Ray Duffy worked in the film industry for nearly 15 years. Then the salt-and-pepper-haired Irish native and producer felt it was time for a career change. "Back in '97 when I moved to Hollywood [California] from Orlando, most of the biz was out there, but nowadays you have to travel to work in the film industry," says Duffy. "It's not just in L.A. anymore." Fast-forward 15 years: The Irish charmer married and had his first kid. To escape the L.A. smog, he relocated his family to Fort Lauderdale in late 2011. "I had been in L.A. for so long and wanted to go somewhere new and sunny with clean air for the kids."
Because traveling for work was no longer a good option, he sought a career change in something creative and enticing. "My wife's mother owned antique stores in Missouri," he recalls. "My wife and I went to auctions and found the whole bidding process exciting."
They thought: Why not open an auction house together? On May 12, they opened Curiosities Auction House on 13th Street in Fort Lauderdale. The 5,700-square-foot space feels like an airy loft with 14-foot ceilings and polished concrete flooring. Rustic wood columns are posted throughout the space, and plenty of windows allow ample sunlight to peek through. In one corner of the room is a bar with seating, three large-screen televisions, and a pool table.
Just as intriguing as the space are the funky objects that fill it: quirky and contemporary pieces, like a life-sized horse made of teak segments (retail price: $3,800) or a 1964 September Playboy magazine signed by Hugh Hefner. Curiosities functions as a retailer as well, so passersby can stop in and shop. Some items, like a bird bottle opener made of iron, are priced as low as ten bucks. Stylish mirrors could go for $50. Other items are valued as high as $20,000 or $50,000. A "P" from an old Publix sign is mounted over the bathroom, a little bathroom humor.
But it's totally boring to just pay the price on the tag when shopping can be a full-on event. At Curiosities, live auctions are held the first and third Wednesdays of every month. The next one is on June 18, and guests can arrive at 5:30 p.m. to view items before the lively bidding gets underway. Items up for grabs include signed music memorabilia, contemporary furnishings, estate jewelry, and quirky contemporary pieces.
Duffy, a chatty host who exudes warmth, says the auctions are fun for his clientele — generally people looking to decorate their homes who want to have a good time and not take things too seriously. He would love it if people would stay for a while after the auctions, creating a community cornerstone.
"I want people to come here and have a beer and relax with their friends," he says. "We want to be a dating alternative. You can come in and have a glass of wine, and if there's a game on, you can watch it here."
The whole experience of Curiosities has a low-pressure feel; Duffy doesn't demand you buy anything. Just welcoming people inside his treasure-trove, beer and wine in hand, is a payoff, he says.