23 May 2009

Merci and Memorial Antiques & Interiors

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Blogs reacquaint people. I should know: when I once wrote about my brother-in-law’s ranch, I received a tentative email from someone wanting to know if I was related to her ex-husband. I was. After almost 30 years, my blog brought me back in touch with a former sister-in-law who is now a great friend. And even better – we discovered we are a lot alike – share many interests (besides the Webb boys) and would have made great sister-in-laws, though probably dangerous together around credit cards. Then there was this other long lost friend (another Webb boys fan!) who reconnected with me from reading Cote de Texas. I’m sure there are other anonymous readers out there who knew me in my former life. Which brings me to today’s subject. After I once showed a picture of my mother, the famous Betty-Rae, on the blog, I received an incredulous email from a reader when she recognized my mom - “I didn’t know that YOU were Cote de Texas!” she said. Yep, tis me, believe it or not. This latest reader to recognize me was actually my pledge leader in my high-school sorority (only in Texas) – but since she is three years older than me, we weren’t really close friends. Today though – those three years might as well be as meaningful as three days. Bonnie, my former pledge leader, excitedly told me she had been reading the blog for a while and had no clue that I was writing it until she recognized my mother’s picture. We started exchanging emails and discovered, of course, that we share a love of design and antiques – and made tentative plans to get together which never materialized. Until the other day, when Bonnie “kidnapped” me – an adult and more mature version of our high-school sorority high-jinks. I was told only what day to meet her, not where, and she said to be sure to bring my camera. We were to meet early enough to take care of business and still have time for lunch afterwards.

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I have said it before and people find it hard to believe, but the truth of the matter is I am an extremely shy person who spent the first ten years of my life hiding behind my mother’s skirts – literally and figuratively. It’s a type of personality flaw that I have worked very hard at overcoming and like to pretend that I have, to some extent. But spending three hours, making witty small talk with someone I never really knew all that well to begin with, is enough to send me running back behind those comforting skirts. As it turned out on my “kidnapping” day – like it always does – my shyness was never an issue. Bonnie is so outgoing, warm and gracious, that I need not have worried about keeping up my side of the conversation – she’s a natural at making people feel comfortable and she worked her magic on me. Naturally, I had a great time. So, where did she kidnap me to?

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The night before our date, I was told to meet her at Memorial Antiques and Interiors, a relatively new upscale antique mall – that is all the buzz with both dealers and customers. Bonnie knew, of course, that I had been there before, but what she wanted to personally show me was her own newly opened booth, Merci. Bonnie Likover and her partners, Tami Saragusa and Marci Alvis have jumped feet first into the antique business and Bonnie was anxious to show it off and I don’t blame her! Their booth certainly stands out: antique gates surround the front, replicating the feel of a small cottage instead of sterile mall space. Fortuny-styled curtains from Groves Brothers break up the shop into different rooms. Given the name Merci – the atmosphere is definitely French – even their logo is a Fleur de Lis. The standout of the booth is an antique bombe chest repurposed into a sink, complete with gorgeous Sherle Wagner hardware. The chest is surrounded by pink silk curtains and a needlepoint rug – anyone in the market for a ready made powder room, need look no further!

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The Merci trio has plans to periodically change the main vignette around – from the powder room to, perhaps, a boudoir. And what a great idea that is to distinguish themselves from their neighbors – evolving “rooms.” After we toured Merci, Bonnie walked me around the very busy and bustling MAI (absolutely no recession here!) and introduced to me to everyone there – you would have thought I was Arianna Huffington, or more accurate, Erma Bombeck, the way Bonnie was carrying on. But it was so much fun meeting people there, especially those who read the blog. More than once, I actually caught a shopper shoot me a glance when she recognized me. THAT was a very humbling experience, to say the least. But MAI is exactly the place that readers of Cote de Texas would be lurking about. Take me to Monster Trucks and Motorcycles, Inc. and I don’t think the reception would be quite the same.

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While Bonnie and I were walking around, I noticed that there are new dealers everywhere, but not new faces. These dealers are all well known to shoppers – they’ve just jumped shipped from their various previous locations and landed here, the hottest antique mall in Houston. Dodson and Culp – has a booth here now. The Two Lucy’s are here now too – and boy does their booth look fantastic! After the tour of MAI, Bonnie treated me to lunch next door – where our middle aged hormones got the best of us. I was so hot I was worried I was going to spontaneously combust right in the booth. We caught up on thirty plus years of gossip and made plans to meet up again soon. All in all – it was a great day, great fun, great antiques, and great company! Thank you so much Bonnie.

P.S. If you are reading Cote de Texas and you knew me from when I was just plain Joni Cohen, or Frizzball/and or Bozo, and not some hotsy-totsy blogger – please, please, please – don’t be shy (like moi!) and send me an email – I’d love to catch up with you, too!!!

Below are some images from the day. Enjoy!

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Welcome to Merci! Look how cute their sign is – made out of antique encaustic tiles from Europe.

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Merci is separated from its neighbors by wonderful antique iron gates.

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The booth is set up like a cozy cottage. The living area is first, then past the curtains, is the powder room. Next, there are plans to set up the back vignette like a boudoir. The curtains are Fortuny-inspired Groves Brothers – I love that fabric house!!

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The “powder room” at Merci is ready to take home for some lucky person. Silk pink curtains with green lining hangs over the bombe chest – complete with a gold sink and faucet – all from Sherle Wagner –veddy nice!!!! Even a matching needlepoint rug is available to complete the room.

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Sherle Wagner makes the most gorgeous hardware. Here, pink quartz was used for the lever handles. Just beautiful!

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Bonnie Likover - my newly reacquainted friend - is busy with paperwork at Merci. Isn’t she beautiful? Would you believe her eldest son is 30 years old? I can’t believe it either. After we toured Merci, Bonnie took me around MAI to meet other booth owners:

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This booth greets customers at the front door of MAI. It sets the tone for what is inside –a large mall filled with lots of French antiques, lots of white and bleached woods, a smattering of Swedish and Belgian design, and masses of great looking merchandise.

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If you’ve been at that other antique mall inside the loop in Houston, you may have noticed (who could miss it?) that Dodson and Culp have flown the coop. Thankfully, they’ve landed here at MAI. I almost had an anxiety attack the other day, when I saw that these two veteran antiquarians had shuttered their former location. But, all is well – they’re still in business and going strong with two booths at MAI.

And a note to that “other” antique mall inside the loop. Maybe, just maybe, if you didn’t have that stern sign at the door forbidding taking pictures of ANY kind, you might get more blogger attention. Why would an antique store that caters to designers refuse to let you take pictures? I don’t understand that at all. What if I saw a wonderful armoire and wanted to email a picture of it to a client? There’s a reason why MAI and Antiques & Interiors on Dunlavy (owned by the super friendly Mona Dees, with help by her even more friendlier son) get all the blogger attention. Never once have I been asked not to take pictures in either place. Thank you to both MAI AND Antiques & Interiors on Dunlavy!

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This booth always has great merchandise – I have my eye on that lantern. For some reason, I am obsessed with antique French lanterns these days. The sconces are favorites of mine too.

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This vignette has a Belgian feel. The mirrors are incredible. It really takes a good eye for display to pull all these disparate items together and create something so visually pleasing.

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This lamp was one of my favorite finds of the day. When sweet Paloma blogged about this lamp (here) – there were still two available. The color of the glass is incredible – it’s actually a sort of minty blue and the perfect gold Paris label isn’t too shabby either.

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This booth caught me eye – I’m a sucker for a white slipcover and seagrass.

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Combine Rose Tarlow, French rush seats, and Kenneth Turner candles – and you’ll get my attention. The Two Lucy’s are now selling their European wares at MAI – in a huge space that really shows off all their merchandise to perfection.

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More Lucys: I have never seen a French grape basket this large – it’s fabulous.

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Even more Lucys: The French armoire hiding on the left is beautiful and that long bench would be great at a dining room table.

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And even more Lucys: The largest collection of antique apothecary jars I’ve seen in one spot. I love to use these when I am accessorizing client’s shelves.

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And one last Lucys: Their furniture is really first rate as you can see here with a beautiful wine tasting table, casually paired with a French cabinet, and a wonderful day bed. That blue door would be great to use inside at a bar or a butler’s pantry.

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Le creme de le creme of MAI: Liz Spradling’s booths. Spradling’s array of merchandise certainly is large enough to open her own antique store, but she prefers to show out of MAI. Her antiques are superb - the finest quality. Mostly French, with some English, I’m a little prejudiced about Spradling - you can’t help but fall in love with each piece here. Notice the rare antique stair model placed on the chair’s seat. Bill Blass collected these models and I certainly can understand why. What I would give to have a few of these (well, I know what I would give, but I just don’t have it to give!) Even her wine bottles are special – I adore the golden labels with the Roman numerals written on them. Spradling’s eye is impeccable and it shows in every piece in her booth.

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Another staircase model. An notice how beautiful this table is, how graceful the legs and bonnet is.

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A wonderful collection of intaglios hang on the walls. Notice the graceful proportion of the back of the sofa – just beautiful. And, to the right – gorgeous library stairs are not to be missed.

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The screen hanging on the wall is as rare as it is beautiful. And yet another set of library stairs!! I only wish I had the library to go with these – I would buy these in a heartbeat (if I won the lotto, that is.)

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There’s something at every price point – wonderful white vases let you take home a piece of Spradling if you can’t afford the bigger items.

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And last – these antique French wing chairs with brown and white checks ala Ginger Barber really appeal to me. Notice too the beautiful table between the chairs – perfection! Spradling carries a large variety of iron sconces with European shades.

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One final goodie – something that Bonnie and I just went crazy for – Embellishments is a main presence at MAI, famous mostly for their pillows and other soft goods. But this piece is really special. They take your collection of treasured baby clothes and make a quilt out of them!!!! Isn’t this the most fabulous idea? I do have to confess, that thanks to her grandmothers Betty Rae and Mary, my Elisabeth was the best dressed baby, maybe ever to have lived. Seriously. She was one spoiled granddaughter. When I saw this I could have kicked myself for not saving her beautiful smocked and monogrammed dresses!!!!! You should have seen her first Hanukkah dress I had custom made for her – in black cotton velvet and ecru Alençon lace. If I happened to have given you that dress – would you please return it, anyone????? Where IS that dress????? ha-ha!!!

To visit Merci and all the other shops at Memorial Antiques and Interiors, please find all the vital information here.