" shop, he is in the early stages of opening a second location at 220 Anderson Avenue. The new location sets a scene much different than that of his original location. When you walk inside, floor to ceiling warehouse style windows flood the space with natural light, and the exposed piping overhead emulates the feeling of being in a New York City studio loft.

South Ave Treasures has occupied a number of locations over the years, but the opening of a second public location is a rather new endeavor. The six other spaces South Ave Treasures previously inhabited were primarily warehouse locations or studio warehouses. For this new location, Vogelaar will be able to provide a comfortable space to process new inventory and display home-ready pieces, which he can't do in his current location.

"I just had so much stuff for so many years that I couldn't keep it all in here and it's just impossible to do," Vogelaar said. "So I've been trying to, through the networking I have built, find the right infrastructure for what I need for the business."

South Ave Treasures is well on its way to becoming a landmark business in Rochester, but Vogelaar insists that there is more to come. Sustainability and organization are his two goals for now and within the next year, he hopes to achieve this at both locations. Vogelaar's roots will always be firmly planted at the intersection of Mount Hope and South Avenue, but the reach of his business continues to grow, alongside his prominence as a part of the community.

For more information on business hours and contacting Peter, you can visit the business' Instagram account @south_ave_treasures or Facebook.