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Meet Manfred Ehrl, the maverick German antique dealer who lives in a castle

Manfred Ehrl, founder of EHRL Fine Arts & Antiques, has been honing his skills as a dealer for almost four decades – and his expertise spans more than three centuries.

For most 16-year-old high-school students, adult life is still something of a distant dream. It was at this young age, however, that Manfred Ehrl began his career as an antiques dealer in the German town of Greding in the early 1980s – much to the confusion of his mother, who expected him to to take a more conventional career path as a doctor or engineer. “I don’t know what it was that made me so passionate about design and antiques,” says Ehrl. “In my area and at that time, it was not common. My mother was shocked when I said I wanted to look for old things!”

Ehrl’s first purchase was a pair of Le Corbusier chairs, and he was so enamoured with them that he began buying, selling, and restoring furniture while still a high-school student. When he finished school, he took an apprenticeship as a carpenter and restorer. Then, in 1987 at the age of just 22, he bought a bona fide 17th-Century castle and established EHRL Fine Arts & Antiques.

The castle that Ehrl bought in 1987 at the age of 22, and which he still calls home today, is also the showroom for EHRL Fine Arts & Antiques.

Today, almost four decades later, EHRL Fine Arts & Antiques is established as a leader in the antiques world, selling pieces spanning more than three centuries to private clients and dealers across the globe. Ehrl still lives and works in the castle – which boasts 15,000m² of showroom space and was built in 1696 by the Archbishop of Eichstätt – and is just as passionate about life as a dealer now as he was as a teenager. 

From the beginning, Ehrl has had a wide-ranging interest in different eras and styles, and he is equally as fascinated by a 19th-Century marble sculpture of a nymph or a Pleyel, Lyon & Cie harp dating to 1900 as he is by a Diesis sofa by Antonio Citterio and Paolo Nava for B&B Italia from the Seventies. “I’m drawn to pieces that I like myself,” he explains. “We are not too set in our ways and that makes us special. In the end, it only matters that the customer should be happy – this means that every aspect must be perfect.”

With such diverse interests, EHRL Fine Arts & Antiques is able to easily respond to what clients are looking for. Last year, for example, there was abundant interest in Italian design, while more recently Biedermeier is undergoing a revival. Seeing these different styles come in and out of fashion every few decades is just one of the things Ehrl appreciates as a benefit of his long career. “I am so happy to be able to see the way different trends come back every 20 or 25 years,” he says. 

 We are not too set in our ways and that makes us special. I’m drawn to pieces that I like myself.

Manfred Ehrl

When Ehrl founded his eponymous business back in the 1980s, his focus was firmly on wholesale. The budding entrepreneur would buy entire lots through auctions or private sales from across Europe and export the pieces to an eager US market. As the business grew and evolved, Ehrl began to diversify, and EHRL Fine Arts & Antiques is now divided into several distinct departments, including antiques and art, design, and a team that creates custom painted objects and fountains for clients’ outdoor spaces. Like his wide-ranging interest in different periods and styles, it’s this openness to embrace design and art in all forms that sets EHRL Fine Arts & Antiques apart from more conventional dealers. 

These expansive collections – including antiques, modern design, fine art, and decorative art – are displayed throughout the castle, while the grounds are a wonderland of sculptures, fountains, garden furniture, and even antique building materials and flooring. Wandering through the castle grounds, you’re as likely to stumble across an ornate 12th-Century fragment from the pinnacle of St Etienne’s Cathedral in Toulouse as you are a Mid-20th-Century Italian sunlounger. 

The castle is also a place to celebrate the wider creative community and Ehrl regularly hosts exhibitions for artists, such as German sculpture and abstract artist Willi Siber, to exhibit contemporary work that sits in dramatic contrast to the historic surroundings. The “Alte Mühle” – or the Old Mill – is a second location in Greding, which features a classic 18th-century villa and landscaped gardens where fountains and sculptures are exhibited.

The scope of the business is not the only thing to have changed in the past 37 years. The rise of online platforms has been a major shift for both sourcing and selling pieces. Ehrl, however, is still a big believer in the power of face-to-face relationships – and he has a team to deal with online while he is able to continue travelling. “I travel all over Europe and the dealers I buy from are like a small family – we know each other very well,” says Ehrl. “We have moved online, of course, but we also still have a traditional showroom that is open seven days a week.”

In keeping with this approach, design, antiques, and arts fairs are also an important part of the business. For 30 years, the wholesale part of EHRL Fine Arts & Antiques has exhibited at trade-only fairs such as Montpellier International Antiques and Flea Fair and the Mercanteinfiera Parma Antique Fair. The HIGHLIGHTS International Art Fair Munich is another important date in the calendar, giving an international audience the opportunity to engage with the pieces and Ehrl himself in person.

After close to four decades in the antiques business, it’s tempting to think about what kind of advice Ehrl would give his younger self – but according to the dealer, there’s nothing he would change. “I believe you must create your own experiences and make your own mistakes,” he says. “You can only grow with mistakes and you learn from them. As a dealer, you never know what is coming. It is sometimes stressful, but it’s never boring – it’s an adventure.”

Read more: Design | Furniture | Interiors | Dealers | Interior Designers | Antiques | Mid-Century | Effetto