Salvaging Glamour: Urban Archaeology’s Gil Shapiro

As I happen to be smack in the middle of renovating my townhouse in an “industrial glam” look, I’ve been thinking about furniture and furnishings companies that best exemplify this aesthetic. A longtime favorite of mine, Urban Archaeology, not only fits the industrial glam bill perfectly, it also embodies an eco friendly sensibility. I was curious about the inspiration and vision behind the company and wanted to bring a behind-the-scenes look at  Urban Archaeology with owner Gil Shapiro!

Gil opened his first furnishings store in 1978 at the beginning of the salvaging movement and he found that people were drawn to the patina of time-worn pieces, but wanted them modified for modern living. And so he started reproducing pieces and creating his own lines, salvaging goods and updating them for today. Now, with showrooms in New York City, Bridgehampton and Chicago, Urban Archaeology has become a major design resource for lighting, furnishings, tiles and mosaics…and is a true purveyor of industrial glam!

Robin Baron: Why did you start Urban Archaeology?
Gil Shapiro:I loved objects from the past and didn’t want to see them destroyed and become landfill.

Urban Archaeology Showroom

RB: What’s the first piece you ever bought?
GS: My first purchase was a drugstore/soda fountain from my neighborhood when I was a junior in high school. That’s a long story

RB: How have you seen the salvaged goods market evolve in the last 20 years?
GS: Initially people purchased salvaged objects because they cost less. Now there’s more awareness of history and provenance as well as an interest in recycling and repurposing.

Urban Archaeology Showroom

RB: What interests you in salvaged pieces? What makes them so desirable?
GS: The history.  They’re not made any more and there’s an appreciation for the weight, attention to detail and the very apparent functionality of the design.

RB: What do you love most about your work?
GS: Figuring out how things were put together and making them work again.

RB: What is your favorite new product from Urban Archaeology?
GS: The Urban Torch is my favorite new product that we are manufacturing. It’s a wall light made of recycled brass and glass rods that are fall-offs from the manufacture of our glass towel bars.  I like the elegant, functional design as well as the fact that it’s made of recycled materials. Interior Design magazine has nominated Urban Torch as Best of Year in the category Lighting: Floor and Sconce.

RB: What kinds of pieces exemplify your personal style? Are there a lot of salvaged pieces in your home?
GS: We do have salvaged pieces in our home. And we collect industrial, modern and Art Deco designs.


> Photo credits: Tina Lau, Urban Archaeology