A guide to antiquing in New Orleans
From papal jewelry to primitive ceramics, Crescent City shopping fits every budget
New Orleans’ early years of French control are still a strong force in the city’s arts and culture today. Perhaps nowhere in the South is French style more prevalent than in the Crescent City’s architecture and decor.
So it’s natural that the city’s antiques market would feel very European, too. Good thing, because that’s the niche of the antiques market still feeding a hungry audience.
The city is filled with shops and warehouses carrying architectural antiques that draw interior designers, architects, builders and others who come with shopping time carved into their itineraries.
Magazine Street is a long stretch of shops, a mix of well-curated antiques stores, stylish boutiques and popular restaurants. Royal and Chartres streets in the French Quarter have their share of antiques stores, too, each a slice of history with its own story to tell.
You could spend days roaming these shops all over New Orleans. If you’re a NOLA newbie, here’s an interesting mix to get you started.
The Bank Architectural Antiques
Plenty of Houston interior designers, architects and builders have shopped at this family-run warehouse for unique antique doors, shutters and other decorative elements for new homes and for historic preservation projects. Mike Wilkerson opened the warehouse that now takes up a whole city block in 1972, and it employs three generations of his family. Son Sean Wilkerson said that while they have a few antiques, it’s the architectural salvage that people come there for. Much of the inventory — doors, shutters, mantles and moulding — has been salvaged from double shotgun houses built in the city in the 1850s. There’s also some Greek Revival stuff and a gable from New Orleans’ Mercy Hospital (built in 1792). The 7,800 doors they have on hand is likely the most doors under one roof anywhere in the world, Sean says. His tip for shoppers: pick out your items before you frame in your new home — standard building sizes in 1850 are not the same today. “That’s a conversation we have once or twice a day,” he said.
Details: 1824 Felicity;
Sarah Scott Thomas likes to see the hand in her decorative arts and antiques. Brushwork in ceramics or a slight imperfection in a glaze make a piece all the more pleasing to her eye. Thomas has been in business 25 years — 15 in her current Magazine Street location — and appreciates the Texas market. Houston designers and shoppers have visited her store for years, often looking for chandeliers, mirrors or other items to complement an otherwise traditional or contemporary decor. Very little in her store is less than 200 years old, and everything has a story. You’ll find a number of smaller pieces with an Asian flair, including faience ceramics, porcelain, a soapstone lamp and small wood pieces with Asian motifs. “I’m just gaga over chinoiserie right now,” Thomas says. Right now, Balzac Antiques has a variety of smalls plus bigger pieces like dining tables, chairs and an exotic late 18th century gilded, painted and embossed leather screen. (It’s likely to remind you of Downton Abbey and the Crawley family.) The inventory here is high quality, and not for those with shallow pockets.
Details: 3506 Magazine St., New Orleans;
Dop Antiques & Architecturals
Owner Michiel Dop has done much of the “picking” work for you, but shopping in his 20,000-square-foot warehouse still feels like an antiques treasure hunt. Every month the Holland-born Dop receives a new shipping container full of furniture, home accessories and architectural antiques from France, England and Italy, most from the 1800s but some dating to the 1700s. He stocks plenty of everything — dressers, tables, chairs, lighting, mirrors and piles of antique doors and shutters — but he’s known for his good prices and fast turnover, so if you see something you like, buy it. A couple of things to know before you go: first, no matter what you’re buying try to get them to lower the price (up to 25 percent). Secondly, the place is unairconditioned and fairly dirty — giant garage-style doors open up, allowing lots of dust and dirt in — so take paper towels or some Wet Wipes to clean up afterward.
Details: 300 Jefferson Highway, Building 1, New Orleans;
Karla Katz Antiques
The grand dame of Magazine Street sits in a tiny chair and smiles at Josephine Baker, a vamp of a French bulldog who strikes a sultry pose every time she lays down. Karla Katz is squirming a little in the 18th century chair in the center of her store: “People were smaller back then,” she jokes. Katz has operated her small antiques store on this prime shopping street for 25 years, since “before antiquing was a thing.” People come to Katz’s store for 19th century and older European chandeliers and mirrors, but she also has a good inventory of dining tables, dressers, chairs and settees. Don’t expect to find too many “smalls” or small items here, she’s almost strictly a high-end dealer of furniture, lighting, and mirrors. Katz’s has kids — and soon will have grandkids — in Houston, and they’re encouraging her to open a satellite shop here. We’ll keep you posted.
Details: 4017 Magazine St., New Orleans;
M.S. Rau Antiques
This 25,000-square-foot New Orleans destination opened 106 years ago by current owner Bill Rau’s grandfather. It started a block down the street, and since 1931 has been in the same spot on Royal Street in the heart of the French Quarter. The Rau family decided early on to not be like any other antiques dealer in town. “We decided to have the very best of everything. If there’s a great example of something, we want the best of it,” said Rau, who counts many Houstonians as clients. So this is not a place you go to buy a dresser, dining table or night stand. It’s a place you go to find amazing things you cannot find anywhere else. Examples, a papal cross necklace and ring that Pope Paul VI gave to the United Nations in 1965 to contribute to helping the less fortunate. (A Chicago jeweler bought it at auction, then sold it to Evel Knievel, who later sold it to a North Carolina couple. Rau bought it from the North Carolinians.) Rau says it’s the only papal jewelry outside of the Vatican, and it’s got a $1.9 million price tag. He’s got an ice bucket ($1,485,000) from the British royal family’s Grand Service, made in the 1800s for King George III. Nearly every piece in the museum-like store has a story, so allow plenty of time when you visit. Be sure to ask to see the secret room, where they keep their great art. Right now you’ll see an original Renoir, Monet and Magritte, among others.
Details: 630 Royal St., New Orleans
On your way in or out of town, stop by this odd store in an industrial-looking strip mall off of Interstate 10 and the Causeway. Renaissance Interiors is a spot where locals go for great prices on an unusual mix of castoffs from estates of wealthy New Orleanians when they downsize or divorce. In the back of the store you’ll find a section with 200 or more rugs, from ordinary designs to good quality Persian rugs that likely cost thousands of dollars new. The store is a mix of new, vintage midcentury and antique furnishings and accessories, so if you’re not sure what you’re buying, ask a sales clerk if it’s reproduction or the real deal. During my visit I found a vintage black leather Eames chair with ottoman for $1,295 and a Louis Philippe-style buffet for $695. There were lots of charming smaller items, including a vintage ceramic iced tea dispenser
Details: 2727 Edenban Ave., Metairie
Mixed in with antiques stores on Magazine Street are an eclectic mix of boutiques, including Sotre, launched in 2014 by business partners Grace Kaynor and Virginia McCollam. The small shop is a collection of unusual things and brands you’re not likely to find anywhere nearby. You’ll find plush bed linens plus monogrammed hand towels and travel bags. Kaynor’s background in decorative arts paid off for her own custom bedding, which looks more expensive than it is. For the holidays she’s got a new collection of cocktail napkins, placemats and hand towels. Also new in the store are lighting fixtures, leather slippers and hand-woven throws from Morroco, paintings from Bali and ceramics from France.
Details: 3933 Magazine St., New Orleans;