Lydia Danaos isn’t your average Dubai shopkeeper. Chatty, passionate and with a healthy sense of self-deprecation that suggests she’s still learning the ropes, the 47-year-old is a burst of fresh air in the city’s often uninspired strain of customer service. On the afternoon we visit her fascinating new space in DIFC dedicated to vintage furniture, the tall, squiggly-haired Brit is keeping company with an old James Bond movie being projected onto the back wall of the store and groove-worthy, retro tunes pouring out of a Jukebox. A pair of gravity-defying sculpture-esque metal designer kicks poke out from her relaxed slacks. Uncharacteristically, this gig doesn’t require her to sacrifice style for comfort. Lydia’s command centre is a Mad Men-style flat-top desk that operates as her cashpoint, and it allows her to sit and watch her favourite flicks between sales. After all, when you own the shop, you can do as you please.
Featuring industrial-style polished concrete floors and low-lighting suspended from rounded ceiling pontoons, the store is almost like a film set itself. But as a new shop, it often throws people. ‘I said to the interiors company that I wanted a warehouse feel, so I chose this floor. I have had people come in and ask “Are you open?” and I say, “Yes, we haven’t got any carpets,” she laughs.
Born to a Greek father and Danish mother, London-raised Lydia admits her fascination with design runs in her blood. ‘I’ve always had a thing about chairs. I know it sounds nuts, but I don’t know if maybe I inherited it,’ she says. ‘Danish people are renowned for design, so from a young age I’ve loved it.’
More in tune with an art gallery than a retail joint, Very Vintage Shop is home to original vintage furniture and antiques from every decade, sourced from Denmark, London, Paris and the US. Pieces include Danish master Arne Jacobsen’s original Egg Chair, jukeboxes from the 40s, a pinball machine, an arcade machine and a mammoth-sized radio from the 30s that has been wired to play music from iPods and mp3 players. ‘Most of the furniture in the shop is Danish. This was all stuff I had in my house. That’s how it started. Last year I said to my husband, “Can I buy a few extra pieces?” and it went from there. I’ve just had a tremendous year of shopping,’ says Lydia. ‘All of the pieces are original. I bought them from suppliers, people I’ve built relationships with, so I’m 100 percent sure they are what they say they are.’
Having spent the last year on buying trips in the US, London and at Paris’ Marche aux Puces antique market, Lydia said she simply ‘wandered around finding things that caught my eye’. For some, it sounds like a dream job, but Lydia hasn’t always sourced vintage for a living. Having previously worked as an English teacher in the UK before moving to Dubai ten years ago with her husband (who works in oil and gas), she saw a gap in the market and took a risk on making a business out of a personal hobby.
Though furniture is her main focus, a glass cabinet in one corner of the shop also holds the kind of accessories you’d only ever expect to find in vintage-credible pockets of the world. Handmade cat-eye specs rub shoulders with authentic cigarette holders, as well as 60s hats and retro-style cut-throat razors and shaving brushes, the only non-authentically vintage pieces in store. And if it’s a little light history reading that you’re after, decades-old Life magazines adorn the coffee table at the entrance, all for sale of course.
But which piece is her favourite? ‘The Egg Chair, because it’s an original, it’s not the one made under licensing,’ she says. ‘Then, the Jukebox, again, I think it’s stunning to look at, they’re a work of art. And the last thing, I call it the UFO table in the window, I just think it’s got a lovely sassy shape – you’d see these curves back in the 50s.’
And, according to Lydia, you don’t have to wear it to love it. ‘I think the beauty about vintage is that it can fit in anywhere. You can have a modern piece next to a classic – it’s where you place it and what colours you place it with. There aren’t any tips, it’s just common sense as to where it looks good. You’ve either got an eye to place things or you haven’t,’ she says. Though her furniture is on the expensive side, Lydia says it’s impossible to put a price on history. ‘It’s so limited. Everything can be copied, but you can’t go back,’ she says. ‘What existed in the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s isn’t made anymore.’ A good enough reason to get down there and see this unique timeline of history.
Very Vintage Shop, Emirates Financial Towers, DIFC (050 559 2057).
Shop for vintage in Dubai
This warehouse-style art space and furniture store displays Bauhaus items and real vintage antiques from Europe.
Al Quoz 1 (04 338 9773).
Find fashion and designer pieces from the 80s and further back.
Jumeirah Beach Road, Jumeirah 1 (04 349 5585).
Stocks Scandinavian design items, some with a retro feel.
Jumeirah Beach Road, Jumeirah 3 (4 338 6395).