When Will Theoharides took over the Avon Frame Shoppe, it blended all of his skill sets: his educational background in fine art, his business sense, his passion for construction and his love of art making, collecting and preserving.
Ironically, when he walked into the shop one day and the former owners asked if he wanted to purchase it, his initial response was “Hell, no — there’s nothing that will bankrupt you faster than a frame shop.” His solid business sense stemmed from running a graphic design company in Manhattan, as well as two other design firms in New York. But, as it turns out, he was happily wrong.
The frame shop, which has operated since 1991, provides “custom framing solutions for your visual story” (by providing everything from basic frames to high-end archival and custom-made frames) and has garnered a reputation for its quality products and customer service. And Theoharides has only strengthened that.
“I keep most of the business side of things similar. I’ve just updated equipment and computers, but the previous owners were really smart and careful framers, so their business process was old school and really worked well,” Theoharides said. “The main difference is I have a very different aesthetic. I come from a very different visual design space.”
His background in graphic design influences how he views the overall product — how the art looks in the frame.
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“I like to focus more on the art than the frame itself. I’m more of ‘less is more,’” Theoharides said, explaining how he often dissuades clients from elaborate frames or faux suede double and triple matting, which was popular up until about the new millennium. “I come with more of an East Coast aesthetic.”
That said, he often counsels clients to keep valuable art in its original frame, even if it is an ornate frame — as long as the frame is still stable and still preserving the art — because “when you’re building an art collection, it’s important that the collection tells a story of your life, and the frame should tell that story — it tells a story on your walls, (such as what) you inherited from a family member. I evaluate the frame, and if it’s expensive or ornate or original to the piece, then absolutely keep it. To me, that’s part of the story.”
The pandemic shutdowns forced him into working by appointment only, which he now prefers, because it allows him to prepare for, and consult with, clients more personally, without interruption.
The pandemic also spurred him to focus on his own art, which he describes as progressing from COVID-19 isolation depicted through charcoal drawings and working with scraps he had in the shop to acrylic and, then, oil paintings. His work encompasses landscapes, from beaches to mountain scenes, to various abstracts that “represent me, every man, the world and the pandemic,” he said.
He lost about 20 people he was close to during the pandemic and was deeply impacted by friends, some of whom were stranded in their 500-square-foot apartment in New York for months; one friend’s daughter was trapped for 88 days, as the stairs or elevator were the only way out, and she didn’t want to risk exposure.
“We forget the fear that was in our blood, that was in us — and imagine that on the scale of people in New York,” he said, explaining how he often incorporates “a little man I’ve used since college” in his artwork, and “this little guy is part of that compression.”
But, as world tensions have eased around the pandemic, his work has progressed to more expansive landscapes.
An artistic, and business, life
Theoharides was born in Manhattan and raised in New York City and Westchester County. He landed his first job working for “Sesame Street” and “The Electric Co.” in 1983 as an art director on the publishing side.
His father owned a design studio on Park Avenue, so he began working for his dad, completing his first press check at age 10. Though he credits his father as his “best teacher,” he also earned a bachelor’s degree in fine art, which aided him in graphic design.
When his father died in 1996, Theoharides took over the business, but after 9/11, “the fascination with New York changed,” so he bought a decrepit 1920s bungalow to renovate and immersed himself in construction. Soon after, he partnered with a friend who owned an interior design business and worked mostly on the construction end of the equation.
If that wasn’t enough of a reinvention of self, he launched into his most recent self-reinvention in 2019, after purchasing Avon Frame Shoppe and moving to the Vail Valley full-time.
“It was totally new, and completely out of the blue,” he said.
And, yet, he feels he has come full circle. He still uses old-school graphic design tools, such as rubber cement thinner he applies with his father’s old brushes from his father’s antique oil can, to remove adhesives from tape on pieces of glass. He also employs the graphic design philosophy of “cleanliness” to the art he works with in a literal way, following the golden rule: “Nothing should touch the art (including) no glues,” he said.
His love for art and its preservation (he doesn’t sell anything but UV glass to protect works) extends into understanding — and sharing with others — how essential art is in a home. In fact, he considers raising children in a home without art akin to being in a prison cell.
“Art on the walls is literally the difference between living and just getting by,” he said. “Creating a home is a totality. Each room is an art installation, a conceptual piece of art. You walk in, and you get a vibe. You get a feeling from the room, and part of that is the furniture, and part of that is the art. Art is warmth.”
His art collection stretches floor to ceiling, side to side. It includes his father’s work and pieces his father collected, as well as friends’ work and renowned First Nations’ artists.
“I can’t help myself,” he said. “I buy art all the time.”
Yet, he doesn’t display any of his own art in his home; he just thinks it’s weird. Instead, he focuses on creating, applying layers upon layers of paint onto canvases, which he sometimes upcycles from old paintings. At times, he works off of photos “and then it derails — that’s kind of the fun part,” he said, adding that one recent painting began depicting a beach but turned out to be aspen trees turning golden when he turned it upside down and continued.
“It’s the process that’s important to me, the progression,” he said, “(but) the minute you put a frame around something, it looks special.”