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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Michael Bruno: Founder of 1stdibs

Michael Bruno
Michael Bruno (1968- ) founded the online vendor-to-designer site 1stdibs in the late 1990s.

The business saga of Bruno, now 44, started when he was 19 years old and attended a "no money down" real estate seminar. The speaker recommended the book Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. The book was commissioned by Andrew Carnegie, who had Hill interview 500 millionaires, including business moguls and American presidents. After 20 years of research, Hill concluded that millionaires weren't necessarily more talented than anyone else. They just thought differently.

The 19-year-old wrote down what he calls "a nice round figure" that he intended to have by the time he turned 50. He also decided to have his real estate license by the time he was 20, which was two months away, buy his first house with no money down by he time he was 21 and make at least a quarter of a million dollars a year in real estate by the time he was 25. He achieved all these goals.

In the mid-80s, he decided that recycling was the next big thing and went into that business, but he soon concluded that it wasn't his passion. He went back into real estate as the bubble began to inflate and found himself selling mansions to twenty-somethings. It was then that he realized these buyers didn't have any idea how to decorate their homes and there must be some way to capitalize on that. He also knew that decorators were driving around taking Polaroid pictures to show their clients, and there had to be a better way to sell furniture. He just didn't know how yet, even though he and friends had already come up with the name 1stdibs for his domain.

He moved to Paris for a time-out to brainstorm, and his friend Christina de Limur, who had lived in Paris as a child, took him to the Paris Flea Market. He immediately came up with the idea of putting the Paris Flea Market online and making it available 24/7. Bruno hired someone to start building his website.

At first French dealers were reluctant to sign up. They were intensely private and very skeptical, not to mention that they had little technological savvy, and they didn't like the idea of showing their inventory on the open Internet. Bruno eventually came up with the idea of telling them he was going to make the site password protected and available to only a few select American decorators. He also got the idea of only listing items he'd like to use in his Paris apartment. He would call dealers the next day and tell them he had a buyer who was interested...and the buyer was him. For the first six months, he was the only buyer, but word was getting around to the French dealers that the site worked, so they were coming to him asking to get sign up.

Soon afterward, his very social younger sister Sally came to Paris to work with him. She immediately met Mallery Lane, a writer for the New York Times Home section, whom she told about 1stdibs. Lane wanted the story, and Bruno's team had to go into high gear to get the website functional before the story came out.

It hit the newsstands in June of 2001, and House Beautiful's Marian McEvoy was one of the first to sign on.
Within hours, Bruno was no longer the site's only customer. The rest, as they say, is history.

Bruno is responsible for turning 1stdibs into the largest and most successful of the online market sites, with around 3,000 pieces uploaded daily. 1stdibs has made vintage design hot, with designers first jumping on board and then the trend filtering down to homeowners. The site has branched out to include fashion, jewelry and art.

From and Canadian House & Home magazine
All images from

Charles and Ray Eames Time-Life stool

Florence Knoll sofa with end table

George Nakashima Conoid bench

Gio Ponti desk

Paul Evans cabinet

Vladimir Kagan sofa

Hans Wegner shell settee


  1. So many beautiful pieces. THe Florence Knoll sofa and Gio Ponti desk are standouts.

    1. I could spend hours (and sometimes do) looking at all the amazing pieces for sale on 1stdibs.

  2. Interesting, does that effect your business?

    1. There's a waiting list to become a 1stdibs dealer, so we're patiently waiting for our turn to come around. However, we have several dealer friends who have been in the business far longer than we have and are 1stdibs dealers, so when we find an extremely valuable designer piece that can command a price far greater than what our client base can support, we partner with those dealers to sell on 1stdibs.

  3. Such an amazing success story! I so admire people with great ideas like that! The pieces you picked out are all gorgeous...

    1. Yes, Bruno is an amazingly resourceful and hard-working young man and deserves his success.

  4. Never heard of 1stdibs - it's outstanding! Thanks for continuing to educated us on all things mid mod.

    1. 1stdibs is a good place to visit when you want to look longingly at beautiful things.

  5. Another good share and insider info. I had wondered about this fascinating place where I waste countless hours.