Written by: Simonette Berry
Inessa Stewart is a rare gem in the antique world. It’s unusual to find a business owner who personally selects each piece of merchandise, especially for an antique store. It’s common practice in the antique world to send out “buyers” to do the legwork or to buy online, but Inessa insists on keeping a personal touch. After 20 years of experience and refinement, that personal touch has made her business wildly successful. She and her husband and business partner John Stewart still personally select each piece that fills their 55,000 square feet of showrooms over three locations across Louisiana and Texas. They are now one of the largest importers of European antiques in the country.
“I handpick each piece as if I were buying it for my own home,” says Inessa. “Our whole house is done with nothing but antiques, and I always consider if what I’m buying would be something I’d want to live with and display in my own space.” Inessa travels to Europe every few months to bring home a variety of fine French, French Country, and Italian antiques. She also carries Contintental antiques and specializes in classic dÃ©cor, offering antique and reproduction home furniture, accessories, art, mirrors, lighting, culinary antiques, and architectural elements. The large showrooms in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Dallas and Plano, Texas, bustle with activity; inventory moves fast and new containers come to each store two or three times a month. Customers often spend years slowly building their collections through Inessa’s inspiring cache. “I think it’s wonderful to integrate antiques into today’s interiors. You can mix and match with modern dÃ©cor, or fill your house with special pieces as you find them. We are always excited when we reach a client before they’ve begun a home renovation or new construction plan. I grew up in Europe, and we didn’t throw things away. We used our furniture for generations, and my mother taught me to love old pieces. My mother and I antiqued in the 70s, before it was in vogue here. It was just something we did on the weekends, but for me it became a lifelong passion,” she says.
Though she sells the beauty of the old world, Inessa has modified her business to complement modern tastes. What started as a mom and pop antique store 20 years ago has blossomed into a booming business with a busy website and an international client base. “Anyone who owns a business knows you’re either growing or you’re dying. Our business model is adaptive, constantly changing and expanding to reflect the market trends. We keep our ears to the ground,” she explains.
“Adapting antiques to a modern lifestyle is our trademark,” Inessa says. “People often want tables to be bigger, beds to be king sized, buffets and armoires turned into entertainment centers.” A score of expert craftsmen trained in the old and new world techniques are on hand to transform any antique into a modern luxury. “It’s attracted a lot of the younger generation. One thing we do that’s become popular these days is modernizing pieces with media. For example, we can adapt a buffet so that, at the push of a button, a plasma screen television quietly rises up from the top. It’s great because you can enjoy having something modern inside while the outside shell is a beautiful antique.”
“People are often surprised at how reasonable our prices are. They think that we’ll charge more because we’re a big company, but I can never stress enough how that’s not true. We ship at such a volume that we can pass the savings on to our customers,” she says. “We even have a part of the business that is devoted to bargains””on the website it’s called Antique Website Sale; in the showrooms we call it the Designer Outlet. A lot of pieces get reduced because we like to move them quickly to make room for incoming containers, so there’s always a sale going on.”
One of the Stewarts’ most successful tools is their website, a unique blend of personal service, accessibility, history, and real-time sales. It features a comprehensive catalog of antiques and home dÃ©cor, educational information about antique genres and fodder for the history buffs, the latest scoop on market trends, updates about what’s going on at each location, and two blogs that Inessa and John update weekly. “We were one of the first antique stores to have a website, and it’s become an enormously useful tool. We’ve built a large client base on our web presence alone. The site is updated every day, several times a day, by our website team. It’s not something we outsource; I feel it’s important to do this in-house. If people can’t come to the store, they still get personal service and can access us 24/7.”
A few years ago, Inessa and John added the two blogs (“Antique Living” and “Mirroring History”) to interact with customers and keep them updated on the latest trends, shipments, and events. They even feature an “Antique of the Week,” usually a piece they find intriguing, unusual, or special in some way. Inessa explains, “Through the blogs, we’re able to share new ideas and interact with the customers. It’s a great way to connect.”
“Owning a business is like owning a living, breathing thing,” Inessa says. “We’ve been having fun with it, embracing the technology and growing with it. The members of our teams in the States and in Europe are a daily inspiration. But most of all, our clients inspire us. We enjoy creating beauty and bringing excitement to people’s homes. It’s a wonderful thing to do.”
Inessa Stewart’s Antiques and Interiors
225-368-8600· 5330 Bluebonnet Rd, Baton Rouge, LA
972-378-5100· 5800 Legacy, Ste C-4, Plano, TX
214-742-5800· 1643 Dragon at Oak Lawn, Dallas, TX