Furnish it like one on a magical Tour Decor buying trip to Europe
By Page Leggett
Anyone who’s ever faced the daunting task of decorating an entire house knows it’s no vacation. Unless it actually is. Tour Decor in Dallas can customize a trip to Europe that allows you to find everything you need for your home and savor the process at the same time. Lea Kellogg Barfield (graduate of the Christie’s School for the Fine and Decorative Arts in London), interior designer Margaret Chambers, ASID, RID, and marketing director Trevor Ede are pros at mixing business—antique buying—with pleasure.
They plan—down to the tiniest detail—antique- and art-buying trips, and then accompany their clients on the trek to ensure that every piece purchased will be a perfect fit. They take care of shipping it all overseas and having it delivered and set up in clients’ homes.
They also ensure their clients—whether a couple, an individual, mother-daughter duo or corporate client—aren’t overwhelmed by the shopping spree. They build in time to decompress—in luxury surroundings, naturally.
“We begin by getting to know the client, their home and their style and the kind of experience they want,” Barfield said. “Some clients want to do this in a grand way. We have access to a 17th-century hunting lodge in Belgium. The dining room has murals showcasing horses and the hunt.
“For people who want something charming, we know all the off-thebeaten-path little hotels,” she continued. “We also have a number of private homes—from villas to charming farmhouses—accessible only to us.” Sometimes the owners of those properties are willing to sell their furniture to guests.
Tour Decor lodging goes well beyond what you’d find on VRBO. “There’s a historic home in England where we’ve stayed,” Barfield continued. “The owner cooks for us! In other cases, we know private chefs we can hire.”
It all adds up to a one-of-a-kind “working vacation”—with more emphasis on the vacation.
On a mission
These trips are, first and foremost, buying trips. So, Tour Decor focuses on the business at hand. The team scopes out the project first. They’ll review floorplans, blueprints, photos of the home—and Pinterest boards and old magazine clippings clients have been saving.
“This is not guesswork,” Chambers said. “We have exact measurements. We know what we need before we begin planning the trip. Trevor will create an image of the room and then Photoshop in the pieces we’re looking for. We’ll know—on the spot—if a piece is going to work.”
The journey to giving your new (or remodeled) home a history begins with defining your style. That dictates the destination. Some projects can best be sourced in cities—Paris and London, for instance. Other clients may best be served by scouring private residences and warehouses in Belgium, the French countryside and Sweden. Every trip is entirely customized to the client.
A trip to England is likely what’s called for if you’re furnishing a large Tudor-style home. But it’s not right for every project. “Sweden is full of whimsical and fun pieces,” Chambers said. “And clients looking for an eclectic feel might find Belgium the go-to spot.”
And the stops—markets, dealers’ warehouses, shops, private homes— have all been carefully vetted. “We’ll sometimes run into antique dealers we know from the U.S.,” Chambers said. “They’re never very happy to see us. European antiques can be marked up three or four times the original sales price once they’re brought back to America.”
Location, location, location
Knowing where to go is key. Often that means visiting a dealer’s home that isn’t open to the public. But sometimes, clients want to go to one of the famous markets—Portobello Road in London, for instance, where more than a thousand dealers offer everything from ashtrays to armoires, or Les Puces in Paris—the largest flea market in the world and home to 2,500 stalls.
You could spend days wandering the aisles on your own and still not find what you’re looking for (or find it and wonder if you’d overpaid). Tour Decor experts help clients avoid looking endlessly for a proverbial needle in a haystack. They make the best use of the client’s time.
Antiques are rarely in pristine condition—especially when they’re found in a warehouse or attic rather than a tony shop. Chambers and Barfield can have chests and tables refinished or sofas and chairs reupholstered. Your “instant heirlooms” won’t be delivered until they’re in exceptional condition.
The three partners have learned the hard way: if you love it, buy it. Like fishermen rehashing an old “the one that got away” story, they reminisced about a red lacquered 18th-century side table they found in a small shop in Paris . . . but didn’t buy. The next time they encountered it, it was at a Dallas antique show with a $5,000 price tag. It had been a fraction of that when they first saw it.
They’re prepared to advise clients: “Buy it now.” Or, they may recommend waiting, knowing a better deal can be had elsewhere.
“We get the best prices,” Chambers said matter-of-factly. “We’re repeat customers and have built relationships with the people we’re buying from.”
They’re too genteel to call it haggling, but they have their ways.
“We’re polite about it,” Chambers said. “In some cases, we might say, ‘This is a little outside our price range,’ and the dealer might say, ‘Well, I can go a little lower.’”
“Lea’s a graduate of Christie’s,” Ede adds. “She knows the value of an item. She knows if it’s offered at a good price. Clients have peace of mind with Lea.”
Little black book
Any trip to Europe—even one with a busy buying agenda—should involve time to recharge and refuel, preferably over a bottle of wine and a great meal. Tour Decor delivers.
“We’ve spent years building up our sources,” Ede said. “We have relationships with concierges. We know hotels down to individual rooms. We know the best places to stay, the great cafes, super-upscale Michelinstarred restaurants. We also know, through our networks, the new, hot places that are just opening. We’ve done all the research to build up our little black book.”
If clients want a secluded retreat, the Tour Decor team has an array to choose from. If clients prefer to live like locals, the team can book them a furnished apartment in the heart of town. “We know the best neighborhoods,” Barfield said. “If a client wants an apartment as home base, we’ll be sure it’s stocked with fresh food from the local markets, including cheese and wine.”
Antiquing is an aerobic sport. A full day of it can be exhilarating and exhausting. The Tour Decor team may suggest clients go out for a nice dinner, while they hang back and review the day’s purchases, noting what’s been procured and what’s left on the list. If clients want to review the day’s haul with them, then the entire group may gather for cocktails—in a garden folly, perhaps—to assess the day’s plunder.
The team keeps track of everything purchased, every dollar spent, every item yet to be found. Clients don’t need to worry about keeping up with a list. Or with shipping everything back home. It’s all taken care of.
More for less
“As we keep track of each item and the total tally, clients are often surprised by how much they’ve gotten for a total far less than they were expecting,” Ede said. “You can really stretch your dollar on one of our trips.”
“Because we buy direct, and the client is not paying for dealer profit or brick-and-mortar expenses of a retail shop, the savings are extremely attractive,” Barfield added. “The quantity of choice in Europe is without parallel.”
Tour Decor is all about the experience. “This is not just going to a showroom,” Chambers said. “We’re helping create wonderful memories.”
You could acquire fine antiques plenty of places, but Tour Decor trips are about more than acquisitions. They’re for people who wish to surround themselves with lasting mementos collected on an unforgettable excursion.
“When people build a new home,” Chambers continued, “it doesn’t have a soul yet. But the owners can give it one by adding antique front doors, a carved mantel, wood paneling from an old farmhouse . . . the kind of soul new furniture can never offer.”
Everyone’s home tells a story. A home outfitted on a Tour Decor trip is more like a fairy tale. With a very happy ending.