Designer Tara Shaw’s first book, Soul of the Home: Designing with Antiques, helps readers understand how to select the best antique gems to compliment their interiors. Using them in a variety of décor schemes, she shares anecdotes from years of treasure hunting, and tips on how to choose the right pieces, pairing different periods in a contemporary interior. “The ice in the design cocktail is to mix in mid-century blue chip details to have a well-rounded European feel that ages well.” We catch up with her below.
How do you combine disparate eras and styles so they feel cohesive?
Look for patterns and themes that they have in common and try to connect the dots. This is easier than it sounds when you consider that many styles over history have influenced each other…A sophisticated room will have layers of influence: 18th-century French or Swedish chairs with contemporary consoles and cocktail tables; painted Italian candelabra and mid-century modern lamps.
We love your tip about considering how styles influence each other. Can you show examples from your work where styles are “talking” to each other?
A perfect example is the image on the cover of the book, which showcases an 18th-century Gustavian daybed featuring clean lines conversing with the straight lines of the Corbusier chaise, and the Louis XIV transitional armoire that has both the influences of minimal and maximal carving. Another conversation in this living room is that of the 18th-century Louis XIV sconces from Lucca, Italy, that flank the contemporary art by Steven Seinberg, conversing with the 17th-century Sansovino-style mirror that anchors the fireplace.
Your use of rich creamy hues and neutrals makes the mixing of eras and styles very harmonious. Do you think one can achieve the same result with other color palettes? If so, can you point to examples of rooms that successfully achieve that (from your work or others)?
Color and harmony are achieved by connecting the dots. Had I chosen a colorful wallpaper in this home, I would have selected one that would have the same tone as the 18th-century French blue enfilade (buffet), and would have used a rich velvet or mohair for chair cushions in either the same color palette or taken another color directly from the wallpaper as a contrast. In the foyer of this Victorian, you will see the thread of blue connecting the unusual Italian Louis XIV-style chairs to the Swedish secretaire, and continuing on into the dining room with the enfilade that is visible from the entry.
We are very curious on how you source for your projects. As a store owner (the storefront is located at 5833 Magazine Street in New Orleans), you are an expert at buying unique finds. What tips for buying antiques can you share with us?
When I go on a buying trip, which I do about four times a year, it’s a serious affair: A typical three-week itinerary would include 18 cities and towns across Italy and France, and a bevy of hotels, rental cars, trains, markets, warehouses, stalls, fairs and dealers. That isn’t to suggest that you have to dive into antiquing like it’s your full-time job in order to discover something special or get a good deal, but you will benefit from adopting my flexible mind-set, even if you’re only dipping your toe into the sport by spending a morning at one of the Paris puces. The most important thing I would teach someone just starting to acquire is that you have to be open to possibility. It’s a treasure hunt. The most thrilling thing about it is that you never know what you’re going to find. You might go to Europe in search of a Louis XVI armoire and shop the flea markets and fairs, and simply not find it. For years. But if you’re receptive, you’re going to find other treasures that you can use. Hopefully you’ll also have the insight to purchase them. If you can think of the mission as fluid and ever-evolving, and play the long game, you will have far greater traction. Little by little, you will acquire things that speak to you, and pretty soon, your home will be filled with pieces that are as distinct as you are. Don’t rush it. I’ve had buying days where I’ve come up with zero, and that’s just part of the process.
On the other hand, try to get good at recognizing the pitter-patter of your heart when you find something that really resonates with you, and don’t ignore that, either. Because in the case of antiques, you literally might never see it again. Listening to that instinct has never once led me astray, saddled with an object I later decide I don’t want. Ignoring it, however, has left me heartbroken more than once. Lastly, don’t forget that this kind of shopping is an experience in itself. Revel in it. If you’re the kind of person who’s going to go to markets, fairs and auctions in Europe, you’re an adventurer. You want nice things for your home and you know that requires some effort, a little soul-searching and broadening of your horizons. Sometimes I’ll be in the thick of it, having been on the road for days, when I find myself at one of the local brasseries in a quaint town, eating a plat du jour for 10 euros at a sidewalk table on a sunny day, or outdoors at a déballage (or fair) in the countryside, sitting on a piece of used furniture in the middle of a field, enjoying the paella I just bought from a vendor. I always want to pinch myself. That kind of magical moment is the best treasure of all.
What was the impetus behind Soul of the Home: Designing with Antiques?
Antiques bestow an incomparable sense of history—something that’s withstood the centuries is necessarily made extremely well. Their flaws, scrapes and bumps are hard-earned and make your interiors (and maybe even you) more forgiving. I wrote the book to show how a one-of-a-kind item can bring soul to any design project, and to help decode how to choose the right pieces and transform purchase to passion.
Can you share some easy upgrades to elevate a room?
I would start with finding a unique anchor piece for the room. The search is half the fun, but once you find that special piece that speaks to you, don’t hesitate to commit.
When designing your residences, how have your own design sensibilities changed?
I have added items from my own custom furniture line, Tara Shaw Maison, whether it is a contemporary two-tone canopy bed that lives beautifully with one-of-a-kind treasures, or cameo reliefs that are licensed to RH, mixing with TSM klismos chairs, or a custom high-gloss ottoman coffee table paired with an 18th-century Swedish daybed and 19th-century Italian accessories. I have more confidence in my own product line.
What was your favorite room in your home growing up?
My bedroom, which I had free rein in designing, which housed a mid-century bed and a black faux fur throw, a mid-century sofa covered in a faux animal print…I don’t know where I channeled that look, since I was about seven years old.
What room in your home(s) makes you feel:
Grand: The foyer with the 18th-century Medici console and unique Italian chandelier.
Happy: My bathroom with the 18th-century paneling and console as my vanity.
Relaxed: My living room with view of fountains and pool.
Ready for the day: My home office, which is filled with lots of storage that houses years of information that I rely on daily for work.
Dissecting the room: Can you do the design “blow by blow” in this room below?
The clients loved the armoire that I had in my living room, so the hunt began to find them one that would house all media in their living room. The armoire was the jumping-off point, with its pale bleached oak and clean lines. The next step was the Swedish daybed, because you look into this room from the foyer, and I wanted to see through into the entire room. The balance is the contemporary French sofa and minimal coffee table that connects in wood tone to the armoire. The jewelry is the bronze table and 18th-century Italian candelabras on the mantle that share the same movement; the ice in the design cocktail is to mix in mid-century blue chip details to have a well-rounded European feel that ages well.
Love the look? Shop our assortment of Tara Shaw-inspired pieces, currently available on Sotheby’s Home.