By Vesta deYampert Fort, photographs by Cheryl Gerber
Walking into Tara Shaw's downtown digs, one would never know that she had just moved in 2 days before. Everything is in it's place, and the refrigerator is stocked with all the essentials, including a variety of olives, cornichons and mustards – essential for someone who spends half her time in Europe buying for her eponymous wholesale antique business.
If you are at all interested in antiques, you have surely heard her name, and if you are a dealer or decorator, you have more than likely been to one of her antique sales, which are a feeding frenzy of good taste. In a town of generations-old antique stores, Tara's wholesale concept is seemingly an overnight success. In a mere 10 years she has built a solid business that started in a storage unit, moved up to a cotton warehouse at the riverfront docks, and finally settled into a 10,000 square-foot "warehouse" (as she calls it). In addition to literally moving up, her sales have equally broadened in scope from a few select dealers, to reaching dealers in 30 states via the internet. Recently, she has even sold a few things back to dealers in Europe.
Tara comes by her trade naturally. Her parents have been importers of Italian jewelry, wholesale to the trade, and her family has been in the wholesale business forever. She jokes that her family motto is, "If you can't buy it wholesale, you can't buy it."
Her family home in Texas was extremely contemporary, decorated all in white. "We didn't even have any lint on the floor,' Tara adds. When Tara moved to New Orleans and was surrounded by antiques, she asked herself, "What am I doing here?" She recovered, then made it her business to learn about antiques and figure out what she liked.
Tara prefers clean, distilled lines, and pieces that are naturally comfortable and have a history. "I spent time looking at magazines like Veranda, British House and Gardens, and House Beautiful, streamlining my likes and dislikes. I decided I was a Louis XV, curvy person, and my contemporary roots come through in that I like things pretty streamlined," Tara says.
Her two-bedroom apartment located downtown is just a temporary landing pad between selling her five-bedroom uptown house and looking for another one. One potential seller asked Tara if she had a big family, and se was embarrassed to admit that she only has one whippet named Jack and a lot of furniture she loves.
Despite Tara having just moved in, the apartment feels as if she has lived there for years. A palette of cool beiges, peppered with touches of black and warm browns flows throughout the house, even into Tara's wardrobe. She is a master of composition, mixing styles and creating lovely vignettes as effortlessly as she rattles off the dates and history of any given piece.
"My house was furnished with the remnants of my sales. I rarely bring home things before the dealers have had a chance at them," Tara says.
Tara considers her business a service to the dealers and is very protective of and loyal to those who have supported her over the years. Tara shares her knowledge of the business and other "trade secrets" freely, hoping to help her customers when they have problems with the pieces.
"My whole schtick is wholesale, and I want my dealers to be happy with the product. We have great craftsmen in the city who can fix or repair just about anything," she says.
Tara goes to great lengths to get the goods, and she's not above climbing over fences or making great treks. Recently while at a Deballage (French antique fair usually far out in the countryside), Tara parked her car miles away and was trying to hitchhike back to it with no luck. She finally flagged down a guy on a motorcycle who took her at about 100 miles an hour through a pasture and delivered her safely to her car. She laughs in her infectious Texas manner and says, "I thought to myself, 'Now this is the way to leave a Deballage in style."