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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

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!”

DJ Dada: Paul Dean

Written by: Simonette Berry

Baton Rouge artist Paul Dean is best known for his collages and sculptural assemblages, made through a process he’s dubbed “Punk Rock Dada.” These compositions combine images in new, entertaining ways. His themes range from socio-economic commentaries to art for art’s sake, and they are expressed by juxtaposed images referencing everything from long-playing records to the Renaissance. Dean is an LSU professor of graphic design, typography, and color; he also moonlights as a freelance graphic designer and a DJ. In the past few years, he has expanded his scope to painting. His background in graphics carries over into his meticulous paintings, which often use catchy images, intense colors, and sharp detail. During the month of February, his work will be exhibited at the Baton Rouge Gallery along with Charles Barbier, John Harlan Norris, and Tom Richard.

Dean’s show is “Spectra-Sonic,” a title inspired by the old hi-fi logo that advertised, rather redundantly, Spectra-Sonic Sound. Dean explores one of his ultimate themes: music and images used to describe it. His passion for music runs deep; one of his first “aha moments” was the advent of the punk rock movement. “Spectra-Sonic” is a collection of laser-cut album cover collages. “The record covers I’m using come from over 35 years of obsessive record collecting; it’s about time I put them to some use,” Dean kids. “Two album covers are laser cut with a typographic or purely visual image, and then the resulting pieces are swapped. This is, in a way, a return to some ‘recombinant’ jigsaw puzzles I made almost twenty years ago, combined with some other elements, such as the use of record covers and stereo logos that are also a return to earlier themes. This show consciously relates to other themes I have worked with in the past, but it’s a new combination and a refined aesthetic.” Dean will also show some paintings as a part of Barbier’s adjacent show, “Deep Space.”

Dean started making art as a high school senior in Raleigh, North Carolina. “I had a teacher, Mabel Bullock, from nearby Durham, who was incredibly supportive. Everything I did was wonderful in her eyes, and a week after I made a small plastic and metal assemblage, which I spray-painted silver, she came into class with her newest piece, a glove on a coke bottle, spray-painted silver. I realized I had influenced the teacher, and that she wasn’t just being nice to me,” he says.

Dean graduated from high school in 1976 and attended University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 1976 to 1980. He took art classes in college, but mostly for fun, and made collages on the side. He realized there was an interest in them when he sold one to a friend in the dorm. Punk rock hit the world in 1977, and it had a profound effect on the young artist. “This was the late seventies, and punk rock hadn’t solidified into a precise look and sound; it was all about creative exploration, without regard to the rules imposed by authority figures or the past.” Dean also recalls that explorations with psychedelics in the 70s, like with many other artists and musicians in that period, “opened me up to the aesthetic appreciation of life, especially color and form, and joy.”

“There suddenly seemed to be an alternative to the mundane and plodding path of conformity and material wealth that I had been bound to. My interest in punk rock led me to an exploration of its precursors, especially Futurism and Dada, and this strengthened my belief in collage and assemblage and mixed media of all sorts as valid and valuable art forms. My interest in punk rock and “˜new wave’ record covers, especially the Sex Pistols first record, brilliantly revealed that album covers were just ink on paper and were created by real people, not anonymous record companies.” This epiphany later paved the way for Dean’s career in graphic design.

Another early influence on young Dean was a friendship with Gretchen Sedaris, sister of famous essayist David Sedaris and actress and comedian Amy Sedaris. “Gretchen and I were in the same circle of friends, and we all spent a lot of time at her family’s house. Gretchen’s mother Sharon was a remarkable woman who collected art, mainly from the Little Art Gallery at the North Hills Mall in Raleigh. This was not just art in frames, it was art that jumped out from the walls, relief sculptures and ceramic pieces that invaded space and were arranged asymmetrically on every wall in their very modern””mid-70s modern, I guess””house. You couldn’t be in that house and not be entertained by the art. That affected her family enormously””they are now a famously talented family””and I think it touched everyone who ever visited their home. Sharon died of lung cancer in the 1980s, as is recounted in the last essay of David’s book Naked, but I now realize that her aesthetic and the influence of her very creative children steered me toward art before I even knew it was happening. Art was not only fun, it was everything in that house! And Sharon Sedaris’s collection, one that practically jumped off the walls, was a visual suggestion that art did not have to sit in self-contained frames. It could invade the real world, as it has for her children and for me,” Dean says.

Dean made many more collages over the years, often more for pleasure than financial gain. Cutting and pasting together fragments of advertisements, packages, photos, printed material, and even money, Dean crafted his vibrant collages around themes that inspired him. “I worked with money as a theme for while, exploring the difference between money as a material commodity and money as an aesthetic object. I collected credit cards so I could cut them up and put them in my assemblages, and played with the theme of real vs. counterfeit money. Interestingly, I wasn’t paying enough attention to actual money in my real life at this time, and it wasn’t until I was suddenly in debt up to my ears that I noticed! The debt crisis hit the news just as it hit me at home. I have a better handle on things now, though.”

Dean’s themes and sources of inspiration range from the macro to micro. “I am inspired by things that catch my eye, in books or in life, and by my instinct for a particular image or form. I will see something and immediately think, “˜Yes, I need that!’ and then gather it for possible use in the future. I actually don’t try to think about my collages too much. I think that too much thinking up front makes for boring art. And, incidentally, I pay a lot of attention to my dreams. I look forward to my dreams every night, and I enjoy recalling their details over the course of the next day.”

A few years ago, Dean was encouraged by fellow artists Paul Neff and Charles Barbier to explore painting. He finds comfort in collaborating on painted works, which he was able to do in a weekly painting group Neff held at his apartment for many years. “It loosens me up to be able to collaborate on a painting, as we do. The pressure I put on myself to make a “˜perfect’ painting is enormous; it’s actually very stressful for me. So I prefer to collaborate. Collages are, of course, collaborations with the source material. I have made some solo paintings, though.” Both Dean’s solo paintings and collaborations will be part of Barbier’s show at the Baton Rouge Gallery.

“Some of the artists who have influenced me the most are Josef Albers; Marcel Duchamp; Kurt Schwitters; Christian Marclay, whose early work with records was a revelation to me; Andy Warhol and his unsung collaborator Brigid Berlin; and, especially, Charles Barbier. His encouragement and drive and his pioneering style has had an immense effect on me,” Dean says.

Though he still draws on his early inspirations, Dean’s message has changed over the course of his career. It’s still Dada, but now more illuminative than ironic. “Punk rock was largely ironic and it inspired me, but now I believe that irony tends to get missed by the general public. I want to make art that can appeal to and be appreciated by anyone and everyone. I also like to include my sense of humor in my work. I think that art should be, if not out and out funny, then humorous, at least on some level. Otherwise, what’s the point? I’m a humanist now; I believe that art should be a positive and enlightening influence on the people who see it.” ✦

The Cajun Collector: A restaurateur passionately inspired by his heritage

Written by: Lisa LeBlanc-Berry

“It’s the American dream,” says Mulate’s owner Kerry Boutta, whose journey as a businessman and an avid art collector began very modestly in Breaux Bridge and without much capital. In 1980, he launched a down-home Cajun restaurant with a three-person staff in a weathered little nondescript building, not far from his hometown of Arnaudville.

“Mulate’s used to be a little nightclub,” says Kerry. “The owner retired in 1975. We decided to keep the name. He said, “˜I don’t want anything for it, just a cup of coffee.’ But before I came across Mulate’s, I had already started to develop the Cajun idea in the 1970s. I wanted to create something of cultural value, not just a restaurant.”

A child of Acadiana who grew up surrounded by great cooks, including his mother who had a dining establishment in Arnaudville, Kerry worked in restaurants for several years before opening his own place in Breaux Bridge.

In the late 1960s, prior to his restaurant endeavors, he joined the army and ended up near Frankfurt, Germany, where numerous beer gardens drew people of all ages who gathered to eat, drink, and dance. The experience served to inspire his idea of eventually creating a similar place when he returned home. What’s more, Kerry reflected how the food was certainly better in Cajun country. Putting this great, regional cuisine together with live music and dancing would be a wonderful thing indeed, he concluded.

“I was just a penniless Cajun with an idea,” Kerry reminisces. “The first day we opened Mulate’s in Breaux Bridge, we had two customers,” he tells me as we nibble hors d’oeuvres with his wife, Tiffa, and art collector/entrepreneur Michelle Vallot in the cavernous, art-filled kitchen of their 10,000-square-foot, three-story residence with a pool and terraces overlooking the Mississippi River. The Bouttas also own a three-story country home in Barataria, complete with a pool, gardens, and a boathouse. “I started out with practically nothing.”

Several months after opening Mulate’s in Breaux Bridge, Kerry added a music component to the restaurant, and hired local musician Zachary Richard for the first gig. Of course, there had been other Cajun restaurants and dance halls for years in Acadiana, but there had not been a combination of both. He was on to something big.

“No one came that first night to see Zachary Richard, but I knew this was the combination I’d been looking for, with the authentic Cajun food, music, and atmosphere, so I hired him again the following week.”

The next step was opening up a space in front of the bandstand for people to dance. Then the customers started coming. Other local musicians were hired, including some of the old-time Cajun bands and a young Michael Doucet, who ended up playing at Mulate’s for nine years with his band, BeauSoleil. “Michael was relatively unknown before Mulate’s, which put him on the international media circuit,” Kerry notes.

Word eventually spread about the fun, rustic dance hall with great Cajun cuisine “out in the country,” and it became “the cool little roadhouse” where people went to eat and dance the night away.

Thanks to Kerry’s innate marketing acumen and timing during the 1984 Louisiana World’s Fair, when journalists and travel writers from all over the world descended on the state, Mulate’s became both a regional and international hit, with other locations to follow, including one in Baton Rouge that opened in 1988 and another in the New Orleans Warehouse District, which opened in 1990 (it is now the sole location). The story of Mulate’s appeared in magazines and documentaries throughout the U.S. and abroad.

As Mulate’s expanded, Kerry’s daughter, Monique, became involved in the restaurant, first joining the team in Baton Rouge while attending college. After completing her studies in accounting, she joined the team in New Orleans in 1997, and took over management in 1998. Monique and her husband, Murphy Cristina, continue to run Mulate’s in New Orleans, with Kerry overseeing operations and Tiffa contributing to public relations efforts.

Housed in a circa 1885 Italianate warehouse across the street from Riverwalk and the Convention Center, Mulate’s now attracts more than 250,000 people a year. It has drawn many celebrities who have shared the bandstand with local musicians, ranging from Dizzy Gillespie to Muddy Waters, Joe Cocker, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Paul Simon, who usually drops in to visit the Bouttas when he is in New Orleans.

“Bob Dylan likes to come over, too; he has visited our house at least ten times,” Kerry tells me. “We’ve hosted a lot of stars like Robert Duvall, who stayed at our house in the country for three months free of charge when he was making a movie. Geraldo Rivera, Dyan Cannon, John Goodman, Oliver Stone, Ron Howard, and Stevie Wonder are some of the other friends who have also come to visit our home.”

Kerry and Tiffa’s 10,000-square-foot residence is the only one of its kind in the area, located around the corner from Mulate’s near the Convention Center. The great room alone measures a whopping 6,000 square feet, complete with a dining table for 14, and a grand piano in the corner of the living area that is often played by well-known musicians during parties. A few short steps lead up from the great room to a multi-tiered pool area on the second floor, while the third floor houses a chic, more intimate entertainment room and large terrace where many small parties have been held overlooking the river.

The Bouttas’ intriguing art collection ranges from the haunting neo-expressionist paintings of David Harouni to Francis Pavy’s colorful interpretations of life in Acadiana, a variety of original drawings and paintings by George Rodrigue, and the mesmerizing metal sculptures of Breaux Bridge resident Russell Whiting, who pioneered carving steel with a blow torch and exhibits throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Kerry remains close with Rodrigue, who has given him some of his earlier works. “George and I have been friends for 30 years,” he points out. “I was sitting at his desk one day while he was painting. I opened the desk drawer and there were 40 to 50 drawings, and he said, “˜You want some?’ So he gave me some of the original sketches for his paintings; he has also given me some of his early, original paintings.” Rodrigue’s art is on display throughout the Boutta home.

The eclectic, intriguing collection of furniture and accent pieces reflects Tiffa’s travels abroad. “My wife selected the flooring and all the color schemes throughout our home,” Kerry points out. “She collected many things during her travels throughout the world before we met; we also have collected things together. I’m not really much of a traveler now, although I’ve been to Europe. Tiffa just got back from India.” Everywhere you look, there is something interesting, unique, and worthy of conversation throughout the Boutta residence.

“We really enjoy living here,” Kerry reflects. “It’s fun to see all the tall ships passing by on the Mississippi River from the terrace. We’re so close to everything. I’m a happy Cajun! It has been wonderful creating something that has had a cultural impact, that also gives people happiness every day.”

Passionate About Antiques: 
A collector and a 
folk artist combine forces

Written by: Lisa LeBlanc-Berry

Maria and Simon Hardeveld have created a magical world at their quaint shop filled with unusual treasures. Unlike the more traditional furniture galleries along Magazine Street, Antiques on Jackson pays homage to the intrinsic character of New Orleans, where anything goes.

Located on a large corner lot at Jackson and Magazine streets, the charming store displays an atypical combination of elegant antiques juxtaposed with rustic folk art. Popular with interior designers and collectors since it opened in 1999, the shop reflects the vibrant character of this enigmatic city that seduces residents with its opulence and decay, elegance and faded glory.

The main building showcases Maria’s extensive collection of fine European antiques, whimsical sconces and delicate chandeliers, mirrors adorned with intricate designs, old Italian trays, rare books, and one-of-a-kind collectibles, as well as the tattered and worn pieces for those who enjoy reviving items of past grandeur.

In the outdoor area, Simon often displays his rustic folk art that is made with found objects including weathered plywood, corrugated tin, and discarded bottle tops. To make things sparkle, he adds plenty of glitter on various signs. Known as Simon the sign man around town, locals see his art every day on the network news. Simon created the rustic and colorful News With a Twist set for WGNO-TV.

Like the shop, Maria and Simon’s circa 1898 residence holds a special kind of beauty and charm. Maria’s passion for antiques is evident with her sophisticated design aesthetic and elegant decor, yet she blends an unlikely mixture of richly textured old fabrics to adorn sofas and chairs, including vintage curtains, rug fragments, and swatches of velvet and damask. Her creative touch extends to the master bedroom, where she designed a unique headboard extension that is embellished with a pair of sconces, and crowned with layers of loosely draped fabrics that give it a regal feel.

Situated on three large lots with a fenced-in yard, the house was purchased in 2004. A year later, hurricane Katrina hit in the middle of their renovation, which the Hardevelds completed in the aftermath of the storm. Maria transformed the modest, four-bedroom house into a showplace by lavishly decorating it with an array of beautiful antiques from her collection at the shop.

The Hardevelds were in business together long before they opened Antiques on Jackson. Married for the past 23 years, Maria and Simon met in Florida, fell in love, got married, and ran three restaurants together on Florida’s east coast before moving to New Orleans in 1993.

Born in the French Alps, Simon was a chef and restaurateur in Cannes before moving to Florida to peruse the culinary scenario there. A mellow fellow who speaks with a heavy French accent, he has long hair and wears a bandana reminiscent of the 1960s. In contrast, Maria is a savvy collector who was born in the Big Easy, where she developed her passion for antiques.

“We were living in Florida and I found out that my mother was ill, so I wanted to come back home to New Orleans,” Maria explains. “I always loved antiques and had an opportunity to open a shop here. We had antiques in our restaurants in Florida, plus I had a little antique shop down the street from our place in Stuart.”

After moving to New Orleans, Simon had a sea change when he began working as a chef at an old bar and grill in Metairie. He serendipitously found his muse as an artist by painting signs that listed the menu items he prepared in the kitchen. Little did he know that those funky signs would be the dawning of a new career. He had never held a paintbrush before.

As it turned out, the regulars liked Simon’s brightly colored, offbeat signs more than the food. Word spread, and folks began showing up to purchase and commission his clever creations instead of his cuisine. He eventually left the restaurant and stopped being a professional chef altogether, turning his attention full time to artful endeavors.

Simon’s vibrant signs symbolize the spirit of New Orleans and are adorned with icons such as alligators and golden coconuts. The punchy slogans are their main appeal: Geaux Saints, Laissez le Bon Temps Rouler, Shalom Y’all, and Beware of Dogs and Voodoo, for example. As Simon began to expand his repertoire, the signs started popping up in restaurants and storefronts throughout New Orleans. “He can’t keep up with the demand,” Maria exclaims.

Simon also makes one-of-a-kind furniture and decorative items that are on display at the shop. A few of his colorful pieces hang in their home, although the formal decor theme largely prevails.

When renovating the residence, Maria had the floors painted white to complement the antiques and give it a “fresh look.” Since she favors Florentine antiques (which are also predominant at the shop), Maria selected a variety of treasured pieces from the shop and on buying trips.

“Italian pieces from Florence have been my absolute passion for 30 years,” Maria says. “I prefer the Florentine pieces from 1915 to 1950; but I also like 18th- and 19th-century French, Belgian, Spanish, and English antiques.”

The Hardevelds’ elegant living room is appointed with a large 18th-century trumeau mirror with delicate lead figures of angels; a graceful settee from Sicily; and an assortment of Florentine chairs, tables, and chests. “The trumeau mirror is split in the middle, because they didn’t know how to make large mirrors back then,” Maria points out.

“I love my three-drawer Florentine chest with a serpentine front, it fits perfectly in the living room,” Maria states. “I wanted a piece that could be placed directly under the windows so that I could display my things on top. I saw this piece and fell in love with it. It isn’t overwhelming to the room, which isn’t that large. I also love the red Italian turn-of-the-century chair in the living room. Red is one of my favorite colors, and the chair is so ornate. It is beautifully made, as only the Italians can do. I enjoy sitting in it and having a cup of coffee in the morning while listening to music.”

The Hardevelds converted one of the original bedrooms in the house into a casual sitting room, which opens onto a sunny, L-shaped porch.

“For the sofa, I placed old velvet pieces on each arm and adorned it with a rug on the seats, and also placed throws on top,” Maria says. “I also used fabric to decorate a painted antique Italian chair in the living room. I ripped off the brand new polyester fabric that was on it, and threw a piece of old velvet green fabric on top of the cotton. I like dressing up antiques with interesting fabrics.”

Once again, Maria used various fabrics to decorate an Italian 18th-century settee in the living room. “It is covered in a yellow silk damask. In the winter, I place a green velvet throw with tapestry trim on top. It is actually an old curtain that came from France. In the spring, I use a throw made of old damask that is really tattered. It is trimmed with tassels. I find that the velvet is too heavy for the warm weather.”

Maria created wall art by placing framed fragments of Aubusson rugs on either side of the sitting room sofa, and placed a 19th-century tapestry in the center of the wall for added interest.

A large breakfast room is adjoined to the kitchen, which was formerly a porch. The spacious room features a narrow wooden table that was made by one of Maria’s friends.

“I found the boards for the table in a warehouse after Katrina, and then I found the little French legs,” she says. Italian cane-back side chairs are paired with antique Florentine armchairs for the dining table.

“I display my Old Paris china in a custom-made, glass-enclosed vintage cabinet from the 1920s. I put a large, old English scale on top; it is perfect for that space. The old bar near the dining table is from Texas. We ripped out the original bar,” she adds. A chalkboard listing drinks, located behind the bar, came with the house.

The master bedroom is adorned with richly textured fabrics and stately antiques. “When we bought the house, my master bath was a kitchenette,” Maria remarks. She appointed the master bath with a copper shell sink from France and decorated the walls with antique Florentine trays. “They work perfectly here,” Maria says. “You have to love it. Like I tell my clients, if you love it, the pieces you choose will always fit in somewhere.”