M.S. Rau Antiques
(630 Royal St., 888-711-8084) unveiled its newly expanded storefront last month, showcasing 32,000 square feet of showroom space, new floors and two gardens, in addition to updated lighting and other aesthetic details. The iconic antique gallery and store displays one-of-a-kind paintings from the masters, rare diamonds and other jewels, glassware, silver, historic furnishings and art. Over the years, it has garnered celebrity attention from customers including Oprah Winfrey, Nicolas Cage and Ozzy Osbourne. Owner Bill Rau, whose family opened the space in 1912, spearheaded the expansion, which presented a number of unique challenges due to the store's location and its status as a historic site.
“We made the investment to be the best gallery in the world,” says Rau, who is the third generation of the family to run the business. Renovating historic buildings — especially in a historic district such as the French Quarter — is a grueling process because most details, ranging from paint color to types of glass, require approval. “Perseverance" was key, Rau says. “Here is where it gets interesting,” he says. “We have to work with the state historic preservation, plus the National [Trust for Historic Preservation], plus the Vieux Carre Commission — and also with the fire marshal.” Each entity has different guidelines for renovations, and some of them are contradictory and lead to frustration. This expansion took several years to undertake, and the Raus spent millions of dollars to complete it.
“There are parts that came out extraordinary," he says. Some sections, like the fourth floor, which is viewed by invitation only, "shrunk considerably under fire regulations,” Rau says. Ultimately, the result is something he and his family — including his daughter Rebecca, who also works for the company — are immensely proud of. “Our art display looks better than any museum in the world right now," he says. "We have state-of-the-art everything. Most museums don’t have the ability to do what we did here because they can’t start fresh." Theater lights also are a new enhancement. Rau says the new lights allow him to highlight the "natural perfection" of the art by custom setting the temperature of light, making paintings appear to glow from the wall. “In a busy setting, your eye doesn’t know where to go,” he says. “(Now) you can appreciate the beauty of the art. ... We have the ability to display the museum-quality pieces the way they deserve to be displayed.”