Tag Archives: antiques

Particular About Pianos: Tips on buying the best

Written by: Simonette Berry

The first time I sat at a piano at age nine, I didn’t know a note of music. After six years of ballet lessons and seemingly glorious recitals, my parents forced me to change course and study music, to my utter horror. Didn’t they get it? I was destined to be a famous prima ballerina like Anna Pavlova! I wanted to live forever in a tutu and leap across stages.

Very reluctantly, I began taking piano lessons from a serious, no-nonsense teacher who would crack a pencil across my hands when I missed a single note. Despite this, I eventually grew to relish the daily discipline of practicing scales.

Five years later, at age 14, I was performing piano for Broadway musicals at school with the ULL orchestra, competing statewide, and taking pipe organ lessons at the college with a very demanding, phenomenal university professor. Despite his steadfast goal of sending me to Juilliard for the organ, I jumped ship. The piano was my true love. Besides, it made me popular at parties. I became grateful for that harsh (and wise) parental intervention, as my tutu gathered dust in the closet.

After graduating from high school, I moved to New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, armed with dreams and a scholarship to Loyola’s College of Music. I would spend four to six hours a night practicing on the funky old upright pianos on campus. It was during those four years while performing recitals on concert grand pianos that I fell head over heels for Steinways.

Having played every kind of piano imaginable over the past few decades, I still feel there is nothing comparable to a Steinway and Sons piano. In north Louisiana, the best place to find a great Steinway is at Pendley Piano Gallery (5803 Youree Drive; 318-219-1900); in south Louisiana, it is Hall Piano (901 David Drive in Metairie; 
504-733-8863).

When those who play piano professionally are asked which piano is the best one in the world today, the answer is inevitably a Steinway. According to Grammy award-winning Emanuel Ax, one of the best known concert pianists of the 21st century, “When one plays a Steinway, there is a warmth and nobility in the sound that is unequalled by any other instrument.”

Buying a piano is a major investment, much like buying a car. You may want to consider purchasing one that will increase in value rather than devaluate. Steinway pianos, which are made by hand by master craftsmen in limited numbers, are great investments. I have been told that my own, beloved Steinway has tripled in value since it was purchased over 30 years ago.

“They only make around 7,000 Steinways worldwide each year,” says James Pendley, manager of Pendley Piano Gallery. “Each one is made by hand over a period of one year, so none of the pianos are the same. From an investment standpoint, the value of your Steinway will go up.”

There are many things to consider when purchasing a piano, from the space you have in your home to the interest and level of the person who will be playing it. Pendley continues, “For children who are beginning to study piano, most parents purchase a vertical piano for a child who may or may not continue to play, because they are less expensive.” Pendley Piano Gallery offers Steinway verticals (uprights), baby grands, and various styles of grand pianos, from new to used, and they also offer rent-to-own Steinways. Whoever purchases a piano there gets free delivery (which can be costly) and free tuning upon delivery.

A console is the most popular of the vertical pianos. Many piano teachers recommend that young beginners should learn on an acoustic vertical piano, and most will advise strongly against a digital piano. My grandmother, a pianist, treated me to a new console piano for my bedroom when I first started taking lessons, even though we had a baby grand in our home. It proved to be a wise move.

There are four types of vertical pianos, based on height: console, spinet, studio, and upright. I advise against a spinet because of the indirect “drop action” design. Try at least for a console, 42 inches or higher. Of course, the tonal quality of a Steinway grand piano cannot be matched. Larger soundboards and longer strings produce greater volume and resonance of tone.

If you have to move your piano at some point, go with only the best movers, because disasters can happen; I learned that lesson the hard way. I recommend using Kid Gloves Inc. (601 S. Galvez Street in New Orleans, 504-309-6894), which is the largest specialty moving company in this region of the country, with a great reputation. The 23-year-old company runs trucks nationwide. They are piano moving experts, and can also move antiques, fine art, chandeliers, and accessories. You can rest assured that your piano will be moved exactly right, which is a great comfort if you love your piano as much I love mine. Owning a piano and learning to play is a joy that can last a lifetime.

A Personal Touch: Inessa Stewart’s Antiques and Interiors

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 décor, 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 décor, 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 décor, 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