Flower: Your fascination with interior design goes back to your childhood, yet you chose a career in the apparel industry.
Tara Shaw: My family was in the apparel industry, so it was in my blood. During college, fashion became my passion, and after graduation I took jobs at showrooms in New York and Dallas. I was spending all of my money on clothes and shoes, but after seven years I was anxious to start feathering my nest and filling my home—not just my closet. I loved antiques, so I budgeted for one special piece a year since that was all I could afford at the time. I didn’t want to buy off the cuff, so I studied every shelter magazine, design book, and auction catalog I could get my hands on to make sure I was buying wisely.
“Always feather your nest with things that are meaningful to you. You should be able to ‘read’ a great house just like a biography.” — Tara Shaw
So you went from buying yourself one prized piece per year to importing several containers at a time from Europe to sell wholesale. That’s quite a leap!
It was! Paying retail limited what I could spend and how much I could buy, so I decided to go straight to the source. It was a notion that excited me and terrified me at the same time. I wasn’t fluent in French, but there I was heading to France with all my money except for a single house note to buy things I wasn’t even sure would sell!
You sure took a gamble.
Aside from my grandmother’s and mother’s sense of style, I inherited their fearlessness, so I took a chance and followed my heart.
How did that first shipment go?
I had filled a 20-foot container and set up shop in a 10-by-30-foot storage unit near the Port of New Orleans. While I awaited its arrival, I reached out to dealers, shop owners, and interior designers to tell them about the wares that were on their way. The morning of the sale, I remember thinking, “What have I done? What if no one shows up?” But at 7 a.m., I lifted the garage door and there was a stampede. I sold out in 30 minutes.
“When you find that special something, pull the trigger! I’m still lamenting the loss of an Italian chandelier I walked away from years ago.” — Tara Shaw
Let’s talk about your eye for interiors. How did you formulate your style?
Again, I just followed my heart by surrounding myself with pieces that spoke to me regardless of their period, provenance, or style. In the late 1990s, I remember seeing a magazine spread featuring Farrah Fawcett’s home and admiring the way she hung a giant Cy Twombly painting above an antique chest-on-stand. I love that mix.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
Clean but collected. I lean toward minimalism because of my love for straight lines, whether they’re on a Louis XVI chair or a Christian Liaigre sofa.
You do love a Louis XVI chair! You often refer to it as the “little black dress” of interior design.
I’m a big fan of all the Louises, but Louis XVI is the most versatile—it pairs easily with contemporary or antiquity.
If you consider a Louis XVI chair to be the LBD, what would be the crisp, white cotton shirt?
Anything Swedish. Just like a classic white shirt, each piece is inherently casual but can dress up nicely with bold accessories and statement jewelry. Picture an 18th-century banquette in iridescent mohair.
Let’s talk about your home in New Orleans. Even though you did not design and build the home for yourself, it still looks very “you.”
I watched this home go up during my daily walks, and I remember praying that one day I could have one much like it. It was designed by local architect and Francophile Charlie Boggs, who is said to have modeled it after a home he visited in France. It was all that I wanted, but I fell hardest for its Haussmannian façade and large lot.
You’ve said that a great house should read like a biography, so if there’s one thing inside the house that could tell your story, what would it be, and why?
A 19th-century Genoese painting of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. I bought it early on from a dealer in Italy who has since become a very dear friend. He let me purchase it over three payments but still allowed me to take it home before it was paid for in full. To me, it symbolizes spirituality, trust, and friendship.
You hand-select and import European antiques. Your reproduction furniture line, Tara Shaw Maison, is 46 pieces strong and growing, and you have a licensing agreement with RH. You have design clients around the globe and now a book, Soul of the Home: Designing with Antiques (Abrams, 2020). It’s gorgeous and so informative—like a crash course on Continental antiques. What do you hope readers take away from it?
I am so humbled by the photography and the professional rock stars who helped make this book happen. Hopefully it will inspire readers to open their minds and hearts to an antique that they will love and live with forever.
“Bedrooms are a retreat from the rest of the house—and the world—and there’s something incomparably comforting about canopy beds. Instant safe haven.” — Tara Shaw
Your many ventures and adventures leave me jet-lagged, but I have a feeling you’re still flying high. What can we expect next?
I have a new showroom opening in New Orleans and a new project starting in Versailles, France, that I hope will open the door to more international design. I’ve got new licensing opportunities in the pipeline, and I’m working on a second book, The Coat Your Father Gave You. It will trace my spiritual journey and reflect on the lessons God has taught me along the way. Last, but certainly not least, I am house hunting in the South of France with my wonderful husband, Robert Walsh, who loves antique fairs and libraries as much as I do.
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The wedding-cake façade of the 19th-century house featured in this story.
The swirling mullions on the door and transom glass recall the wave motif of the exterior siding.
Art by Hunt Slonem
A 17th-century East Asian vase holds tulips.
Gilding, carving, and motifs such as acanthus leaves create a statement-making atmosphere.
By Margaret Zainey Roux | Photography by Peter Vitale | All images from Soul of the Home: Designing with Antiques by Tara Shaw (Abrams, 2020)