Tara Shaw knows a thing or two about luxury European antiques and interior design. This New Orleanian has been a premier source for in-the-know designers and collectors from all across the country for over twenty years. Whether importing fine furniture from Italy, France, or Sweden, or designing signature collections for Restoration Hardware, or creating a bespoke line of custom furnishings handcrafted right here in New Orleans, she brings a wealth of knowledge and an unrivaled eye to the business of living with things you love. As she so eloquently explains, "Antiques show their age and history, blemishes and all. That kind of imperfection is a lovely thing to live with because it's so forgiving. It's just what I want to come home to." Known for sophisticated rooms layered with an inventive mix of styles and periods, her aesthetic is the epitome of casual elegance. From 18th century Italian Directoire-style dining chairs covered in fluffy, curly hide to hand carved Venetian mirrors hanging above modern marble tables to exquisite salvaged Louis IV paneling for a new master bathroom, she's all about standout pieces collected over time.
Now in her first book, Soul of the Home, Tara shares her years of experience as an antiques wholesaler and her passion for collecting, with stunning photography of one-of-a-kind finds and personal stories of her journey. Published by Abrams Books, the gorgeous book is filled with pictures of private homes and eye-candy detail shots of faded paint finishes, worn gilded wash, and weathered wood. It's a dreamy book to get lost in for hours on end. Many of the decorated rooms have never been seen elsewhere and I love how she explains all of her design decisions.
The book begins with a crash course on the basics of each important era — all the Louis periods right through to mid-century furnishings — and a brief but cohesive understanding of how to recognize Italian furniture from French and Swedish. It's helpful for beginners. She gives the reader the low-down on how she got started in the business and an unvarnished reveal of exactly what is involved to be an antiques importer at this level. There's lots of information about the markets and fairs throughout Europe, how to secure reputable shippers, and how to negotiate prices with vendors. Included are lists of her favorite auction houses, online venues, and shops here in the States. It's a wealth of information. For those more versed in the antique decorative arts, it's a treasure trove of sconces, architectural remnants, armoires, and garden furniture along with how Tara places pieces in modern settings. There's so much beauty in these pages.
What comes across the most in her book is her great respect for antiques and how they bring so much soul and old world character to any room in the house. There's authenticity to furnishings that have been loved over time and as she says, "Antiques bestow an incomparable sense of historysomething 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 feel like she could also be talking about New Orleans as a city, and maybe that's why I adore his book so much. My favorite passages are when she is describing things like "scattered losses" — when bits of gold leaf have fallen away or patina, when layers of washed painted finishes or weathered wood glows from within. Her message is clear: fill your environment with things you love and your interiors will tell timeless stories.
I'm so excited to visit Tara's eponymous new showroom on historic Magazine Street which will open later this month. It's a fabulous addition to a street renowned for antiques and a perfect place to present Maison, her collection of inspired reproductions. If you have a thing for chipping gilt, chalky paint, and crusty carved wood, this is the book for you. I'm checking off several hard to shop for people on my holiday list — history lovers, interior design lovers, Nola lovers, and those of you who love a stylish coffee table book — you just might find this under the tree.
This article appeared in the October 2020 Issue of Adore Magazine.