Tara Shaw is an author, designer and antiques expert who lives in New Orleans. She has an import business; a custom furniture line, Maison; and a licensed product line with Restoration Hardware.
In her first book, “Soul of the Home,” Shaw helps readers select the best antiques, gives a modern take on how to use them and reveals favorite treasure hunting spots.
Shaw joined Washington Post staff writer Jura Koncius for an online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.
Q: What types of objects are people collecting these days in terms of antiques? What periods seem to be in demand?
A: People are gravitating toward clean lines to complement contemporary furnishings. Louis XVI, Directoire and Empire are always go-tos in lighting and furniture. For example, my go-to dining chair is a Louis XVI straight- or shield-back chair. Swedish furniture is in demand because of its clean lines and soft, weathered finishes, which give a home a relaxed and sophisticated vibe.
Q: What tips do you have for those of us who love your look but may not be collecting expensive antiques?
A: Some of my favorite items for clients are not expensive. There are finds to be had on eBay, auctions that are not well-attended, and local flea markets and antique shops. It’s the joy of the hunt for me to find great value. But remember, when you find something that makes your heart go pitter-patter, pull the trigger.
Q: My mother has some antique china and glass decorative pieces that nobody is interested in. What are the best ways to sell antiques, and how can I find a reputable dealer?
A: I would call my local auction house to see if it has any interest. If not, you can send photos to other auction houses that specialize in china and decorative pieces. Regarding being reputable, I would look for comments online from others who have used a dealer’s services.
Q: What’s your best advice to bargain for a better price? When is it OK to bargain, and when is it inappropriate?
A: When I’m in the markets, I will always ask for their best price. If it’s more than I want to spend, I will tell them what my budget is. It’s really a conversation between two people, and I think it’s expected in the antique industry. I always want to be kind and polite and respect their boundaries.
Q: Why do you often use neutral upholstery?
A: Using neutral colors allows the “heroes” in your room to stand out. I like items that don’t compete but complement one another instead. You can always include pillows and accessories in colors for accents. That way, you can easily change them out for a whole new look.
Q: We’re getting ready to move into a new house and plan to paint several bedrooms before we put the furniture in. We want the master bedroom in shades of gray, and we’re looking for not-too-dark but rather pure blues and yellows for the kids. A nice white that would work with all of those for trim would be ideal. Any hints or pitfalls we should watch for?
A: I would go to my local paint store and talk with a paint specialist. I have my go-to person in New Orleans when I’m searching for the perfect gray. I explain the tones I’m looking for, and that person will have those samples delivered to the job site. People in the paint industry know the nuances of all the colors they carry. For whites, I’ve been using White Dove from Benjamin Moore as a great bridge to many colors for trim. It has a hint of gray and could work perfectly as your trim color.
Q: The popular all-gray or all-white kitchens leave me cold. What tips do you have for warming up this space?
A: Because there is so much use of marble for countertops in the kitchen, I would probably start there. Fall in love with slabs that you would like to see daily for a long time. I would pull a warm color from the veining in the slab and build my kitchen around those tones. For cabinets, there are beautiful white-oak veneers and wood veneers that will also add warmth. The accents of antique cutting boards or confit pots up the ante for depth in the kitchen.
Q: Our living room is past due for repainting. Most of the furniture is a navy tone. I’m in search of a creamy white that would work in a north-facing room. Other color suggestions are welcome.
A: Benjamin Moore’s China White and Linen White are my favorite warm whites.
Q: Pieces from the 1940s to 1960s are very much in demand. Do you consider midcentury modern pieces such as these the antiques of tomorrow? Which designers’ pieces do you think will appreciate in value?
A: I purchase pieces from these periods, especially if they’re from a well-known designer such as Eames, Le Corbusier and Arne Norell. I always try to stay with blue-chip names, even though they are not always expensive, for resale value.
Q: Is it a mistake to paint dark brown kitchen cabinets white? They are almost the exact shade of brown as the hardwood floors, and it’s just so much brown. I want to brighten it up and create some contrast, but is painting durable? We have kids, so whatever I do needs to hold up. I’m also not up for the task of painting myself. I’m hoping it won’t cost too much, but it’s a big kitchen with an island with cabinets that also have to be painted.
A: A sea of brown is easily lightened by painting all of your cabinetry, including the island. I would go to your local paint store and get recommendations for painters who could do the job. The store will know about pricing and reputations. I just painted my kitchen cabinets with Benjamin Moore’s Linen White, cut by 25%, meaning it is 75% strength of Linen White. I just did several kitchens in Benjamin Moore’s White Dove, and both of these whites are easy to work with. Talk to your paint representative and let that person suggest four test colors for you to try, because paint looks different depending on lighting. I’ve painted everything that doesn’t move for more than two decades. If you prep the surface well and use a quality paint, it’s durable.
Q: We may be buying a house that has a family room and a formal living room in the front of the house. The formal living room is open-concept; it opens up off the side of the foyer and leads into a dining room that doesn’t have walls separating it from the foyer. We don’t need both family rooms, so I’m trying to think of a creative use for the room that isn’t another sitting area. It’s too open to be an office or study, and we also don’t want it to be a play area for the kids, because it’s so visible and we don’t want it to get messy. We also don’t have the budget to build a wall. Any ideas?
A: I have a large living area, and I anchored it minimally with a baby grand piano, a large piece of art, a foyer table and a pair of chairs. I am still on Page 16 of Alfred Dunner’s book for learning the piano, but I love looking at that piano daily, and I know, growing up with pianos in the house, you will one day learn to play it. This is just an idea to keep the room functional and fun without overcrowding it.
Q: My mother collected old wicker and wood furniture from the 1940s and 1950s. I have several pieces, but I don’t have room in my home for them. Because they are “real” wicker, they can’t really be outside in my northern Michigan climate. Is there a way to restore them, so they can be used outside? If not, how would you suggest I find them a new home?
A: I’m concerned about putting these valuable pieces outside unless it’s in a covered area. You could advertise them on eBay or call local auction houses to get a feel for their value.
Q: I can finally afford to invest in covering my two sliding glass doors and their windows in my traditional living room. They have vertical blinds covered by sheers, which I kept because they are the best at controlling light, but the blinds need to go. What would you put in their place?
A: I think fabric will always soften a room. I know you said you need light control, so consider a lined drapery. You could put blackout fabric behind the drapery, or you can go with a nice, thick lining. If you’ve had blinds for quite a while, I believe the soft drapery will be a great change.
Q: How has the pandemic affected your business, specifically with traveling and acquiring antiques abroad?
A: I’ve talked to many antique dealers, and their business continued throughout the pandemic. People are nesting, and because they are spending more time at home, they are working on projects more than ever. The United States has a wealth of antiquities available through auctions and online. I personally do not buy just from photos, because I’m very hands-on. I cannot wait to return to Europe.