Why Montevideo, Uruguay is an antique buyer’s dream


Montevideo is increasingly embracing modern trends: discover avant-garde boutiques opened by a new generation of designers, trendy restaurants and the sprouting of shiny skyscrapers facing the Rio de la Plata. But what really defines this small South American town is a sense of timelessness: neoclassical and Art Nouveau architecture, leafy plazas and riverside walks, all reminiscent of the bygone eras when people took the time to relax. to slow down. Nowhere is this vibe more palpable than in Ciudad Vieja, a historic district of less than a square kilometer dotted with cafes, bookstores, small museums and a large collection of antique shops and homes. auction packed with vintage treasures.

Montevideo enjoyed a golden age at the turn of the 20th century, when wealthy local families traveled frequently to Europe in vast ocean liners, bringing back chests full of sophisticated furniture and artwork. This, along with the goods brought by new immigrants from Spain and Italy, as well as products made by highly skilled Uruguayan silversmiths and carpenters, led to the city’s generosity in collectibles.

Over the past five years, savvy entrepreneurs have taken advantage of this abundance of relics to create boutique restaurants, hotels and other businesses that pay homage to the character of the capital. The 15 pieces

Alma Histórica Boutique Hotel

, which opened two years ago by Italian art collector Gianfranco Bonan, features a carefully preserved mishmash of locally purchased furniture from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Each room is unique, inspired by Uruguayan cultural icons such as painter Pedro Figari and tango virtuoso Carlos Gardel. Just steps away, across Plaza Zabala, one of Montevideo’s oldest and prettiest squares, is Jacinto, a laid-back restaurant run by famous local chef Lucía Soria. Set in an old corner building with vaulted ceilings and brick walls, the space is decorated with period tables and chairs, including a series of 1960s metal typewriter carts used as writing stations. servers.

At the Alma, each room is inspired by a Uruguayan cultural icon and decorated with local furniture.

Courtesy of Alma Historica

“Most of what we got was bought in Bavastro,” says Soria, referring to a nearby auction house. “I love this place and I really like the family that owns it. Soria is not alone. For the past 100 years, Bavastro has held weekly auctions, where customers compete for everything from porcelain figurines and rotary phones to intricately carved signs and grand pianos. The beloved emporium was also the setting for a recent dinner hosted by Mesabrava, a popular dinner club that chooses unusual, often historic, venues for its events. “The tables were set with all the items that were there for sale; wooden benches mixed with wrought iron chairs and chesterfield sofas, and included some of their [Bavastro’s] statuettes as decoration ”, explains Gustavo Zerbino, one of the founders of Mesabrava. “People said they felt transported to Paris or Budapest.

Mesabrava's Supper Club, which incorporated Bavastro statuettes as decoration.

Mesabrava’s Supper Club, which incorporated Bavastro statuettes as decoration.

Courtesy of Mesabrava

Besides auction houses like Bavastro and Castells, Montevideo is full of antique shops and a popular flea market that is held every Sunday on Tristán Narvaja Street in the Cordón district, where merchants peddle goods. parrots alive alongside first edition books and Leicas from the 1900s. Roberto Begnini, an Italian interior designer and writer, has traveled all over the city in search of unique treasures to decorate his five-bedroom hotel opened in 2016, Casa Roberto, which occupies a carefully restored 1912 residence outside the Ciudad Vieja. Begnini chose pieces that complement the Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture of the house, including a cedar console with carved lion’s paws in the dining room and a patinated bronze sculpture that reminded him of an ‘opera character. wagnerian ”in the library. Accommodation includes a boutique where Begnini stocks handpicked furniture and tchotchkes from local markets and world travel. “My guests are often surprised by the abundance of beautiful vintage pieces imported from Europe or made by skilled local hands,” he says. “There is a huge heritage given the size of this country.”

Don’t miss …

Founded in 1917 by Eugenio Bavastro, an Italian descendant, this institution in Ciudad Vieja is today run by his children and grandchildren. Its regular auctions are held every Thursday, in addition to the special monthly sales of high-value jewelry, paintings and furniture.

In business since 1835, Castells organizes themed auctions a few times a month. Some are dedicated to modern and contemporary art from Uruguay and Europe, others to antique jewelry and even factory machinery.

Louvre Antiguedades
Located in pedestrianized Sarandí Street in Ciudad Vieja, the Louvre’s varied stock includes everything from ornate silver gaucho knives and Uruguayan amethysts to French crystal chandeliers and marble statues.

Zorrilla Antiguedades
One of the city’s newest antique shops, Zorrilla was established in 2012 in the city center. Owner and history buff Sebastián Zorilla de San Martín sells a collection of ancient weapons, including swords and spears, as well as paintings, art, and more.

Tristan Narvaja
Every Sunday morning, Tristán Narvaja Street in the Cordón district becomes an open-air bazaar. There are many inexpensive and sometimes unappealing products out there, but resourceful shoppers often find hidden gems.

Originally appeared on Condé Nast Traveler

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