One of the emerging trends at the influential Maison & Objet home furnishings show in Paris this year was referred to as “honest design” by New York Times home and garden editor Sabine Rothman. I don’t know about Paris, but it’s election year in America, and honesty has never looked so good to me. In Dallas shops and showrooms, there’s a demand for well-crafted goods where the artist’s hand is obvious, or at least implied, and it’s nowhere more prevalent than in the high-end luxury market. The delicious promise of exclusivity is understood in a custom creation—whether it’s pottery, furniture, or textiles.
Donald Fowler, home buyer for Stanley Korshak, goes to the Baltimore Craft Show once a year, as well as the usual New York and Paris markets. “Some of the most unique and desired objects I sell come from the Baltimore show. We carry many prestigious lines like Baccarat and Buccellati, but our clients get really excited about the exclusivity of having or giving a one-of-a-kind object,” Fowler says. On a recent trip to the store, I fell in love with Candone Wharton’s vessels that are hand-carved clay with basket weave and block print designs. Her Raku technique, inspired by Moroccan pottery, produces a luminous metallic gold luster. Fowler also imports handmade textiles from Turkey and Uzbekistan—cloths made into pillows and throws. The proceeds provide jobs for families in those countries. And, of course, that’s the other side of this big gold coin—rich people buy handmade goods that help support poor people. A little simplistic, but think of Stephanie Odegard, who has helped support the ancient art of Tibetan rug making through her efforts with old Tibetan artisans, or the textiles that Allan Knight is importing, where each village specializes in their own ancestral techniques of weaving and embroidery.
When owners Jon Tutolo and John Bassignani opened Haven, a home decor shop in Victory Park, they carved their particular niche by offering “what to buy for the person who has everything,” meaning one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted, artist-made objects not found in other local stores. Gilles Caffier is a French artist whom they became aware of while working for Donald Trump in New York. “As you can imagine, buying a gift for Donald and Melania Trump is a little challenging, and leather pieces from Gilles were just the ticket,” Tutolo says. If you want it custom, just ask. One client loved the green suede Gilles Caffier vases, but she wanted them—and got them—in bright orange.Retailer Claudia Armstrong recently purchased hand-painted linens with fish, rabbits, shells, and dogs for her shop, At My Table. And if you don’t see your own dog breed, the artist will paint your precious pooch just for you. When I asked her how to clean them, she said, “I don’t know. They are just so wonderful. I know that people would love them, no matter what.” At the custom level, annoying details such as fabric care can become irrelevant.
The innovative, handcrafted wallpapers created by Lori Weitzner were inspired by old-world custom gilding, printing, and papermaking methods. Weitzner’s Oracle pattern paper is made from South American fig tree bark that is pressed, spliced, and hand-gilded. Another of my favorites is David Goldberg. He presses Japanese maple leaves into cement for an organic Oriental look, with each leaf subtly different. Both Weitzner’s and Goldberg’s papers are available locally at ID Collection.
Hand-painted fabrics were all the rage back in the 1980s—does anyone remember California Drop Cloth, with its hard, crackly, acrylic paint on industrial canvas? Compare that with the delicate, liquid, hand-painted silks of de Gournay, or the luminous, cashmere softness of Rusty Arena’s velvets. Houston-based artist Arena, whose goods are sold at locally at Ellouise Abbott, creates magic in his design studio where he draws patterns, measures pigment, and invents the prototypes for his textiles. He and his team of artisans print paper and fabric by hand, overlaying as many as eight successive patterns in modulating colors that create a lustrous depth of design. His inspiration is nature, both worldly and otherworldly, as seen in his Aviatrix pattern, which is inspired by birds in his backyard.
The ultimate expression of authentic luxury has always been fresh flowers. Christopher Whanger, a long-time floral designer in Dallas and Fort Worth (his work is often seen in the pages of our magazine) has teamed up with George Cameron Nash Showroom to open a garden shop upstairs. Whanger, trained in the art of Ikebana, will have ready-made arrangements available for the taking, many of them contained in handmade, imported Raku vessels from Belgium and other countries. Look for it to open in May.
E-mail Peggy at [email protected].