There are those who leave their work at the office. Then there are those like Tara Shaw, whose passion for her work is alive in her Uptown home.
“A collector never gets tired of collecting,” said the antiques dealer and designer, known for the refined yet relaxed way she marries fine European antiques with high-end midcentury and contemporary pieces as well as selections from her own line of reproductions. “Once you’re smitten, you’ll always be creating and recreating your home.”
It’s hard to imagine changing a single thing about the house where Shaw resides with her husband, attorney Robert Walsh, and her sweet-tempered whippet, Brother Lucca. But Shaw, who anchors her projects with timeless antiques, is always editing. A change of upholstery or an exceptional one-of-a-kind piece of 20th-century signed pottery here. A designer wallpaper with a large-scale abstract print there.
Her connection to the house predates her ownership. The late architect Barry Fox designed the Hausmann-style residence for the previous owner, who, like Shaw, was a Francophile. She first admired its quintessential Parisian architecture when it was being built.
“I used to walk by on the way to the park,” she says. “I never dreamed it would ever be for sale.”
Two decades later, when the property went on the market, she purchased it, added a saltwater pool, planted 80 trees around the periphery of the gated triple lot for privacy, and filled the house with the exquisite array of antiques she’d gathered over the years.
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The mix of old and new is marked with the finesse of one who frequents Paris flea markets at the crack of dawn and “can spot a bad finish at 100 paces at 5 a.m. without a flashlight.” An ornate 18th-century Spanish baroque mirror hangs above a minimalist limestone mantle; an iconic Charlotte Perriand chaise sits near a Louis XIII — Louis XIV transitional armoire. Juxtaposition modernizes the assemblage, which is subtly tied together by Shaw’s eye for proportions and similar finishes and themes, as well as her use of color, texture and carefully curated art.
The neutral palette, which runs the gamut from whites and taupes to tobaccos and blacks, exudes an air of serenity designed to counteract the demands of Shaw’s business and the after-hours calls and texts that go with it.
“I don’t want to be excited in my home,” says Shaw. “A typical day is long. I want to walk in my home and exhale.”
Shaw’s talent is both innate (at 7, she decorated her room with an animal print banquette and a black faux-fur throw) and fine-tuned through years of hard work, first in the fashion industry. By cold-calling design showrooms in New York’s garment district, she picked up multiple fashion lines and opened her own Dallas showroom. Her success ultimately led to new ventures in antiques and interiors.
“After about seven years, I could buy a really nice piece of furniture once a year,” she says. “I was reading Architectural Digest, World of Interiors and every shelter magazine and design book I could get my hands on. I was just enthralled with design. The spectrum of collecting was appealing to me.”
She began what she calls “guerrilla hunting” for antiques to furnish her own living space. In New Orleans, she found a European ambience in step with her affinity for European antiques, renovated the first of two Victorian cottages and turned her collecting pastime into a wholesale business that immediately had legs via word of mouth. She sold her first container of antiques in front of a ministorage space in 10 minutes and quickly became a valued resource to well-known interior designers.
Along the way, she opened a warehouse on Camp Street, started her own line of European antique reproductions — Tara Shaw Maison — designed homes for a list of clients that includes celebrities, and inked a lucrative licensing deal with Restoration Hardware that allowed her to cut back on her travel schedule.
Last year, she published her first book, “Soul of the Home,” already in its fourth printing, and this spring, she opened a Magazine Street retail showroom, the alluring contents of which can be seen from the street. Three years in the making, the building, which was home to National Art & Hobby for decades, now has iron balcony rails and vitrine windows that evoke French architecture and a gleaming white interior for showcasing Shaw’s handpicked finds.
Teaching has become part of her métier, especially through the showroom. Like her home, which features prominently in her book, it demonstrates Shaw’s design vernacular — a European aesthetic with a hip, current vibe. Across the façade of the building, sleek linear sconces are strikingly contrasted with the now historic look of the building. On display in the front of the store, a painted 18th century Swedish dining table is paired with contemporary black Klismos chairs from Italy.
“I wanted to teach people how to collect in my own voice,” says Shaw, whose current projects include clients in both London and Paris. “Whether working with clients and helping them define what they’re drawn to or working with a designer or the public, I enjoy the process.”
But the real backbone of Shaw’s house and business is the love of the hunt. With a trip to Europe less than two weeks away, she is already anticipating finding the next piece that takes her breath away.
“The majority of the time,” she says, “it’s all about being in the field in the markets in Europe.”
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