Ballard Designs Presents James Swan



Something is happening at Ballard Designs.  Something really good.  Just when you thought that everyone’s favorite home decor catalogue couldn’t get any better, it has.  




The evolution of Ballard Designs’ bird cage – from the flea markets of France to the catalogue.


It all started with a contest – in 1982, Metropolitan Home Magazine awarded Helen Ballard Weeks’ condominium First Place in a reader’s competition, and then promptly featured it in the magazine.   Weeks, who was inundated with phone calls praising her interior design, decided to take advantage of all the interest by launching a two page, black and white catalogue which featured a copy of her antique French dining table.  Obviously it was a instant hit and the start of a business that is today one of the largest and most successful of all the home decor catalogues.



The former office of Helen Ballard Weeks, founder of Ballard Designs – the large bulletin board, framed in gold, is a classic Ballard item.  The  lamp with a gold shade made out of a mannequin was once a popular item – today it is no longer sold.   Weeks loved French antiques and used them as her inspiration for her merchandise. 


Another detail, besides the antique reproductions that set Ballard Designs apart were the eye popping colors on its pages:   Weeks favored black and white with chartreuse accents and lots of leopard thrown in.   One of her most popular fabrics-by-the-yard was a velvet in chartreuse, a highly unusual color choice at the time.   Over the years, the company grew and in 1997 Ballard Designs merged with Cornerstone, a conglomerate that also owned the catalogues Frontgate, Garnet Hill, Smith and Noble, The Territory Ahead and Travel Smith.   After the merger, fans of Weeks were distraught, I know – I was one of them!   Selling out would mean a change at Ballard and many felt it wouldn’t be a good one.  Yes, things did change, but Weeks’ initial vision, her love of antiques and her color schemes can still be found  in the catalogue today.  In truth, the company only got better with the infusion of big business.  Weeks remained at the helm of Cornerstone until she retired in 2002.  Today, Barry Diller, head  of IAC and the Home Shopping Network owns Ballard Design.    Now, with two stores open in Florida, Ballard Designs has gone the retail route.  It publishes a new catalogue monthly and distributes 40 million copies yearly.  Quite a feat for a catalogue that started as two pages in black and white.



Ballard in a nutshell:  white slipcovers, seagrass, and zebra!



The catalogue in on-line and that’s where all the fun is.  The web site has gone blog!   There’s a lot more to see online than in print – customers send in photos of their homes showcasing what they bought, there are stories about how antiques are turned into products, and there are endless columns with decorating advice.   Recently Ballard Designs even teamed up in Domino Magazine!    There’s a special section online called Style Studio where this month, the talented Beverly Hills interior designer James Swan is featured.   Swan created four rooms using only Ballard products.   Swan shows how the price-friendly Ballard Designs merchandise confirms that good taste knows no cost.   His rooms are high end, yet VERY affordable to most of us.   Thank you!    Swan was chosen by Ballard Design for his clean and effortlessly elegant designs.    In the layouts, Swan chose to use both new products and the best sellers that Ballard’s customers have come to love over the years.     There is a “behind-the-scenes” story of how the rooms were created, so be sure to look at that too.    Swan has a book coming out, “101 Things I Hate About Your House” – a humorous  look at interior design – I can’t wait to read it!    So – enjoy Swan’s rooms for Ballard Designs below:




The first room Swan designed is this living room – the framed print is the focal point here.  It is based on an original Regency piece by Napoleon’s court painter Jacques Louis David.   The print is a new item for Ballard, as is the wonderful large sunburst mirror.  Two French chairs, painted black, and a velvet sofa were used with dark wood furniture.   The coffee table is actually four leather cubes put together to form a more substantial size.  The ottomans separate for more seating when needed.  Checked curtains add French charm.    Everything pops off the light colored jute rug – a perfect choice by Swan.   the lamps on the wood console are mercury glass, made to resemble glass apothecary jars.  My favorites in the room are the large Regency print and the sunburst mirror – beautiful!




The dining room designed by Swan uses two of my favorite new items from Ballard:  the focal point – a trio of oversized botanicals that are SOOO fabulous!   I think this series is stunning!   The next item – the slipcovered chairs which are also a new design.  The chair, the Gramercy, can be ordered upholstered or slipped – either way it has wonderful lines and is a very sophisticated addition to their furniture line.    Swan paired the chairs with the classic Berkley trestle table, topped with three topiaries and a set of Ballard dishes.  The two light fixtures, The Marianna Chandelier, is a charming new item for Ballard.   The brown and celadon rug perfectly picks up the colors in the chair fabric.  And lastly – the painted wood mirror, the Winslow, is another new item in the latest catalogue.   I would love to order the botanicals and the set of chairs!!!!





In the home office, Swan chose the new Celia Indoor/Outdoor rug as the focal point.  He used a combination of hutches and cabinets in black to create the work space.   The desk return becomes a perfect surface for two people to use at the same time.  Swan again chose to use the new Gramercy chairs, again with slips  - this time in a black and white damask pattern, Marlo, new to Ballard Designs.    Ballard’s popular bulletin boards come framed in small to extra large sizes.   The baskets add a welcome texture as does the lampshade.  Swan used an assortment of decorative items from the catalogue, including the new and charming iron Ferris wheel.   The curtains, another new item,  with the black trim add a soft touch to the graphic and high contrast office. 



The bedroom features the new rattan Grovesnor headboard along with an assortment of fabrics and bedding.  The curtains and pillows are made of a venetian style fabric and the bench is in the classic “Helen Ballard Weeks” chartreuse green.   The end tables are a new design – the Dunstan – with an “X” detail.   The new series of wood coral prints serve as a focal point.  Their background of deep chocolate picks up the browns in the striped fabric, another  new item in the fabric-by-the-yard collection. The series of mirrored butterflies are new to the spring catalogue too.  I couldn’t find the lamps online, but I assume they will be there shortly. 



 The designer, James Swan sits in the living room he created for Ballard Designs.  Job very well done!!


For more information on Mr. Swan, be sure to visit his web site here.  And, to keep up with all his adventures in design – visit his blog, here.

Changes: Anniversary Presents Now and Then:


image You know when you buy something and it’s just not “right” from the beginning.  Well………when I bought my sofa and chairs a few years ago, the day they were delivered, I took one look at the slipcovers and had to stop myself from crying.  I could see immediately that my new, fresh, white linen slipcovers had NOT been washed prior to being made!  Needless to say, I was devastated.  And shocked.  And beyond angry.  You see, the person who made them knew better.  I mean, how many slipcovers had she  made before mine?  Hundreds?  Thousands?    And what really added fuel to the fire was that waiting in my garage were 40 yards of freshly washed white linen that I had bought just for the job.   I didn’t use that fabric because  the slipcover person had already gone and ordered the fabric herself, so I kept my washed linen for a future client.  Thinking over my options - I didn’t know whether I should send all the furniture back the next day, or try to wash the slips myself and see how much they shrank.  After much discussion, getting nowhere fast,  I just decided to forget it for a while and deal with it, like Scarlett, on another day.  When the time came to wash the slips for the first time  (because with white linen – that time DOES come!)   I used  cold water, and dried them in a barely warm dryer and put them back on damp, while trying to stretch the fabric.   Of course they shrank,  but they did still fit – barely:   the cushions were so tight that the bottom one wouldn’t lay flat.  I always knew it would have to all be redone down the road so eventually I called Shabby Slips to come to my rescue.  



Here you can plainly see on the chair – how short the slips had gotten.  The slip is barely covering the upholstered muslin.   The long bottom cushion on the sofa was so tight it wouldn’t lay flat.   You can see how it is sticking up on the right side of the sofa.   Also – here you can see the original button detailing on the back of the chair.


Luck finally came my way when Shabby Slips sent their seamstress to my house to fit my new slips.  I didn’t even have to send my furniture to them!  Heaven!  They cut the fabric on the furniture right  at my house.   And since I already had the washed linen in my garage, I saved a fortune.  A week later they delivered my nice new slips which fit like a glove and had rows of charming ties instead of buttons.  Thank you Shabby Slips – nothing beats dealing with the best!    I tell you all this because I want you to learn from my mistakes.   RULE:  never make slipcovers without washing the denim or linen first!  The only exception to this is if the material is a blend and won’t shrink OR if you plan to dry clean your slipcovers instead of washing them.   My situation was neither, and here I was stuck in a position that I would never allow to happen to a client.  I could have gone to small claims court over it, but in the end, it just wasn’t worth it.   In truth, I knew that slipcovers don’t last forever and I would eventually have to get a new set anyway – I just sped up the process, unfortunately.  Problem solved.




New slipcover detailing on the chair:  the buttons were replaced with charming ties on both sides. Notice how nice and long the slipcover is now.  Before - the slip barely covered the upholstery.


There’s been another change in my family room, and a rather contentious one at that:  the coffee table.    Ben and I had bought our coffee table when we moved into our house about 15 years ago.  It was once an Irish dining table that had been cut down to coffee table height and it was a dream come true for us.  We bought it from Colin Gibbins in Montrose who specialized in these tables.  Once the table was cut down, he would add a shelf on the bottom for magazines.   He then stained our honey colored table a rich, dark brown.      They weren’t overly expensive tables,  but at the time, the only way we could afford it was with the yearly check we got from my generous and sweet parents for our anniversary.  Each year, Ben and I would eagerly wait for that check because as newlyweds, it was the only extra cash we had to spend on furnishings!   After many years of happiness with the table, maybe 14 years, I had begun to think I wanted to upscale a bit.  The table is very rustic, very wormy, and I wanted something taller and more refined to go with my new, higher sofa and chairs.   So, one thrilling day I brought home this table from The Fabulous Flea:



The Fabulous Flea French Writing Desk, aka coffee table. 


I thought it was the prettiest table I had ever seen!  The top has a black leather inset and there’s a little drawer.  Doesn’t it look beautiful in front of that sofa at The Fab Flea?    It looked great in front of my sofa too.  Except there was one problem.   Ben.  He took one look at it and claimed he couldn’t see the TV over it.  Without even trying it out!!   Now all my clients know my lecture about husbands and decorating.    During discussions about furniture and design, I preach:  you are to look your husband in the eye and say, “and where was it that you got your degree in Interior Design?”   Ben usually falls for this tactic, but this day, over this table, he wasn’t falling for it.   In fact, he told me that either the table goes, or he goes.   So, I thought about that for a while.   It was a tough choice.   When I couldn’t decide, we compromised, and he said he would stay if the table went to another room.  This way, he said, he would save me the humiliation of having to tell The Fab Flea “my husband wouldn’t let me have it.”   The table went here:


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The desk moved in front of my day bed in my living room.


The desk worked out perfectly in my living room,  but it still left me with the worm eaten, cut down Irish dining room table in my family room.   Until last Saturday, that is, when Stefan Hurry and I dropped in on Cindy at Neal & Co. and I saw the prettiest French dough table.   Cindy was sweet enough to measure it for me and I went home to see if it was too tall for Mr. TV Man to see over.    Truthfully, it was a little taller than I told him.  He was skeptical enough at the fake measurement to begin with – if he knew how tall it really was, the dough table was never going to make it home with me.   RULE:  sometimes white lies are necessary to get around non-design savvy husbands.    But,  I knew he would be able to see the TV over it, because it was a few inches shorter than the Fab Flea table which never was too tall anyway.   Hyperventilating back to Neal & Co., because I tend to hyperventilate whenever I buy a French antique  (I don’t hyperventilate for much, certainly not clothes nor cars) I brought the dough table home.   The timing was incredible too – replacing one anniversary coffee table for another anniversary coffee table, 15 years apart.    Here it is:


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I’m in love.


It’s actually called a Petrin.  The top slides off and there is a compartment inside the table where you would place the dough to rise after kneading it, or before?   It’s a rich, dark wood – chestnut, actually – and it weighs a ton!    It’s dressier, but not fancy, just a step up to match the scale and mood of the larger sofa and chairs.     Also – notice the new slips, how much better they fit.  Plenty of room to shrink a little too!!   It’s hard to see in this picture, but even the back cushions are taller and the bottom cushion lies flat now that the slip fits properly.   I even made a new little skirt for my Target ottoman.



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And from the front.  I’m still in love.


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From the side, you can see where the apron drops down to cover the hidden dough receptacle. 


So, did Mr. TV Man approve?   Well, sort of.   I had to endure a little talk from him about not putting anything tall on the table in front of where he sleeps while pretending to watch TV.    OK.  I can do that.  See how empty the table top is on the left side?   And there was a little whining that he couldn’t put his feet up on the coffee table anymore.   So, I moved a small footstool for him to use for that.   He said it still wasn’t as comfortable as before.   But a few days later, I caught him on the phone happily describing it to his mother.    So, that means he’s OK with it. 


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I mean, really.    Does he look uncomfortable to you?  And check out his “sock shoes.”   Mr. Sexy.   OMG.  Do you feel sorry for me?    Who actually wears “sock shoes” in the 21st century?????    Next he’ll be ordering a Snuggly on TV, just you watch.



Yep.    Just wait, he’ll order one for sure.


And on a more serious and personal note - To the sweetest man in the world, the most generous, kindest, and most loving person I have ever known, my best friend and my “cell mate:”    Happy Anniversary!!!     Twenty-one years of happiness.   Thanks for putting up with me, I don’t deserve you – we both know that!    I love you!!! 

Houston Shopping: The Bissonnet/Kirby Corridor Antique District

Every few weeks or so, I get an email from someone coming to Houston and wanting to know where to go shopping for antiques and decor.  So, I’ve been thinking for a while about putting together a short series on the best shopping areas to go see the most in one afternoon.    As luck would have it, I recently had a few visitors to test out my itineraries.      Of course, this series won’t cover every shop in Houston – there are too many to name, and how boring would that be anyway?  But, there are several distinct areas where numerous antique and decor stores are clustered, thus making it worth your while to venture out for a few hours.    My visitor is Stefan Hurray, a young architect from Pennsylvania now working in Washington D.C.  Stefan is the voice behind the very interesting and always intellectually stimulating blog - Architect Design - concentrating on, what else, but architecture!    It is so much fun to meet another design blogger in real life after building a friendship through countless emails, and without fail, it feels like you’ve known that person forever.   It must be due to the kindred spirit found between design bloggers and the readers too.   Last Saturday, after a few missteps, Stefan and I met up for lunch at Raven Grill on Bissonnet – a perfect place to start off on a shopping adventure in the Museum District.   Finishing lunch with a drive through at a convenient Starbucks, we are ready to test out the newly named:  Cote de Texas Bissonnet/Kirby Corridor Shopping District.  First Stop:   AREA.


AREA:   5600 Kirby

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The front lobby:   old and new, trendy and classic – the perfect recipe for a successful interiors store.


AREA is a large store, owned by interior design extra0rdinaire, Don Connelly, and run by the man in charge - Daniel.   Daniel’s been with AREA from day one starting at the original location on Shepherd.   AREA is a wonderful mix of antique and modern design, with a heavy dose of trendy.   It’s a great store to pick up accessories and lamps, candles, and vases.  There are always interesting sets of dining chairs and tables,  along with antique consoles and chests.  Be sure to look up at the ceiling  - their selection of lighting fixtures is one of the best in town.  Introduce yourself to Daniel once, and he’ll never forget your name – it’s a gift that’s helped make AREA one of the more successful decor stores in town.   Don travels to Europe and Round Top and the markets to stock the store, so there is always a generous amount of the old mixed in with the newest.


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There are interesting vignettes around every corner:  lamps and tables, pillows and artwork, and  hard-to-find coffee table books.


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  Whenever I have an installation, I stop by AREA first to pick up accessories like baskets and urns.


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AREA has a great assortment of trays and boxes for tablescapes.


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And there’s the cute as can be Stefan, nursing his Starbucks!  I think he really enjoyed AREA.



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Smile!    Handsome Daniel, the energy and brains behind the store.   He should write a book on how to greet and treat your customers the proper way!  OK, we are moving on - next stop is Watkins and Culver.



Watkins Culvers Antiques and Design:  2308 Bissonnet


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Babs Watkins and her daughter Nelta run Watkins Culver – an antique store that will make you think you actually are on Magazine Street in New Orleans – not Houston.  The store itself is sometime to see – the walls are fauxed painted by the brilliant Jay Iarussi which give the shop an appearance of having been built in another century.  Truly beautiful!  Of course, so are the antiques, handpicked by Watkins from France and Italy – this store has been at the forefront of developing the French look in Houston that is so popular with Veranda and Southern Accents readers. 



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Besides all the antiques bought abroad, Watkins Culvers carries the BViz line of specialty pillows from New Orleans.  Each pillow is handmade by Rebecca Vizard using antique textiles and each is a work of art. 



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Watkins Culver has many mirrors of all sizes, lamps, and chandeliers.   The design is mostly French here, but Swedish pieces have been creeping into the store for the past few years.



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Out back in the alley are the design studios of Babs and Nelta, and the Watkins Culver annex.   Hey Stefan, finish up the coffee already!



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The annex’s merchandise is just a bit more relaxed – be sure to notice the Zuber papered screen.  Watkins Culver have the best antique Parisian lanterns that are so hot right now.  


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Watkins Culver has been carrying the oh-so-hot wood chandeliers and metal tables for years – they were way ahead of the trend with these items.    Watkins and Culver Antiques and Design is available online with 1st Dibs here.     OK,  time for the next stop - right next door.


Shabby Slips:  2304 Bissonnet


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Shabby Slips is owned by Renea Abbott, a much in-demand interior designer with several Veranda covers under her belt.  She recently repainted the walls going from dark to white and the effect, along with all the mirrors and crystal chandeliers is stunning – the store absolutely sparkles!   The ceiling is filled with the crystal chandeliers and the Venetian mirror shown above has to be the prettiest one I have ever seen!  Shopping here is such a treat – a true eye candy experience.


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Right in the middle of the store is this limed table with these stunning shell chairs!   What a find!    When Shabby Slips first opened, the focus was on slip covers, but that has long since changed.  Today, the focus is on the finest antiques for the younger set.  To be sure, the store is still stocked with wonderful slipcovered furniture and there are beautiful pillows tossed about, but the antiques take center stage now.    The trendy new lamps and accessories mix in with the old.    The chandeliers and mirrors are exceptional, and there is a large selection of them to choose from.



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Most of the furniture is upholstered in white – making these black and white striped chairs pop in the store. 



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Mixed in with all the antiques and upholstery is a nice selection of modern art.  In fact, one of my favorite galleries in town, the Jack Meier Gallery, is just two doors down.   Shabby Slips always has great pillows like these shown above.   And, while we were there, we learned that the little house behind Shabby Slips, that was once an annex, is just now getting the final touches done on a total remodel and will be back open for business soon!   Can’t wait!   OK, time to cross the street.


Neal and Co:  4502 Greenbriar


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Right across the street from Watkins and Culver and Shabby Slips, is Neal and Co. – another high end antique store dealing mostly in French product.  Cindy Neal, a veteran of the business, moved several years ago to the corner of what has t0 be the heart of  Houston Antiques, and she’s been a great addition.   Sweet and affable, Cindy is very knowledgeable about what she buys and is happy to share her expertise with you.   The store is large and full of wonderful French and Swedish delights.  Not everything is out of the world expensive, which is I why I love to shop here.  She carries lots of smalls, French candles, dishes, and confit pots – perfect for those of us who are on a budget.   But, there is plenty for those who aren’t!   I love this canapĂ© covered in a gray check – the back is almost prettier than the front.  And look at those green lanterns – I lusted after those – and the metal side tables, on the right – the best! 



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There are a lot of nooks and crannies to the store, owing to the fact that it used to be several different businesses, until Cindy bought the entire center, tore down all the walls and made it Neal and Co.    So, be sure you don’t miss anything hiding around a corner.  She carries wonderful botanicals and has a large supply of French wood tables.



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Here’s another wonderful set in Cindy’s office that she explained was one man’s lifetime collection.  Besides being an antiquarian, she is also an interior decorator! 


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As with all the better antique shops in Houston, there is a good selection of Swedish antiques available.



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 Neal and Co. carry the entire Les Indiennes fabric line AND they have a huge selection of Dash and Albert rugs to pick from.   Neal and Co. is available on 1st Dibs, so be sure to check them out here.


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OK,  Stefan needs to leave now, but hopefully he’ll be back in Houston soon.   So I’m on my own to finish the CdT Bissonnet-Kirby Corridor Shopping District.   Next stop, down the street:


M. Naeve – Antiques and Uncommon Luxuries:  1926 Bissonnet



Without a doubt, one of the most charming antique stores in Houston, M. Naeve is a must see when visiting.   Carrying hand picked inventory from France, the antiques are relaxed – not stuffy or dressy in any way.  But, make no mistake, they are beautiful – the entire shop is breathtakingly beautiful.   Every chair, every table, every fixture, every lamp – your heart just aches to take it home.   Visiting M. Naeve is almost like a religious experience – such exquisite beauty!!!



The owner is the very young and very adorable Margaret Naeve and she is just perfectly matched for such a shop.   I mean, just look at this settee – with its original linen batting and nailheads – could it get any better?   Well yes, look at the fireplace behind it!



Everything in the store is painted crusty cream…….



or Swedish gray…



or green!!   Be sure to visit  M.  Naeve when in Houston, located right next to the Raven Grill.  Website is here.    Next stop, Carl Moore Antiques, a few blocks down.


Carl Moore Antiques:  1610 Bissonnet



Carl Moore Antiques is located on Bissonnet in a large, old, two story house.  Since the famous Carl Moore has moved on to selling art, Geoffrey Westergaard is at the helm, buying for the store all over Europe.   As a result – Carl Moore has a wonderful, well –rounded array of antiques:  English, French, Swedish, German, and Asian!  There isn’t much they don’t carry, which is a huge part of their appeal.  A powerhouse, a mainstay, the ultimate in class!



Carl Moore is the best place in Houston to find Biedermeier pieces. 



They carry a large array of chandeliers, lamps, and oriental accessories.  The store is well-stocked and the sales people are helpful and friendly – a definite asset to the shop.




And they carry my favorite, French, of course.   On top of antiques,  they have reproduction dining tables available, which is great when the real thing is price prohibitive.  Carl Moore Antiques has a very comprehensive web site for online ordering, so be sure to look at it here.   And finally, we are on to our last stop on the CdT Bissonnet-Kirby Corridor Antique District – but you need your car, we’re headed back towards Kirby:


Found for the Home:   2422 Bartlett



Found, owned by Aaron Rambo and Ruth Davis is “industrial chic” and a whole lot more.  It is located in a former factory, right off Kirby, and is filled with objects from each era.  Besides the usual French antiques, there are French industrial items, vintage upholstery, and objects made of found objects, hence the name.  It’s an eclectic assortment – you never know what you will see here, but it will all be great, to be sure.  Those pillows look familiar!



The upholstery is all remade vintage.



The complex where Found is located is itself worth a peek.  Carved out of a former factory and an old apartment complex, many of Houston’s finest interior designers are renting space upstairs, while below are several retail  shops.  In this picture, you can really see the unique space and how the owners have taken the old factory and made it their own.




I’ve got my eye on the pair of Gustavian settees, myself!




Charming!   Rambo and Davis are both very friendly and helpful which makes shopping here so much fun!   Found for the Home is also on 1st dibs, here.


We’re at the end of the Cote de Texas  Bissonnet-Kirby Corridor Antique District – what a mouthful!!!  While you are out, Houston’s museums are located nearby at the end of Bissonnet and are definitely worth visiting.   There’s also a wonderful independent bookstore close by, the Brazos Bookstore at 2421 Bissonnet and next door is Jaya – specializing in Asian furniture.    Below is a map for easy driving.  If you are coming to Houston for shopping and need help – be sure to email me for more information!    


A.  Found for the Home

B.  Area

C.  Watkins Culver and Shabby Slips

D.  Neal and Co.

E.  M. Naeve

F.  Carl Moore Antiques