Tag Archives: interior design

Treasure Trove: Renaissance Interiors

Written by: Simonette Berry

It’s hard to let go of that gorgeous antique writing desk or second set of china that you simply have no room for anymore, but at Renaissance Interiors, your piece will be in good hands. Renaissance Interiors of Metairie has become the leading high-end consignment shop in the South, offering quality furniture, art, silver, china, and collectibles. They accept consignment from individuals and businesses within a 200-mile radius of New Orleans. If you don’t want to make the drive yourself, take advantage of their pick-up, delivery, and shipping services.

With an 18,000-foot showroom and a steady flow of traffic, you can’t go wrong putting your quality consignments with the Mann family. Larry, Dennis, and Sibel Mann discovered their niche in New Orleans in 2002 and have grown quickly, expanding their floor space and services with each location. “As the years went by, the variety and quality of the pieces and the number of customers grew rapidly. Now we have approximately 2,000 customers passing through the store each week,” says Sibel Mann.

“Whether your furniture is antique, nearly new, or in between, we’ll do a great job of getting it out the door and getting a good price for it. We specialize in selling small items such as china, jewelry, silver, household decorations, art, collectibles, and mirrors,” she says. Renaissance also accepts consignments from closing stores and offers pick-up service anywhere in the New Orleans metro area.

The Manns run a hands-on family business. At least one of the three owners is usually in the store, and they are passionate and knowledgeable about what they sell. “We specialize in the sale of antiques, gently used high-quality furniture, antique oil paintings, silver, china, jewelry and specialty items. We recently sold an 1835, six-pound mountain howitzer cannon; two antique barber chairs; a French bicycle from 1920; and a pair of handmade, custom stained glass doors from the 1920s. We also sell antique doors, fireplace mantels, stained glass, and other architectural features.”

There is an incredible variety of items at Renaissance Interiors. The ever and quickly changing inventory guarantees a new collection of treasures every time you walk through the doors. Renaissance also has a unique pricing and discount system, based on how long an item is on the showroom floor, to facilitate sales and get customers the best deals.

“Probably our greatest attribute is that in addition to many new customers from New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Lafayette, we have many people who religiously come by one to three times a week, just to see the new items that have come in. We get new things in almost every day,” says Sibel. The high turnover and staggering amount of inventory has made Renaissance Interiors a hot spot for the movie and television industry. Hundreds of items originally found in Renaissance have found their way onto the sets of some of the biggest productions. “Recently, we did 21 Jump Street and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and we’re working with the crew of Parker, Ricochet, and G. I. Joe right now,” she says. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Renaissance Interiors
2727 Edenborn Ave
Metairie, LA 70002
504-454-3320
yourrenaissance.com

Bella Pietra, Bella Famiglia: The Stone Gallery

Written by: Simonette Berry

In business since 1999, the Stone Gallery is a sprawling, one-acre stone yard in Harahan. This is not your average stone experience; at the Stone Gallery, you can purchase slabs of stone for the same wholesale prices that are usually only offered to stone fabrication shops. There are stone selections to fit every budget. After 10 years in the business, the Stone Gallery owner, Johnny Altobello, Jr., decided his company was going to change the way natural stone was sold in southern Louisiana. He decided to clearly mark each color of stone with the name of the stone, the size of each slab, the price per square foot, and the price of the slab. “It’s the most honest way that I know of doing business,” says Johnny. “Customers leave our facility with all of the information they need to make an educated decision about their project. We take the mystery out of buying natural stone.”

“Our one-tiered pricing system is very important to me,” Johnny continues. “There are no games or gimmicks here, just premium quality material at wholesale prices. We charge the same price regardless if the customer is a stone fabrication shop, homeowner, contractor, or designer. Homeowners can buy their stone directly from us, and we will hold it for them until their job is ready,” he says. The Stone Gallery will also ship customers’ purchases to the stone fabrication shop of their choice, or if they don’t know a stone fabricator, one can be recommended from their list of preferred fabricators.

There are different grades of natural stone, just like there are different grades of diamonds, emeralds, and other gemstones. The Stone Gallery imports and sells only first-quality, premium grade natural stone, the highest grade available. “We have quality control people in Italy and Brazil who select the first quality stone just for us. Before we purchase the material chosen by our quality control staff, I must approve each stock. And I’m picky,” he laughs.

The Stone Gallery has over 150 colors of natural stone in stock and has access to hundreds more. The most popular have historically been marble and granite, but exotic quartzites are starting to take the market by storm. “It’s a natural stone that’s harder than granite, and it comes in some really gorgeous colors. The only stone harder than quartzite is a diamond. People are starting to ask for more exotic stones in unusual colors, so we’re importing more and more quartzite and unusual granites every month,” says Johnny.

“People’s taste in natural stone continues to mature. They don’t want the same colors of stone that they see everywhere; they want new, bold and fresh colors. We specialize in the unusual. When we opened in 1999, there were probably 10 colors of stone in this market. As we grew, I reinvested our profits into exotic stones, bringing colors to Louisiana that no one had ever seen. Some of the most popular exotic quartzites are Palomino, Fusion, and Symphony. We have many other colors that are here or en route from Brazil and Italy. We’re always adding new colors to our product line.”

By popular demand, the Stone Gallery also started carrying Blanco sinks and faucets. “Our customers wanted to be able to get everything they needed for their kitchen in one place. They told us that if we had sinks, tile, and backsplash ideas, they wouldn’t have to run all over the city! So, we’ve made it a one-stop shop. We also carry an extensive line of DuPont stone care and maintenance products, as well as stone remnants and half slabs of marble for vanity tops and smaller projects. Like the larger, full slabs of stone, these smaller pieces are on display in the stone yard and all marked with the stone name, size, and price. Customers can also shop by taking the virtual tour of our stone yard on our website, stonegalleryno.com,” Johnny says.

The Stone Gallery is the oldest wholesaler of stone in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, and it has been a family owned and operated business since day one. Johnny started the business on a small covered lot on Airline Highway. “It was me, the forklift, a cordless phone, and the office trailer. Bathroom breaks and lunch breaks were luxuries,” he says. Though many members of the Altobello clan have worked at the Stone Gallery over the years, the sales team now consists of Johnny Jr., his wife and business partner Carolyn, their son Johnny III, and Johnny’s brother-in-law, John Bordes.

The family staff gives personalized golf cart tours to assist customers in selecting the perfect piece of stone for their project. While on the golf cart tour, you ride through rows and rows of beautifully displayed natural works of art. The Stone Gallery is truly an art gallery of stone, with an extensive natural stone and porcelain tile selection for flooring and backsplash materials. Carolyn offers free design services and advice for customers who purchase their countertops from the Stone Gallery. Once Carolyn and the customer have agreed on a backsplash selection, they again visit the stone yard with a sample of the backsplash to see it next to the slabs of stone selected for the kitchen or bath.

“I’ve done a number of things in my professional career and liked all of them, but none as much as this,” says Johnny. “It’s great to see our customers get excited when they find the perfect stone for their kitchen or bath. This isn’t a job; it’s a passion, and it’s one shared by my entire family.”

The Stone Gallery
5600 Mounes Street
Harahan, LA 70123
504-733-5566
stonegalleryno.com

LED-ing the Way: Valley Supply

Written by: Simonette Berry

The lighting industry is undergoing radical changes with the dawn of the green movement. In south Louisiana, a region not often thought of as a frontrunner in green technologies, Valley Supply in Houma has been sewing these seeds of change for years. Owner Cecil Zeringue, whose family has run Valley Supply for over 30 years, says he remembers customers requesting “long life bulbs” ages ago. “It used to be that the typical customer would walk into our store and ask George Chaisson for our long life 130v bulbs. They were known to live through power surges and last quite a bit longer than the 120v bulbs. I used to get a big kick out of these conversations, especially when they were in Louisiana French!”

The seeds of change were planted with the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), which contained, in part, energy saving standards and requirements aimed to move the country towards more energy efficient lighting. The intent was to shift the nation’s focus away from inexpensive, fuel-hungry, standard incandescent light bulbs that use only the basic technology invented by Thomas Edison over 130 years ago. The shift prompted manufacturers, not only in the U.S. but worldwide, to increase research and development for more energy efficient lighting technologies. LED (Light Emitting Diode), OLED (Organic LED), CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lamp), Halogen, and Cold-Cathode light bulbs are not necessarily new inventions, but these technologies have now become more affordable and available. “Embracing these new technologies has allowed consumers to save on maintenance cost, conserve energy, and have a wider pool of options to choose from,” says Zeringue. “It’s revealed some pretty cool lighting strategies and created real ingenuity in the marketplace.” “There are so many different manufacturers throwing their hats into the LED ring,” he says. “It’s kept us very busy lately on the research front. We have several customers, business owners and electricians, who are pretty hip on the LED potential. They’re always stopping by to learn about the hottest new technology and give us feedback. So, we have to stay on the cutting edge.”

“We are also seeing many customers in Terrebonne and Lafourche who really want to change the way they consume energy. Our community was hit hard by the oil spill, and in many ways I think everyone here wants to do their part, no matter how small that might be. ‘How can we save money? Could we reduce our energy usage? Do we really have energy efficient options that make sense now?’ That’s what we’re all saying these days.”

“We are continually field testing, learning, listening, and seeking out the right products for our customers and the trade-offs that occur between the different technologies and manufacturers. It is easy to make this complicated, because the new variables and choices in lighting have suddenly increased tenfold,” said Zeringue.

“We’ve had to learn a whole new language at Valley Supply to communicate with customers and distributors about things such as Kelvin temperature (whiteness of the light source), lumens per watt (amount of light per energy usage), CRI (Color Rendering Index; a fancy way of factoring the depth of color upon an object when illuminated), and the multiplicity of shadows created by the number of LED sources from a single light bulb. It can really push us at times, but it’s fun to learn,” says Zeringue.

“LEDs have been getting much of the press and excitement in our world, but they’re not the answer for every application and every customer…at least for awhile. I’m seeing some interesting lower cost solutions with TCP’s Infrared Reflective Coated Halogen bulbs and their shatterproof armor coated Insta-bright dimmable CFLs. They have great potential as well. So far this year, LED bulbs have taken off in the task lighting arena, with applications such as under-counter and cove lighting applications. LED landscape lighting and recessed down lights have also been in high demand. RAB Lighting has a great, affordable 20-watt wall pack that has become pretty popular as well.”

“The quality and right amount of light is very important to us and our customers. I don’t know anyone who enjoys climbing up a ladder on a consistent basis,” he chuckles. “Sometimes, though, the less expensive standard incandescent can still be the better overall option. It really depends upon what is most important to the customer in their application,” Zeringue explains.

Lighting isn’t the only area Valley Supply has updated. They also have a Facebook page, where Zeringue is constantly posting photos from their Lighting Market and demo videos. “It’s a great place to interact with our customers and share things with them that they wouldn’t normally get to see,” he says.

“Over the years, I’ve learned that many factors go into whether a new product or technology will succeed in our region: performance, compatibility, cost, quality, life-expectancy, and availability. I think it also depends on companies like us who actively listen to our customers and manufacturers to bridge the gap. That is our job. We enjoy what we do and we greatly appreciate the great people of this beautiful region. Nothing makes me happier than to hear from someone who was well served at Valley.”

Valley Supply Co. of Houma
1000 Barataria Ave.
Houma, LA 70360
985-872-1431
valleysupplyco.com
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Timeless Design: Supreme Ornamental Ironworks

Written by: Simonette Berry

Graceful scrolls, vine tendrils, and ornate old world designs are interwoven into the rich fabric of Louisiana’s architecture in the form of historic ornamental ironwork. Iron is a timeless medium; old houses are restored around it. Wood rots, bricks crumble, and cement sidewalks crack beside the gracefully aging balconies, railings, fences, and window grilles of yesteryear that stand strong through hundreds of hurricane seasons and frosty winters. These works of art crown the homes and businesses that local families hand down for generations.

Karl Adams, founder of Supreme Ornamental Ironworks, was drawn to the old ironwork in the Vieux Carré long before he began creating it himself. At the time, he owned a muffler and quick lube shop, where he enjoyed restoring classic motorcycles. “Every Saturday, I used to ride through the French Quarter with three friends of mine, and I’d stop and look at the ironwork. I still go there for inspiration today. I like studying the old European style, where the roots are, and looking at the workmanship. I’m always researching and looking for inspiration. I learn something new every day.

Adams started playing around with ironwork in 1994 in his shop. He made garden gates and small ironwork panels for friends and enjoyed the creative spark that happened with each new job. In 1998, a local contractor asked Adams to create a 200-foot fence across the front of a new cemetery. After creating a long, elegant fence, much larger than anything he had done before, Adams realized he had found his true calling in ornamental iron. Since completing the cemetery project for the Houma Thibodaux Archdiocese, Adams has gone on to build dozens of custom fences and architectural elements for their many schools, churches, and cemeteries over the past 13 years.

Three years ago, Adams made the final leap away from auto work and closed his muffler and quick lube shop. He converted the building into another fabrication studio for Supreme Ornamental, whose two facilities now span over 7,000 feet and feature cutting edge CAD design technology. Supreme Ornamental Ironworks now specializes in creating wrought iron fencing, gates, New Orleans-style posts and ornamental designs, staircases, balcony railings, and various architectural elements. They also offer custom awnings, chimney tops, dormers, flashing, and other ornamental iron pieces done in copper and colored metal. “I have eight specially trained team members. I could have 25 if I wanted, but for the quality of what I want to produce, I need a small, tightly knit team. I want to be positive about the quality of what I put out there, and I’m not out to do mass production,” says Adams. “I’m very particular about each piece of ironwork being completely solid. Everything we put out is a high quality, refined product, so no bolts or tack welding. After the construction is done, each piece is sandblasted, primed, and painted with industrial marine enamel. These pieces will stand the test of time.”

“I do everything hands-on. When you call me for a job, I make an appointment and we’re going to spend at least an hour together at first. Then, I’ll invite you out to the workshop to see how things are done. Then, we sit down to create the final design. I am with my clients every step of the way,” Adams says.

Adams and his team spend three weeks out of each month constructing and finishing; the rest of the time, they are on the road, installing work throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas. “If someone wants our work, we will travel wherever they want us to,” he says. After Gustav, Adams was called to Mississippi to painstakingly replicate and restore damaged ironwork that dated back to the 1800s. He is most popular, though, in South Louisiana, where he has woven old New Orleans ironwork styles along the main boulevards of Thibodaux and Houma. His work can be seen at the Ellendale Country Club, the Baton Rouge Country Club of Louisiana, St. John’s Episcopal Church (the oldest church south of the Mississippi River), in every home in the Acadia Plantation subdivision, and throughout countless other commercial facilities, businesses, schools, churches, and homes. “I’ve worked for a lot of high-profile, popular people, but I respect their privacy. Sometimes I won’t even take pictures. I’ll just say that I’ve worked on some pretty amazing projects in my time.”

“I wanted to create a company that no one else around here had, something people had never heard of. The fact that everything is custom designed, built by hand, and tailored to the customer’s needs is what has made us so successful. I like building something you can’t find anywhere else. If a person can explain what their vision is, we can create it. We can build anybody’s dream.”

Supreme Ornamental
2870 Hwy 1
Labadieville, LA
(985) 526-0056

Stairway to Success: The Stairway Shop

Written by: Simonette Berry

Has your house every felt like a scene from The Money Pit? In this movie about a home renovation gone hilariously wrong, a young couple buys a house only to find that what they thought were minor repairs turn into months of renovations. In one iconic scene, the main stairway collapses and Walter and Anna are forced to move things from floor to floor by ladder and pulley. After Katrina, scenes of this nature occurred in thousands of flood-ravaged homes, yet there was no place for New Orleans residents to buy custom stairway products. Everything had to be ordered off the Internet, and if something went wrong, clients had nowhere to turn. Phil Cerminaro of Industrial Products, an industrial supply company, saw the need for a shop that offered a comprehensive service for clients in the market for stairways, complete with a showroom and full-service design and installation. Cerminaro worked fast to open by the end of 2005, meeting the demand of post-Katrina rebuilders. It was a godsend to many New Orleans residents in need of a local service they could trust.

Six years after the storm, the city has rebuilt and the local market revolves around renovation rather than building or rebuilding. Cerminaro’s business has grown with the city’s residents, now offering a turnkey solution for a variety of stairway and railing products. They offer everything from prefab DIY spiral staircase kits to custom stairway design and installation geared toward home and business renovations. The Stairway Shop’s 1000-square-foot showroom allows customers to browse through a wealth of traditional stairways, spiral stairs, attic stairs, library ladders, and a host of railing systems. The Stairway Shop renovates existing staircases to update the look and bring them into code compliance. It’s also common for clients to come to them in need of a fix when a carpenter or contractor has installed a stairway incorrectly. A full-time custom stair builder and installation team are on staff, and customers can buy standard stair parts or have a stairway designed and built to spec. Custom stairs require careful design and planning to adhere to building codes.

The Stairway Shop provides each customer with a unique style to fit their space, while keeping the cost in line with the project budget. “We can either create or have fabricated any type of stairway product for any residence or facility. Our network of craftsmen, stair builders, and factories across the country can supply anything we don’t make in-house. Recently, a family from Ville Platte was building a new home, and they wanted a custom, curved, freestanding wooden staircase. We created it with a combination of oak and iron balusters and had it made by some Amish craftsmen in Ohio. They drove it down here and we installed it,” Cerminaro says.

His team works through each phase of the design, construction, and installation process to ensure a positive result for their clients, which has led to overwhelming positive response and a business that finds success wherever it chooses to go. In addition to using the typical industrial materials, Cerminaro began using reclaimed wood to meet his clients’ needs. “A lot of clients had antique heart pine floors, and they wanted their stairs to match. We use reclaimed wood from local renovation projects. We got our first load of reclaimed heart pine when a space on Canal Street was being gutted and renovated post-Katrina,” he says. “My brother-in-law is a builder, and he had to tear out the walls during the renovation of an old house uptown. They found this beautiful 100-year-old cypress bargeboard beneath the sheetrock, and we got a hold of that and started offering it to our clients.” Eco-friendly and timeless, the reclaimed wood has been a hit with Cerminaro’s clients. Cerminaro recently started a new venture: building furniture out of the re-claimed heart pine and cypress bargeboard. To maximize the skills of his gifted in-shop artisans, Cerminaro asked them to play around with making coffee and dining room tables from the reclaimed wood during their down time. This classic furniture has become another offshoot of Cerminaro’s creative business model.”Now, we’re making dining room tables from 100-year-old cypress,” he says. “We can create anything we put our minds to.”

The Stairway Shop
A Division of Industrial Products
5632 Salmen Street
Harahan, LA 70123
888-243-3339 | 504-734-1315

Building Better: MLM Incorporated

Written by: Simonette Berry

For environmentally friendly kitchen and bathroom design, remodeling, and renovation in Boulder, Co., click here!

If you’re like most New Orleans residents, you or someone you know has a home renovation horror story. From Chinese drywall to carpetbaggers that take off with the cash, this city has seen it all since Katrina. It still seems like a gamble when you’re looking to hire someone to do renovations: will they give you a fair price, get the job done on time, and do it right? At MLM Incorporated, the superb work ethic, superior customer service, competitive rates, quick turnover time, and impressive workmanship will make renovation a surprisingly pleasant experience.

Making changes to your house is a big decision, and MLM Inc. is there for you every step of the way, from picking out the look to putting on that final touch. Is your kitchen in need of an update? Is your flooring tattered and begging for a fresh shine or a new look altogether? Do you want to make that dream of a luxurious shower in your master bath come true? How about that outdoor kitchen or deck you’ve been dreaming of? Owner Machi Medrzycki is emphatic that it’s possible to get the look of your dreams while still staying in your budget. Medrzycki offers competitive pricing with low hourly rates and never an overcharge in sight. No job is too small or big for Medrzycki, who jumps on each task with a positive, friendly attitude.

“I really enjoy what I do,” says Medrzycki. “There is nothing better then a huge smile on my client’s face after performing our service and a simple ‘thank you, great job!’ I enjoy designing and coming up with bold ideas. I treat it more like a hobby rather than a job, so essentially I never work.”

Before he came to New Orleans, Medrzycki worked for a company in Florida for many years doing high-end construction in the Daytona Beach/Orlando area. “I’ve done everything from custom renovations of luxury condos to single family homes. In 2005, I established my own company and have been growing ever since.” Medrzycki, along with COO Nick Udych, built the company from the ground up. “Nick has been with us from the beginning and has played a big role in building this company,” Medrzycki says.

The devastation left by Hurricane Katrina gave MLM Inc. their first boost in business and sped up the growing process. “MLM Inc. contributed to rebuilding of the city, which in its turn helped us to establish roots in the New Orleans area. Our excellent work ethic and outstanding customer service helped us acquire great commercial and residential accounts, such as Red Wing Shoe Stores, Stirling Properties, and Register Real Estate. Bathroom and kitchen design and remodeling became the core of our operation in the last 24 months,” he says.

“The hottest items with clients right now are bathrooms and kitchens. The spaces we design are one of a kind, very unique. We also work with interior designers, but our spaces are one of a kind!” says Medrzycki.

MLM Inc. currently offers a large spectrum of services: residential and commercial maintenance services (Register Real Estate, Keller Williams, Century 21), residential and commercial multifamily renovations (Esplanade at City Park; Diamond Lakes, Castlebrook, Palm Isle, and Audubon Pointe apartments), REO preservation services, and the newest venture that was added in 2011, real estate investments and development, which grew more than 50 percent in the first year.

“I want clients to experience that great design ideas can be performed without breaking the bank. I have personally been doing custom design bathrooms and kitchens for about ten years now. The key to our success is in creating spaces that look high-end and stay on the budget at the same time,” says Medrzycki.

Medrzycki doesn’t endorse any specific products, but he enjoys using natural stone and glass combinations in bathrooms, large mirrors, open space, and simple, elegant designs. He can design in any style and accommodate any request a client might have.

“We are trying to develop our bathroom and kitchen design and remodeling division even more in 2012,” Medrzycki reveals. “We have a huge amount of quote requests via our website. My goal this year is to perform six to eight projects per month so we can lower the price even more for our clients based on company work volume. As of right now, we have a competitive price structure, but everyone loves to have even more savings.” ✦

MLM Inc.
3500 N. Causeway Blvd., Ste. 160
985-788-1541
Metairie, LA
mlm-inc.com

 

A Decade of Design: Stafford Tile

Written by: Simonette Berry

“You remember your struggles, the things you work the hardest for in life,” says Peggy Stafford, owner and founder of Stafford Tile. A fearless entrepreneur, she dared to dream big and got something even bigger in return. Her mission was to bring a world-class selection of tile and stone products to Louisiana; what she received was a host of meaningful relationships with staff members and clients and a chance to reestablish her roots. What started as a tiny shop on Oak Street in New Orleans is now a Louisiana icon, exclusively distributing several nationally recognized product lines and offering a dizzying selection of tile, stone, glass, and ceramic products. Architects, designers, homeowners, contractors, and developers fill the gleaming showrooms of Stafford’s two locations, one a bustling Magazine Street staple, and the other, the newest hot spot in Baton Rouge’s Southdowns Village.

A Louisiana native and graduate of Newcomb College at Tulane, Stafford moved to Boulder, Colorado, after college and got her start working in a small tile shop. By the 1990s, she had a successful interior design business that specialized in “finish” work for high-end residences. “At that time, contractors and homeowners would send me to San Francisco to find tile and stone for their projects. Even Denver did not have the selection of tile products that I was looking for in my designs. The higher-end tile and stone showrooms of San Francisco were my stomping grounds,” she says.

Though Stafford was happy and successful in Boulder, she realized how much she missed the vibrancy and cultural variety of New Orleans when she traveled to Mexico to build a house. The lively Latinos reminded her of the southern and Caribbean roots of her early years. She was deeply inspired, and soon all the signs started pointing to a new business venture in the South. “I decided to leave my comfortable, well-established business in Boulder and return home to start a new endeavor. I drove a U-Haul truck, the trailer packed with samples, by myself from Boulder to New Orleans. When I passed through Houston, I finalized my contract with Walker Zanger to distribute their products along with my own.” Once home, Stafford secured a location on the residential end of Oak Street, “the side you need a road map to get to,” she laughs. The first incarnation of Stafford Tile and Stone was barely 700 square feet and opened in the rough days following 9-11. “It was crowded if we had more than one customer. When I finally got two other employees, we really had to squeeze together. If someone made a phone call, they had to talk in the corner of the building so as not to disturb the rest of us.”

Two years after setting up shop, Stafford Tile had fast outgrown its tiny abode. Stafford was driving in a downpour one day when she saw a “For Rent” sign in the window of a corner shop on Magazine Street, a prime location. She saw the space that day and felt like she had hit the jackpot. From there, the business flourished as Stafford gathered an expert staff, an ever-growing client base, and an impressive portfolio. “After Katrina, we went through a lot with our clients. Helping someone rebuild their kitchen or their bathroom is a very personal thing. Home is where the heart is,” she says. After rebounding from the storm, a Baton Rouge location was the next step in 2008. By 2010, that store outgrew its small confines and was moved to a larger location in Southdowns Village, where sales promptly doubled.

“I call the staff my little rock stars,” she giggles. “They are what make me prevail. All of the salespeople have design degrees. Heather Trahan and Meredith Grover in New Orleans have been working with me for over seven years, and Kimberly Guillot and Daniel Baer in Baton Rouge are a fantastic addition to the team. We have so much collective experience that there’s nothing we can’t do. We could handle twice the workload of what we have now, easily. We can take a pattern from a dress, piece of stationery, a rug pattern, anything, and turn it into a mosaic. We look to all sorts of sources for inspiration, and we have fun working with products from all around the world.” “Our specialty has become creating the most fantastic spaces that our budget will permit. We love to work with custom mosaics and designs, but those are not our everyday work. We do lots of commercial projects as well,” she says. Stafford most recently completed the pool for the Monteleone Hotel and has also done hotels in Curacao and Aruba.

“Our numbers have grown in leaps and bounds, and I cannot thank the Louisiana community enough for the support we have received over the last 10 years. As I have been reviewing my client list, I am amazed at how many people we have touched with our products over the years. It is a real treat to think that these customers have such beautiful things in their houses, gardens, and pools, and I know how much enjoyment they get from our designs,” she says. To show their appreciation for Louisiana’s loyal support and service, Stafford Tile is throwing a small cocktail party at Preservation Hall to thank their vendors, followed by a larger customer appreciation party the following night, where Treme brass band will perform. “I’m just so happy to be a part of this city again,” she says. “When I was on my way back to New Orleans from Boulder, interviewing with Walter Zanger with my U-Haul truck in the parking lot, they asked me why they should sign on with me. I told them, ‘Because I can spell and pronounce Tchoupitoulas correctly, and I know what it means.’ They didn’t understand, but I did.” Stafford knows what it means to miss New Orleans.

Stafford Tile
5234 Magazine Street
New Orleans, LA 70115
504-895-5000

Southdowns Village
4269 Perkins Road
Baton Rouge, LA 70808
225-925-1233
staffordtile.com

The Corbel: Something old, Something new

Written by: Simonette Berry

“We were doing green before green was cool,” says Don Charlet, co-owner of the Corbel. “We do it because old things have this character, beauty, and depth that new products don’t. It’s about an appreciation for the originality and history that come with old things, but it also happens to go hand in hand with being eco-conscious.” Don and his wife Susan focus intently on what their customers need in the home building and renovation process. The Corbel employs builders, designers, and artisans who exist in symbiosis, creating custom furniture, lighting, ceiling beam, and wood design for homes. They make architectural salvage and home renovation into an exciting creative process, continuously discovering new niches in the market and uses for their timeless products.

Since the Corbel’s inception in 2004, the business has grown into an 11,000-square-foot store offering a dizzying array of interior accents, flooring, and architectural features. The Corbel is best known for its heart pine flooring, bead board, refurbished furniture, salvaged doors, and great holiday gift items. Don also continues to run his construction company, Charlet Brothers Southern Design and Construction. Perhaps because the nature of their business is finding new purpose for old things, the Charlets’ business model is able to flourish in constant creative flux. With each new project, new energy and life floods into that area of the store.

“Our big new item is imported antique doors. We noticed over the last several years that, whether clients are renovating or building a new home, architects tend to specify 8-foot-tall doors in their plans. In the salvage business, it’s rare to find an 8-foot domestic door, so most people in the area either have to get new doors made or can only find a few odd old doors to fit their home. It’s even harder to find a matching set in that size, because doors in Louisiana weren’t built that way 100 years ago. They were 6 or 7 feet, but rarely 8.”

A solution to this conundrum is news in south Louisiana. The nearest spot that was a sure bet for 8-foot salvaged doors was Dallas, TX, but now the Charlets have brought a new resource to our back door. “We found the answer in France and Belgium,” explains Don. “Most of the salvaged doors there are 7 ½-8 ½ feet in height. Now I’m receiving half a container of 100 to 200-year-old European doors every two months. The character of these doors lends itself to the architecture here. We’re the only place in Louisiana that gets these, and we have craftsmen that can patch and square the doors as well as create custom door frames to match them.”

“I only have so much room here—enough for about 750 doors. When two or three people come and buy 20 or 30 doors each, it makes a big dent. Most people want doors that all match, and it’s hard to do, but we do receive a few collections of matching doors within each shipment. We’ve been asking people to follow us on Facebook to see when the next shipment is, so that they can come and have first pick. This change is a real jewel, and people know it.”

On a local and national basis, the Corbel is still reclaiming old stores and homes. The Corbel is famous for their selection of antique beams and flooring from around the country, but they’re also making a name for themselves in refurbished antique furniture. The quality of their unusual finds draws customers with each new shipment.

“We have pickers that go around the United States. In addition to old homes, they often find things in old warehouses; industrial iron tool bases and old pieces of antique tools. We refurbish them and build pieces of furniture around them,” he says. For example, a custom island the Corbel built for a client’s kitchen includes a large iron tool base salvaged from a manufacturing center. An antique cypress board now sits on the tool base, creating a charming kitchen workspace.

“Whenever we let people know we’ve received a shipment of these antique tools, they come over. They say, ‘Make me an 8-foot dining room table out of that piece.’ What they get is a real piece of history put together in a new way with several one-of-a-kind elements. No one else will ever have a piece like that. Also, when you look at the cost of tables at other places, it’s the same or sometimes less, since often we get these bases for a low cost that we can pass on to the customers. We also custom design everything in-house; everything from islands to coffee tables.”

“All these things marry into one another,” says Don. “It’s all part of the symbiotic nature of what’s going on here. We focus on the real needs of people during the home building and renovation process, because we know how it is to build a home. If someone comes to the Corbel looking for antique heart pine beams, they just came to someone who not only has the material, but the knowledge and capability to do the work and design the space.” You can find the Charlet Brothers Southern Design and Construction office in the Corbel store, ready to provide you with an experienced, professional construction team as well as an architect, should you need one. “We understand the aesthetics of old buildings. We know the historically accurate way to add and change things in these homes. The men I have working for me are true craftsmen.”

Don’s childhood primed him in an unusual way, not only for appreciating the beauty of old things, but also for dealing with people under stress. “I grew up in a funeral home. My grandfather and his brother started Charlet Funeral Home in 1947, and the family lived in a complex in the back of the home. It was a big mansion with incredible old wood, shutters, and old glass. It needed a lot of repair, which I learned how to do alongside my dad.” Don grew up to become a licensed funeral director, where he quickly learned how to navigate the troubled waters of emotionally-charged customer relations. “A funeral is a time when people feel both emotionally and financially vulnerable. They’re sensitive, and they don’t always think logically. They tend to get mad, but most of the time they’re not really mad at you. You’ve got to have thick skin. A similar phenomenon happens in construction. When someone is renovating their home, they’re spending more money than they’ve ever spent in their lives, doing something they don’t know how to do, and they’re scared, though they don’t want to admit it. Short of a funeral, I’ve never experienced more volatile interpersonal reactions, but it’s really just human nature.”

As clients quickly discover, no home renovation project is ever perfect. When this happens, it helps to keep a cool head, something Don learned to do long ago. Don’s clients have told him that even when they were mad about things that went wrong, they appreciated his willingness to listen and calmly solve the problem at hand. “Though some people think it’s odd to have grown up this way, it’s where a lot of my gifts came from: my appreciation for architecture and my knack for knowing how to give people what they need. There’s always a purpose. God had me there for a reason, and he’s kept me here for a reason.”

The Corbel
911 Highway 61
Jackson, LA 70748
225-654-0130
thecorbel.com

Making Space: Ruffino Custom Closets

Written by: Simonette Berry
What are you always trying to find? Hint: There’s never enough of it. “Time” is probably your first answer, followed by another biggie, “space.” If only we had the time and energy to make the spaces around us exactly how we want them to be””beautiful, unique, and useful. Thankfully, Ruffino Custom Closets offers a rare custom option in a world of prefab space-makers. Partners Christian Russell and Matt Ruffino have opened the door to a myriad of creative options that just aren’t possible with factory made products. “We help people organize their lives,” says Russell. “We know how to maximize any space so you can get the most out of it.” “We’re a local company that manufactures our product from beginning to end,” says Russell. “This is not a closet in a box. Each one is custom tailored to fit the client’s needs and desires. We want to make the things they do every day easier and make a place for everything in their lives, so they can spend more time doing what they like to do. We want to facilitate new growth as well, so whenever they get new things, they have a spot for them.”

Russell and Ruffino joined forces to create Ruffino Custom Closets not long after Hurricane Katrina. “After Katrina, things exploded in our business, especially in the wire shelving department. People were buying a lot of wire shelving at first as they were renovating, just so they would have a place to put things as they got them back.” After the first year of post-K rebuilding, Russell saw the market trending slowly away from strictly utilitarian shelving and towards higher-end custom jobs.

“I thought we could make the product better in house than any manufacturer could, and pass the savings along to our customers, too. I convinced Matt that we needed to change with the market and should get the equipment to do so. Four years ago, we made the jump,” he says. “The workmanship, the functionality, and the design quality have improved tenfold since then. We are the only company in this region that does truly custom closets with fully customizable, in-house work.”

“When we bought the equipment, there was a learning curve for a month or so. Neither my partner nor I had experience with these machines. We were so lucky to have a mentor, Wilson McGuire, who took pity on us neophytes. He took us under his wing and taught us a tremendous amount. He has been in the cabinetmaking business for 35 years, so he knew the process in and out.”

“Now, three and one-half years later, we’re doing extraordinary jobs we’d never have dreamed of doing if we couldn’t create them ourselves. Nothing can really catch Matt and me off guard, because now we’re able to be involved every step of the way.”

Being thrown into the world of custom-made closets has allowed Russell and Ruffino to attract a whole new category of clientele. “We handle everything from the smallest, most meager jobs to the huge $35,000 luxury walk-ins. Clients usually have a wish list. We’re lucky enough to draw from a wide variety of specialized vendors. We’re able to do so much with accessories that we can make any dream a reality. We’re unique in that aspect. We can get specialty doors, custom dovetailed drawers, hardware, baskets, rods, and any type of organizational accessory. We do as much as we can locally. We feel really strongly about that. Why send business out of state when we can help our local economy?”

“A lot of people these days are trying to make their bedrooms larger by eliminating furniture like armoires and chests of drawers. Ideally, they should be able to go into their closet, get dressed, and then have more space in the bedroom to do what they want and go about their day,” he says. Russell and Ruffino also work with many customers building or renovating their master suites. “We meet with them on a preliminary basis and do a consultation to figure out how much room they need to accomplish what they envision. Then, they go back to their contractor and work up the blueprints, and when it’s time, we’ll come back and create the closet. A lot of clients now want functional islands in their closets, for example, and you need a certain amount of space in order to have one.”

“These days, I see a lot of people wanting to put shelves and drawers in their closets. Women especially love shoe shelves. Depending on the height of the ceiling, we can also add a third tier of hanging space up high. We offer an automatic wardrobe lift that people just love; you pull it down and it lifts back up by itself when you want it to.”

“Most of the closets we do are straightforward, but sometimes we get wild ones. One, we called the ‘crazy shoe closet’. A woman on the Northshore had a beautiful collection of about 400 pairs of shoes. We made a smaller closet within her large walk-in with shoes that went three rows back. It looked great and it was convenient; she loved it.” Another fun one was a man who had a nice condo downtown; he wanted glass on all his drawer fronts so he could see what was inside of them. We really enjoy designing and creating out-of-the-box ideas.”

“We stand on our integrity and gain the customers trust by making them happy with our work; we stand by what we do. We’re not going to promise you the world, but we deliver what we know we can do very well. We have the loyalty of our clientele because of that.”

Ruffino Custom Closets
110 Campbell Blvd # 1B
Mandeville, LA
(985) 809-7623
ruffinocustomclosets.com

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

The Hidden Treasure of Old Metairie: Sister’s Antiques

Written by: Simonette Berry

At first glance, Sister’s Antiques looks like just another tiny shop tucked away in the heart of Old Metairie. The diminutive exterior of Kathy Collins’ quaint double shotgun storefront is deceiving; once over the threshold, customers discover 12 large rooms filled with antiques and interior décor accessories. After a few hours of getting lost in the artful maze of vignettes, set up naturally as if in a home environment, customers discover what a treasure the Sister’s Antiques collection is. “The outside is deceiving. Once I get customers through the door, they’re surprised by how big the store is and the quality and variety of the pieces I carry. After they’ve come once, they come back again and again,” says Collins.

Collins remembers when her neighbor introduced her to the joys of antiquing when she was a tot. “I loved the hunt! Estate sales, auctions, little places you find by the side of the road; it’s still so exciting to me. You never know what you’re going to come across, and more often than not, there’s a good story to go along with it,” she says. Collins grew up to become a nurse and only antiqued on the weekends, until 17 years ago, when she and her sister Kim decided to open Sister’s Antiques. Collins kept her nursing job and Kim had another job as well, so they managed the store in shifts. After three years, Kim went on to pursue another venture, but Collins felt she had found her calling at last. She left the nursing profession to manage Sister’s Antiques full time, and she hasn’t looked back since.

“Most of my things are from Louisiana. I specialize in furniture from the 1930s. I think it’s popular not only because it’s beautifully made, but because a lot of people like to have pieces that they remember their parents or grandparents having. It reminds them of their childhood. This furniture has an elegance to it. Old armoires done in rich mahogany, marble-top buffets, sideboards, dressers, chests, classic old Louisiana furniture. I also get a lot of Duncan Phyfe and Eastlake furniture, pieces from the early 1900s,” Collins says. Sister’s Antiques is also known for their interior décor accent items, glassware, and vintage jewelry collection.

“I have a real variety in my inventory here,” she says. “There’s always something new and different.” The 12 showrooms of Sister’s Antiques are filled to the brim with vintage treasures. Whether you’re looking for French Country, English, Primitive, or Fine American Made Furniture, Sister’s has the right thing for that space you’ve been longing to fill. Sister’s Antiques also carries a selection of vintage outdoor garden elements and patio items.

“I get pieces from all over. I have several people who are always on the road, scouting for me. One of my best sources is a retired couple from Morgan City who go all over the state to these little auctions. I also go to a lot of estate sales and auctions myself,” she says. Collins enjoys the hunt, but she also appreciates the variety that comes with a staff of experienced buyers. Her scouts traverse the highways and winding back roads to find special items with enough character to make the cut for the Sister’s Antiques collection. Shipments come in every two to three weeks, and merchandise turns over quickly. Collins especially enjoys coming across items from long-forgotten local furniture makers. “There were some great cabinetmakers in Louisiana that made beautiful quality furniture. It’s a treat to find remnants of the trade still in circulation.”

The holiday season brings a festive atmosphere to Sister’s Antiques. “My customers tell me it feels homey in here during the holidays. We do an open house the first week of December, with prizes and promotional sales. It’s a great place to come for gifts,” she says. “You never know what you might find that will be perfect for someone on your list.”

The holiday season is a time for storytelling and reflection, and there’s no better place to come for stories than Sister’s Antiques. “The stories are my favorite part,” says Collins. “When people come in, I get to hear how they grew up, or what a certain piece reminds them of. I, in turn, have a story to share with them. I try to find out the history behind each piece””that’s what makes antiquing exciting. Each piece is your own little piece of history.”

Sister’s Antiques
504-828-6701
114 Codifer Blvd, Metairie, LA
sistersantiques.biz

Inside the Interiors of Ty Larkins

Written by: Simonette Berry

Award-winning interior designer Ty Larkins is a rising star in the Louisiana interior design community. Looking at his portfolio, you’d never guess he was arguing cases in the courtroom instead of drafting designs in the studio just a few short years ago. The jump from attorney to interior designer is quite a long way, but for someone who sees each project as a test of his ingenuity, it came naturally.

For as long as Larkins can remember, he’s been told he has “good taste.” His first home, a small 1,600-square-foot cottage, got rave reviews from visitors, and soon friends were bringing their friends over to get inspiration. This home was later featured in the 2002 issue of City Social magazine, which to Larkins was a huge validation for his budding design sensibilities. “My first projects involved decorating for friends and associates. My advice was sought out, though I had never advertised myself as an interior decorator,” he says.

“Although almost everyone realized I was an attorney, it got to the point where I was being sought out for design advice as much as I was for legal consultation! I also learned a lot when I got into real estate investing. I bought fixer uppers that required extensive renovation along with the myriad of design decisions required to be made with these types of endeavors. Over the years, I slowly gained confidence and knowledge about architecture, construction, reading blueprints, and contracting. I read everything I could get my hands on related to interior design, space planning, and drafting. Eventually, this led to designing spec houses from the ground up.” Larkins “coming out moment,” as he jokingly calls it, occurred as a result of a project he had been hired to work on for some clients living in Chicago. They had been selected by the HGTV network to participate in a reality show called Dream House, which chronicled the interior design and building of their dream home. “As their interior designer, I made numerous appearances on this show. The show aired for 13 weeks. I guess this was the first time I officially considered myself something other than an attorney,” he laughs. Since his appearance on HGTV, Larkins’ work has been in demand and in the spotlight, garnering national attention.

Larkins made his official debut by starting his own design business in 2006. In 2009, he opened a retail showroom and design studio; and he had another huge break when House Beautiful magazine published a spread on his current home in their December 2009 issue. “My primary reason for opening up the design showroom was to illustrate my design aesthetic and preferences to a larger audience who may not have been familiar with my approach. It was also to establish a place where people could shop for quality, carefully selected furniture, art, and accessories,” he explains.

Larkins doesn’t advocate any particular style, though he does enjoy working with traditional architecture decorated in a modern 21st-century kind of way. “I try never to make it about me and my personal preferences. I believe that an individual’s “tastes”—which can loosely be defined as what one responds to subjectively, primarily derived from experiential and visual associations, both positive and negative—should ultimately inform the design of the environment they are going to feel happy living in.” In spaces where one spends the majority of their time, like bedrooms, family rooms, and kitchens, Larkins advocates a more neutral, restrained environment that doesn’t involve a lot of strong color. “Neutral spaces are simply more restful over long periods of time. You don’t tire of them as quickly. On the other hand, in spaces only used occasionally, like dining rooms and powder rooms or pass-through zones like foyers, I often do designs that are bold, memorable, and daring.”

Larkins’ design process with new clients involves learning as much as he can about what they respond to, both negatively and positively. He uses this information to create a design plan which reflects those preferences, but only up to a point. “I would suggest that although one’s personal tastes should be reflected in their own homes, it should not be applied without barriers or a disregard for what is appropriate. After all, in the same way one might have their own unique fashion style in their dress, it would be inappropriate to wear your pajamas to a job interview. The same can be said regarding the appropriateness of applying certain design styles to certain types of conditions. For instance, most will agree that the design style appropriate for an urban loft is quite different from the style befitting a cottage at the beach. Ultimately, my job as a design consultant is to use sound judgment, my sense of scale, color, and light to successfully bring together all the client’s preferences into a seamless cohesive whole.”

“Ever since childhood, I have been a creative person. That creativity eventually brought me to the field of interior design, but it didn’t happen overnight. Although I was not unhappy as an attorney, it was not my life’s passion. I believe we all have a gift or the ability to be extraordinary at something. It was time to see where my aptitude for creativity would lead me,” Larkins says. “Looking back on it, I have always had the ability to bring out the hidden beauty in something that had underlying potential.” Larkins has realized the potential creativity in both his life and art and is now happily at work with his design team on major home projects in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and Fort Worth, Texas.

1948 Government Street
Baton Rouge, LA 70806
225-372-2821
tylarkins.com

The Road Less Traveled: Designer’s Showroom

Written by: Simonette Berry

While most European antique buyers are shopping in the high-traffic Parisian markets, Randy Williamson and Richard Clements of Designer’s Showroom are leaving dust trails in early morning light down the winding roads of the French and Belgian countryside. During a typical buying trip, they wake before dawn and work 12- to 16-hour days. They find their best pieces in small towns among the dusty bric-a-brac of shops, street fairs, personal storehouses, and farmhouses, pieces that have been tucked away sometimes for centuries. The trick, they say, is traveling by box truck; this way, they don’t have to pay exorbitant shipping costs to transport their treasures.

“We do more than most buyers ever will. We get our hands dirty, we get lost down dirt roads in the middle of nowhere, and sometimes we have to literally step over cow pies and go into barns at midnight with flashlights, but it’s worth every second of it,” says Randy. “We’re dealing in three different languages, so it’s always an adventure. We have a guide that serves as an interpreter at times, but we can communicate well enough. We know enough to know when they’re talking about us,” he chuckles.

Randy learned the ropes from his parents, who started the tradition of these off-road adventures. When they retired, they passed the legacy on to Randy, his brother Guy Williamson, and sister Sherri Pascal. The Williamsons’ 13,000-square-foot showroom in Shreveport houses designer furniture, fabric, and interior accents, but their niche is French antiques and antique lighting fixtures.

Designer’s Showroom is an interior design firm as well, with five certified interior designers on staff. Richard Clements, a buyer and Randy’s partner in crime on trips, is one of these designers. “We do design work all over the world,” he says. “We just finished projects in Tuscany, Dubai, and on the upper East Coast. We also do a lot of work in the Midwest, in Aspen and Vail, and a lot of luxury second homes in Florida.”

“We have all the major manufacturers in stock and we have the ability to do anything custom. We do design work, high-end fabrics, and a lot of custom furniture, but there are a lot of firms out there that do that, too. We have fabrics from all over the world, and access to the line that does fabric for today’s royal families and the papal line. The antique lighting and French and Belgian antiques are kind of our niche, though,” Richard says.

Designer’s Showroom has evolved year after year to reflect the latest trends, and over the past 55 years they’ve been in business, some trends have come full circle. “Tastes change, colors and finishes change, the scale of furniture changes, but we have evolved with the market. Things that were popular 30 years ago are back today. The mutation of color that was used in the 60s and 70s is popular again, too. Houses are larger than ever before now, and the formality has left. People want things that are more functional, livable.”

Designer’s Showroom specializes in 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th-century lighting elements in iron, bronze, brass, and crystal, but on buying trips, they look for any items that will generate interest. “Recently I found a pair of six-foot-tall linen panels hand-painted with the Stations of the Cross, dated 1825. They were hanging in a barn. We bought them, had them stretched on canvas and framed, and we sold them both within the first week. One of the buyers cried when she first saw the piece, it was so powerful for her.”

Randy and Richard focus on French pieces, but they find many Italian and English items along the way. They buy regularly from the hunting chateaus in northern France, and often stumble upon priceless architectural pieces from the remainders of 15th- and 16th-century churches that were destroyed in WWI. The highest point of a battlefield was normally the church steeple, so soldiers used them as lookout points. Many of the churches were destroyed. Soldiers and townspeople salvaged what they could from the ruins. “We’ve gotten a lot of Gothic bronze light fixtures from Catholic orphanages, convents, churches, and monasteries. At any given time, we stock 100, sometimes 130 antique fixtures. Some were made to hold candles, and others are gas or early electrical fixtures. Each one is unique. We’ve placed these all over the world.” “Sometimes it goes like this: we have an appointment at five pm with a guy in southern Belgium. That guy calls his friend who has a consignment storage two miles down the road, and he tips off his friend five miles down the road, and on it goes; so they’re literally lining up when we get there. We go from place to place to place until three in the morning sometimes, following a trail. We travel 75 miles down a dead-end road sometimes, but it just takes one piece to make the trip special.”

“Normally this is hard to do because you can’t take it with you, but we can. Shipping costs are so much lower this way, and we can then pass these low costs on to our customers. Logistically, the cost of picking up that one piece from a little village, and getting it to Paris would be extravagant. The pieces we bring back are one of a kind. Our clients and their lifestyles are not cookie-cutter either, and that’s why they gravitate towards these pieces. Sometimes we do as many as five or six fixtures in a given home because they just fall in love with them. You can’t just walk into a new lighting store and see what we have here. There are so many wonderful stories behind these things; it makes them almost like part of the family after they’re installed.”

“It’s a fun job. It’s fun to sell-it’s probably more fun to buy. Again, we’re really not selling, we’re placing. We do a tremendous amount of central and south Louisiana business because we can pass these prices on, and we’re known for our value and unique inventory,” Richard says. “I often tell my clients that we have an ulterior motive; the quicker we sell, the quicker we get to go back!”

A Magazine Street Marvel: Floor and Decor Design Center

Written by: Simonette Berry

Floor and Decor has taken the home improvement market by storm, creating a whole new way to shop and design for customers, designers, and contractors. By cutting out the middleman, Floor and Decor is able to offer unheard of prices and unmatched selection. Since the first outlet opened in Atlanta in 2001, they have grown to more than 28 retail locations across the nation and changed the way customers shop for flooring and cabinetry. The newest location, which has recently opened on Magazine Street in the heart of the Uptown New Orleans shopping district, has caused quite a sensation.

Patrick Levy, the general manager of the new Floor and Decor Design Center on Magazine Street, explains. “Floor and Decor has revolutionized the way customers buy hard flooring products for the home. We have more choices than the big-box stores, and we offer them for less than what you would find at a designer showroom. We also have unrivaled customer service. It’s the best of both worlds.”

“We opened our big retail store in Gretna next to Academy Sports last year and business really took off. People love our concept, our prices, and our customer-oriented shopping experience. So we decided to open a design center on the Eastbank to make the process even easier for customers and designers. Our Magazine Street showroom offers the same low prices and product selection as our large Gretna Outlet Store but offers more ideas and inspiration like a traditional designer showroom. You can’t go wrong at either of our stores.”

“We designed this location with the Magazine Street experience in mind. The customers in this area are used to businesses going the extra mile. A lot of shops in this area are unique, hands-on, and customer service oriented, so we knew we would fit right into the neighborhood. We found a location at 2801 Magazine Street on the corner of Washington, across from Sake Cafe and next to Starbucks.”

The Magazine Street Designer Outlet is an inviting storefront with large windows and an open floor plan, where thousands of colorful samples are easy to flip through. The store was structured to complement the architectural themes from which many of the historic homes in the Garden District were originally designed, and there are several full bathroom and kitchen displays demonstrating how popular flooring and backsplash combinations might work together. At various spots around the store, design stations are set up for customers, designers, and contractors who need a place to work. Coffee and Wifi are free. In one corner, a couple pours over some blueprints on their laptop with an interior designer; they are surrounded by tile samples, paint swatches, and sketches. At another workstation, a woman creates a lovely sunburst mosaic design in small, diamond-shaped gold and red tiles, making notes as she completes each section.

“I encourage people to come in and take advantage of our free in-house design services; we have three designers on staff that do consultations and go out to our customers’ homes. Customers can also bring their own designers,” Levy says. “We know how stressful the process is. We just want to make it an easier, more enjoyable experience. If you need a designer, we can help you. If you need a place to work, spread out here. If you need to take something home, we have samples available for you to take home. What we offer is a huge selection that will take care of all of your flooring and cabinet needs. Best of all, everything is in stock.”

Have you ever bought something for your home, only to take it home and realize it isn’t quite right? Floor and Decor has built their business around concerns such as these, excelling in customer service where other companies fall short. “In most flooring stores you go in and pick out a piece of flooring; then they have to order it. If it’s not what you like, then you are either stuck with it or have to pay a hefty restocking fee to return it. Not us,” says Levy. All items on display are in stock and ready to go, so you won’t have to wait weeks for them to be shipped to the store. You can also exchange them for no extra cost—no restocking fees, no waiting weeks for another package from the supplier.

“Floor and Decor carries slate, travertine, marble, onyx, wood, laminate, glass tiles, ceramic, porcelain, and cabinets. We have green items like bamboo, cork, and reclaimed antique heart pine. We have one of the largest in-stock selections of stone mosaics and decoratives I’ve ever seen. The Carrara White line alone is impressive, with over 40 different shapes and sizes of Carrara Marble,” he says.

“It’s a more convenient shopping experience, a more inspiring shopping experience, and a more rewarding shopping experience. That’s the goal of each of our locations, and it will be the goal of our future locations as well,” Levy says. Come by a Floor and Decor location today and experience the difference for yourself.

Floor and Decor Designer’s Outlet
2801 Magazine Street
New Orleans, LA
504.891.3005

Floor and Decor
Westside Shopping Center
Gretna, LA
504.361.0501