Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Tara Shaw Redecorates

I needed to take a break from book reviews to finish up some reading, so here's a little deviation for you and for me! I'm sure that many of you are familiar with the Houston-based antiques dealer, Tara Shaw. Her ad's appear in nearly every major shelter mag, and she's been listed in the sources section uncountable times. Veranda did a cover feature on the dream house she purchased after stalking it for years back in September-October 2015, and photos from the feature made their way onto nearly every design blog, flooding pinterest.

I loved the entire house, but I was particularly taken with the sitting room that adjoins the master bedroom. 

Those amazing Italian Savonarola chairs were HUGELY inspiring for me, so much so that I searched and searched until I found a pair that I could use in my "new" living room. It was almost divine intervention. Here's the story: 

You see, I have a friend in Cleveland (a little more than 3-hours away) who I visited for the opening night of a theatrical performance he was in. The following day, on the way home, I stopped at an antique shop in a very random Ohio town, one I never would have found without google assistance. I went in looking for pieces for the new space, and I struck up a conversation with a vendor there. She and I spent half an hour or more talking about how fun it was to redecorate, when I started to describe the chairs I was in love with, but needed to find in my budget. She immediately lit up, and said: "Oh my, darlin', I know exactly what you're looking for! I have a pair!"

I was suspicious. She just happened to have a pair of Italian Savonarola chairs sitting around? How much did she want for them? Did she REALLY know what I was talking about. I didn't see anything like that in her booth. I pulled out my phone and googled Tara's bedroom. "These chairs?" I asked. "Yessir, they look a lot like that. A little different, not as ornate, but they're very close. You wanna see them?"

Did I want to see them!? OF COURSE! But I couldn't very well say, DUH to someone who had been so nice. She said "I've got them at my house, which is only about 2 miles from here, headed back your way, actually. Why don't you follow me there, and you can take a look at them."

Now, I've watched every episode of Criminal Minds. I have several friends who absolutely believe that I will die one day blindly trusting a stranger who tells me they have antiques inside for sale. I can't help it!  Obviously, she didn't murder me. In fact, she led me back to a pair of lovely Savonarola chairs that had been custom made by a metal artist for her late sister. Having been stored outside, and being made of iron, they had some issues. I thought, surely she's going to want a lot more than I have to spend on these, and then I'm going to have to fix them. I said, "you're right! The frame is great." She replied: "They need some work, but I bet you can figure out how to do that, can't ya?"

At this point, I wasn't sure if I should say yes or no. I've never been good at haggling. Do you say yes, and then look like you are a DIY-expert and should pay full price, or do you say no and play off the money you're going to have to pay to have an expert do it as part of your offer? I ignored the question and instead answered, "well how much were you looking to get for them?"

"Oh handsome, you can have them!" WHAT!? Have, like free, like I can take these and you're not going to call the cops and tell them someone with New York license plates stole your Savonarola chairs!? (Sidenote: Wouldn't that be a hilarious 9-1-1 call? "Ma'am, your what chairs?) I said, "Oh, no, I can't just take them, please let me give you something for them." And here's where you need to grab the tissues:

She smiled, put her hand on my forearm, and said: "Honey, my sister loved to decorate. She loved it so much, I think it's the only thing that kept her going for so long. Since she passed, I haven't been able to talk about decorating with anyone, until you came along. Baby, she would have wanted you to have these, and so do I." Oh I was a ball of lumpy Artie at that point. I said: "I will love them and cherish them, and I thank you for trusting me to give them a good home."

We were both in tears at that point, and I sat with her for another hour and a half, talking about design, looking at her lovely home, and discussing my apartment plans, including what I had intended for the chairs. I loaded them up, and headed back to New York, the proud owner of both a beautiful pair of storied Savonarola chairs, and a new friend.

It took quite a bit of elbow grease to get them finished, but I couldn't adore them more. Make sure to keep your eyes peeled for more about them and the rest living room, soon. Anyway, back to the whole point of this blog post: Tara's changes. I often look back at the pictures of Tara's bedroom for inspiration. Last night, I found that things had changed. Here's the sitting room as featured in Veranda:

And here it is now:

What happened to the Italian Savonarola chairs!? I was beside myself when I saw that they were gone. Had she sold them? Had they been moved? Where did these chairs come from, and why switch out the Savonarola chairs? I had to dig for answers! Thankfully, they came pretty easily. Most everything had just been moved from room to room. When Veranda did their feature on the dining room of Tara's house, it looked like this:

Now, it looks like this:

Ah! The Savonarola's weren't sold, they were just moved to the dining room, which consequently looks entirely different than it did for the Veranda shoot. Where did that stuff go? The iron urn that was behind the daybed in the bedroom sitting area is now in the foyer, replacing a fern from the Veranda shoot: 

The lovely leather seated Gustavian chairs from the dining room went into the breakfast room, which looked like this in Veranda:

but now looks like this:

The living room that launched a thousand ships looked like this in Veranda:

and there haven't been too many changes, actually:

Tables have been moved, what was the coffee table is now a side table, which the doesn't leave room for the console that was one on that side of the fireplace. The trunk on the right of the fireplace was replaced with a different console table, and the French fauteuils are gone. The one thing that jumps out at me is the switch in art above the fireplace. Tara switched out the architectural fragment for this black and white photo.

Tara's library and office was featured in Veranda above, but some significant changes in the furniture below:

New table, chairs, and lamps. The modern Barcelona chair and ottoman is gone, and a silver cowhide covers the silk area carpet. The Gustavian guest chair was once in the guest room. The guest room when featured in Veranda, below:

and now:

The Beidermeier Daybed was replaced with this painted one, and the Gustavian chair now in the office/library was repalced with the french chest on the far right. I love the little spindle leg piano stool at the bed!

I love when designers switch up their houses, particularly like this. Most all of the foundation elements of Tara's rooms stayed completely in tact, showing how easily things can move from room to room when you have the foundation well planned, and you live with what you love.


  1. One silly question. I'm obsessing over the new arrangement of office library. The two (what I think are) lamps with shades...candles? light bulbs on batteries? Where are the chords??

  2. Your chair story made me cry, too. What an amazing story and what a lovely woman! I can hardly wait to see the final result.

  3. What a beautiful story. It's so rare to hear of people being generous with perfect strangers. It truly is a heart warming gesture that she gifted you with the chairs. From what we can see so far they look gorgeous.

  4. Love the story. You touched her soul and kindness was valued. so rare today. and I absolutely love the photos. I have read your blog awhile and am very curious to see your new space. Ironically I grew up outside Rochester (SNOW), earned a BFA in interior design but ultimately became a health care specialist. But design is my passion. My home is in constant change and that brings me joy but confuses my friends. So I love to see that there are many of us that love beautiful things and also are able to visualizes these things having multiple lives. Both in our own homes as we change d├ęcor, and also in new homes bringing joy to others as in your story of your beautiful chairs.

  5. Artie...Two things-
    1. I had a similar experience only with a pair of BB slipper chairs! I must have CHANNELED them!
    2. You ought to be in Veranda, or writing a column for that publication. I dare you to call them right now and ask for an interview or whatever! Lisa no longer owns it but you can contact her via my pals Hal and Winton at Ainsworth-Noah, ADAC, Atlanta Decorative Arts Center! Do it! Do it now!

  6. Such a great story. These you keep for ever as they have history and will always hold a special memory of rare human kindness and generosity. Loved seeing the Tara Shaw changes, the Veranda article was spectacular, spectacular.

  7. Artie, I just LOVE this wonderful story & those beautiful chairs!. I'm not a blogger nor an interior designer, but I am passionate about creating beautiful spaces in my home.
    It is always a joy to visit your blog; you're SO talented. I can't wait to see the full reveal.

  8. Wonderful story. One can meet the nicest people antiquing around!! When I go to an antique market, I spend half my time talking to vendors. We have a shared passion!! Those chairs were waiting for you to come along. I have a pair of those chairs in my foyer. When I bought them, they were labeled as Italian Campaign Chairs. OK, whatever, I love them too. Tara must fall in love with pieces and find a way to work them into her home. You know how it goes, you move/add one piece and the domino effect begins ....

  9. Hi Artie, With a huge wide smile, I felt such joy for you, meeting a new friend and having her gift you with items that clearly will hold a special place in the stories your home will tell, That, to me, is what design is all about. I can't wait to see the living room reveal.

  10. Love, love, love that story Artie! That's why I love antiques- they come with a story and a memory....
    I'm sure you've shown the kind woman how they look now, an I'm sure she, and her sister:), was thrilled.

  11. I think the two chairs couldn't have found a better home ! They look so chic .
    When is your new living room revealed ?

  12. Enjoyed reading, looking, and comparing. I adore that she can move pieces from room to room, and they not only work, they change the entire feel of the space. Maybe the Veranda people styled for their photos? I must admit, I prefer the current arrangement in every space; more interesting, textured, collected, and mixed feel. The current dining room, made me sigh. I remember those side chairs from years ago, when I first became acquainted with Tara Shaw, they were dressed in pale gold back then. Thank you for posting! Lovely story to begin my day -

  13. Great story. I love when that happens. It probably thrilled her to give them to you - a remembrance of her sister. I found you through Peeking Through The Sunflowers. Putting you on my blog roll.

  14. Wonderful story Artie! Love your work and your blog is one of the best!

  15. You're too cute for words.

    I read your latest blog entry-you are a riot and exactly the type of friend we all need-perfectly imperfect and crazy talented.

    Best with the move...and so glad that the Savonarolas have a prominent place.

  16. All of these dining spaces are very attractive and decorative .