Tara Shaw is an embodiment of the classic adage “do what you love.” As a renowned antiques dealer, she has an expert eye that was honed over years spent at the best fairs — and yes, a few fields — in Europe. And after launching her own interior design firm, she attracted a dream list of clients, including Harry Connick, Jr. Her work has been featured everywhere from Veranda to Luxe and Traditional Home, and she created her own line of products, Tara Shaw Maison, several of which have been licensed to RH.
Your book is called Soul of the Home, and guides readers through using antiques in creating their spaces. Tell us about the philosophy behind it.
I believe the use of antiquity with contemporary or vintage is the key to having a well-collected home. The use of one-of-a-kind pieces will make your home individual and it will read like your own personal biography.
How do you source pieces from around the world? Has that changed over the last year, and how so?
I started importing from Europe over 20 years ago. I travel around France, Italy, Belgium, and Sweden looking for unique items that can make a room, and ship 40-foot containers into my warehouse in New Orleans. This last year was challenging in so many ways for all of our friends in Europe. I unloaded a container the first week New Orleans was shut down due to our high COVID numbers. I called my customs broker and said, “Are you sure we have to do this?” and she said, “Freight never stops!” so we masked up and went to work with all the accoutrements of sanitized safety. What was so interesting is that after 30 days of no activity in design or sales, the flood gates opened to some of the largest projects we have ever had.
How did you launch your career as an antiques dealer for the design trade?
I started selling to the trade only and have expanded to sell both trade and retail. We started selling antiques back to Italy, selling 18th-century Grotto chairs to Australian antique dealers, stocking storefronts in Colorado, California, and Texas… It all started as word of mouth.
How did you transition your work as a dealer into your own design business?
I love being in the fields of Europe, whether it is a déballage (a fair in a field) or a dirty warehouse. I was home one Sunday and got a call from Harry Connick Jr and Jill Goodacre and they said they were in town and wanted to come over. My home and warehouse had just made the cover of Veranda magazine and they wanted me to work with them on their home on the East Coast. When those two ask you to do anything, it is truly impossible to resist. My next design clients were Alden and Emeril Lagasse and I went on to work with them on three homes, and it was still word of mouth.
Tell us about creating your store in New Orleans. What was that experience like, and how have you handled the last year in particular?
I live in Uptown New Orleans, near Audubon Park, in an incredible walking neighborhood with the best restaurants, adorable clothing shops, Whole Foods, and Starbucks in a two-block radius. An 11,000-square-foot turn-of-the-century building came up for sale in my neighborhood and I could envision a showroom downstairs and four upscale apartments upstairs. The new home base is 5833 Magazine Street, and the street of dreams turned out to be just as chic as I had imagined it would be. Construction during COVID was just like every other aspect of our lives: a challenge.
You have your own line of custom furniture under the Tara Shaw Maison name; tell us about it.
I had been in the fields of Europe for years and could spot a bad finish or incorrect carving at 50 paces without a flashlight at 5 AM. I kept seeing reproductions sold in the US but the product was really off, so I thought I would try my hand at creating a furniture line. In 2007, I launched Tara Shaw Maison with 46 items that were my favorite one-of-a-kinds in a collection that could fill a home or work as key anchor pieces. The collection grew to over 250 items and I licensed several to Restoration Hardware in 2013 and 2014, and continued to work with them on pieces. We are heading to High Point for book signings in June and to find the perfect licensing partner for the line.
How would you describe your own personal design aesthetic?
I want to enter my home and exhale. Rich textures, minimal prints, unique antiques with contemporary art and a smattering of mid century.
What’s a favorite antique piece of your own? And what’s a dream “get” you would love to have?
I have a large 19th-century painting of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane with the original gilt wood frame that makes my day every time I walk by. And I would love to own a pair of Jean Royère egg chairs.
What trends are you seeing right now in terms of which types of antiques are popular? What do you think will be next?
I think antiques made a resurgence when there was so much repetitive design that you could not tell one project from the next. There is something so elegant, timeless, and warm about collecting something that has stood the test of time for hundreds of years; after all, what damage could you or your family do to it other than add your own layer of lived-in patina? I use painted Swedish pieces as a balance to a beautiful rich walnut or French oak so I would stay on point with painted pieces. But there is also a big comeback in brown woods, whether it is an 18th-century Italian walnut table with original iron stretcher or a beautiful armoire — beautiful is still beautiful. Always follow your heart, listen to that small voice that is guiding you, and learn to pull the trigger so you have no regrets and you will start collecting things that will make your day every time you walk past them too.
Lead image by Max Kim Bee