01 December 2009

The End of An Era At 40% Off!

 stringer 021 Brian Stringer Antiques – the adorable French House.  Houstonians know not to enter through this door – rather they go around to the side door.

 

One of Houston’s best known and oldest antique store is closing shop, and it’s a very sad day.   Upon hearing the news, I stopped by Brian Stringer Antiques the other day to talk with Brian and his charming wife Kathy and  find out why they were shutting their doors.   Walking

around their wonderful shop, I felt a tremendous surge of nostalgia knowing that this was all coming to an end.    After all, Brian, ever the debonair Englishman,  is the godfather of antiques here, and for decades his shop was the first stop for interior designers and their clients.   It’s been a long haul for the couple, even longer for Brian who started out solo, long before he was married to Kathy.  Over the years, their popular shop grew, expanding to a main showroom and the charming faux French house with its striped awning next door.   At one point, they even did a stint in Dallas.  Everyone in Houston knows the shopping ritual here:  you go the main showroom first, work your way to the back storeroom, stop at the side showroom, then exit through the metal garage door to go outside where you then enter the little French house through its side door.    Going through those same motions that day, I wondered, how many times have I been here over the years?  Hundreds?   At least that, I decide. 

 

   image The main showroom on the right – the French house on the left.   At one time the house on the right (not shown) was also part of the complex.  One year Ginger Barber moved her shop, The Sitting Room, into that house on the right, renting it from the Stringers.  Today, after moving at least three mores times,  Ginger is back near the Stringers again – her shop is now two doors down, on the left!  The West Alabama corridor has so many fabulous antique stores, it has become a major destination for shopping. 

 

Why close the shop after all these years?  Settling into one of their comfortable chairs, Kathy Stringer proceeds to explain:   they are looking to have more fun in their lives after working so hard, for so long.    The decision to close wasn’t easy, but over the summer – it was finally decided.   The Stringers are thrilled to be entering this new phase of their lives.   But still, why?   Kathy says simply, “the business was running us, we weren’t running the business.”   Today’s climate is certainly not wonderful for the antiques business.    They have seen it all change – EBay, 1st Dibs and Internet sales have made it less personal – there’s not much client loyalty in this high-tech era.   China has become a huge influence on the market – their reproductions are taking over the world.  And then there’s the Euro -  at first, dealing with the new currency was beneficial for the Stringers – today, the dollar can’t compete.    Ticking off the list of reasons why the Stringers want out, Kathy laughs:   “We  survived the 80’s in Houston and thrived – now we are just too old to wait this current recession out.”   And then there’s this reason:  France is calling them.  They own a 14th century chateau in the countryside between Bordeaux and Gers.  Simply put, they want to spend  more time there. 

 

 

stringer 082This framed photo of Brian Stringer with the caption “Our Fearless Leader” graced the showroom for years.

     

Who can blame them for wanting to close up shop?  Brian Stringer started out in the antiques business over 40 years ago – all spent in the same location on West. Alabama.   He’s been the trend setter here, others followed his lead and his hunches.   In the beginning he imported mostly pine and oak pieces from  England.  Kathy estimates they have sold thousands of his famous dark oak Windsor chair.    Trends dictate changes and the Stringers headed to Italy for mirrors and light fixtures.  There, they discovered the gorgeous painted pieces that Brian Stringer Antiques became known for.   Always ahead of the curve, Stringer was the first in Houston to import the Italian furniture.   Later, continental furniture came from Spain and filled the shop.   Still on top of their game even today,  the shop has a large selection of the popular Swedish antiques.

 

 

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The main showroom of Brian Stringer Antiques – the painted Italian console is the look the Stringers became famous for during the past decade.

 

As we continued to talk, Kathy reflected on the changes in the business.   Though the Stringers have had an internet presence for five years, it has not been as beneficial as old fashioned advertising in magazines like Southern Accents and House Beautiful.   Their beautifully photographed ads brought in profitable bicoastal business.    When 1st Dibs came calling, Kathy found it too complicated to get involved with.   Perhaps she knew where it was all heading.    With the volatile Dollar and the terrible business climate here and overseas, the Stringers are just ready for a change.    They don’t want to sell their business – they want to close the door and walk away.   To this end, everything, and I mean everything, in the store is on sale at 40% off.    Brian Stringer Antiques will stay open until the majority of the stock has sold.   When it is all finished, whatever is left, they’ll either keep or put in storage.     Then they’ll head for France to relax and we’ll be left to find new places to shop.   Walking around the store for the last time – memories flooded through my mind of all the beautiful things I have bought here over the years and all the things I had wanted to buy!     Mostly, there were times when I would stop in just to look at the antiques, and there were  other times when I would come to rummage through the wonderful George Smith fabric samples, that they alone in Houston carried.     I wonder who will buy the property, the valuable real estate their store sits on?   Will the new owners also sell antiques?    The change wouldn’t be as profound if they would just sell the business outright, along with the merchandise.  At least it would still be here, albeit with different owners.   Still, I think the Stringers made the right decision to just close their doors.    No one but those two could ever run Brian Stringer Antiques.   

 

 

DID YOU SAY 40 PERCENT OFF????????

Yes I did!  Everything in the store is  now 40 percent off!   Forty Per Cent!!??!!!  Everything!!!!   It’s enough to make your head swim at the possibilities!   If you are looking for that certain something – now’s your chance.  And hurry!  Forty percent off is awfully tempting to a lot of people.

 

 

stringer 122 Brian Stringer Antiques is the place to go for wonderful antique and reproduction dining tables.  Their chair selection is legendary.

 

 

 

 

stringer 111 There’s not much here I don’t want – the globe, the library ladder, the urn, the portraits, the mirror, the desk.   Wrap it all up and move it to my house, please!

 

 

stringer 088This settee drives me wild – if only I had the space for it!  The Italian table with the painted finish became a signature look for Brian Stringer Antiques.

 

 

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There is this remarkable Spanish leather screen from the 1690s - amazing.  The leather sofa is the real deal. 

 

 

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There are several Swedish sofas in the shop, but that screen is catching my eye!

 

 

 

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To die for!

 

 

stringer 107 Look at how beautifully this French antique armoire is finished inside – it’s like two pieces of furniture in one!

 

 

 

stringer 109 The bust is fabulous, especially against these vivid colored walls.

 

 

stringer 039 There’s more eye candy in the back showroom – these chairs are beyond fabulous!

 

 

stringer 042 I’m not sure if the cabinets are an exact pair – but at 40 percent off, who cares? (Open your screen all the way to see the entire picture.)

 

 

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I’m crazy about the sofa, though I would probably recover it and save the upholstery for pillows.

 

 

stringer 028 Besides antiques, Brian Stringer Antiques carries a fine line of reproductions.  Now is the time to buy a chair at these prices.

 

 

stringer 049 One of my favorite parts of the shop – the back storeroom where a million antique tables are stacked on top of each other.  Notice the darling white table with the blue trim.

 

 

stringer 051This table, topped with the red George Smith toile, is just too cute.  

 

 

 

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 This remarkable side table is made with a carved wood “tablecloth” covering it!

 

 

 

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The side showroom always has the most wonderful antiques placed about.

 

 

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An absolutely amazing centuries old tapestry – just waiting for it’s new home.

 

 

 

stringer 124Now that we’ve toured the main showroom, it’s time to go outside through the garage door and enter the French house, via it’s side door – got that? 

 

 

 

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The French house used to be stocked mainly with French provincial antiques.  Now I notice there are a lot of Swedish antiques in here too.

 

 

 

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The furniture in the French house is always less dressy.   This is where I usually found what I was looking for.

 

 

stringer 145 I love that painted cabinet – so pretty with the blue trim.

 

 

stringer 150 What a great painted desk.

 

 

stringer 154One of my favorites today! 

 

 

stringer 151 The French house is so charming – you really feel like you’re in the South of France, except for Houston’s traffic out the front window!

 

 

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Yes!!!!!!

 

 

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  I don’t want to leave.  I’m lingering around, stalling, wondering is this the last time I’ll be here?   What will happen to this charming house? 

 

Over the years, the Stringers absolutely charming house in Houston was published a few times – once in a local magazine and once in Southern Accents.  A few years ago House Beautiful invited Patrick Dunne to go to  France and visit the Stringers at their 14th century chateau with the romantic name:  Commanderie de  Sainte Antoine.   Brian had bought the property without Kathy, though when she first saw its turret, she instantly understood what had attracted him.     It was a man’s house totally,  with thick stone walls and floors and an ancient studded front door.    The house started out as a fortified hospital run by the Brothers of Saint Antoine, a band of monks, who set up hospitals to treat a mysterious skin disease that swept through Europe during the Middle Ages.  After the French Revolution, parts of the chateau were left to fall into ruin, while other parts became the main house in the small isolated town.    The Stringers have spent years renovating their place, but Kathy has left the interior decorating to Brian, worried she might make it all too pretty for him.   The house is huge and one entire wing has spent the last century boarded off.  Of course there is the turret - a tower room with sweeping views of the countryside.    Now that the business is to be closed, the Stringers are looking forward to spending more time here where they are sure to be happy and content, sipping wine and eating cheese – and doing all the things that those in the French countryside do so perfectly.

 

 

1 The tower room has views of the countryside.  Once this turret protected the monks from marauding Celtic tribes that lived in the hills beyond.

 

 

2 The exterior courtyard of the Stringer’s 14th century chateau.  

 

 

 

image The Stringers furnished the living room with large upholstered pieces brought from home and even more massive sconces and religious Santos.   Notice the fabulous ceiling beams and the depth of the walls at the windows.

 

 

imageThe amazing three story, winding staircase.  No furniture could be brought up the stairs – it all had to be hauled through the windows using a pulley system.  The staircase is so old and rare it is protected by the Historical Monuments of France Society. 

 

 

image The charming eat in kitchen with an old farm sink and terra cotta tiles.  No overhead cabinets for sure, the baskets do double duty instead.   Notice the overhead pinlights that are strung on wire in the kitchen.   Kathy designed this space – installing it on the second floor to be near the shaded loggia outside the kitchen’s door.

 

 

 

 image In the dining room with 18th century paneling – the Stringers repainted it in its original color.   The tapestry was bought at a nearby market.   The table with its iron base and wooden top surrounded by tall chairs is typical of what Brian Stringers Antiques sold for years and years:  their tables and chairs were some of their most popular items.    The Stringers plan to spend more time here when the business is closed.  Kathy knows Brian will be happy here – the chateau is a life long dream of his, something she instantly recognized when she first saw it

 

 

Brian Stringer Antiques is located at 2031 West  Alabama in Houston.   For current hours, please call 713-526-7380.

 

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The West Alabama Corridor:

If you plan to visit to take advantage of the 40 percent off sale and want to make a day of shopping in the area, be sure to also stop in at Ginger Barber’s Sitting Room which is next door.   Further up the street is Tara Shaw and  Heather Bowen Antiques.  Continue up W. Alabama to Antiques and Interiors on Dunlavy, Boxwood and The Country Gentleman, then hit up Foxglove and Alcon Lighting.  

If you haven’t passed out from exhaustion yet, turn around and head back to Brian Stringer’s and go the other way on W. Alabama.   Stop at Jane Moore’s, then at Ferndale, go to Brown, Bill Gardner, Made in France, and Objects Lost and Found.   Back on W. Alabama, continue on to Thompson and Hansen, The Gray Door, Chateau Domingue, Indulge on Saint Street, and 2620 on Joanel.   Hungry?   Go to Tiny Boxwoods.  I won’t even tell you what you are missing a street up on Westheimer!     Enjoy!!    

Reminder:  Alessandra Branca is now on The Skirted  Roundtable HERE.  

39 comments:

  1. The 1690s leather screen is TDF! Their pieces are truly charming. It's always good to go before the sun sets. What an incredible life. Thanks for sharing!

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  2. A sad ending indeed to a wonderful story. What a lovely little shop. It's the type of place I couldn't visit without leaving with something (at least the stone planters, but preferably that beautiful painted secretary desk). I'm sure we all appreciate this thoughtul post, Joni. Keep up the fantastic work! :-)

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  3. It is too bad that I have not been there, sounds like a bittersweet ending ......
    One with a good ending for the shop keepers though!
    Thanks for the insight Joni!
    ( can't wait to see what you picked up at the sale )
    Leslie

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  4. There are so many things in the shop that are to die for!! I wouldn't know where to begin!

    It is always sad to see something come to an end but for the Stringers that chateau in France...oy vay... would cheer me up instantly!!

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  5. Oh - BSA was the best! As many antiques as I have bought and sold, I never tire or regret ANY purchases at Brian and Kathi's, they are what they say they are, simply timeless pieces!

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  6. A beautiful shop, and what a wonderful new life is awaiting them in France! I'm afraid, the economic downswing is felt everywhere. As our currency is directly linked to the $, we feel it dearly whenever we transfer money. It seems that places like Dubai, are even going to be worse off than America. (Sad to see so many already poor people suffering even more.)

    Thank you for leaving a message on my blog! You made me dance a little jig, and even people who didn't know you before have now been informed that Joni ?(WHAT!!! YOU don't read CDT???) left MOI a comment!

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  7. Oh Boy...I saw some beautiful pieces. Many!

    There home in France is what dreams are made of...truly gorgeous! I like that they are riding off into the sunset to pursue other dreams.

    So, Girl...what did you come home with. Do tell!

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  8. Wow, I just got back from Spain and Paris last night and thought I'd seen it all. What gorgeous furniture they have in their store! Glad to hear that they are going to take life a little easy and enjoy the days ahead. Thanks Joni for sharing the pictures! Life is even more beautiful when you can take time to enjoy it!

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  9. WHAT? I had not heard about the Stringers closing their store.
    Your post is a nice tribute. How nice for them to retire to France. It is probably a good time.
    In the meantime, I am hyperventilating....waiting until they open to run over there...let's see...I need so many things.

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  10. Joni, first... run, don't walk, back to that shop and buy that screen! It is FABULOUS! Believe me, if I'd spotted it, it would be gone!

    I have a rant, but I will post that next! LOL!

    XO,

    Sheila :-)

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  11. Now, a rant of sorts. I have several theories about what is happening with antiques. Your wonderful friend is absolutely correct about the Chinese goods flooding the market. I just had this same conversation with an old friend whose company is on the Fortune 400 list (that's 400 not 500). She quoted and lamented the number of American factories that are sitting empty, and the number is staggering. You cannot pick up anything in a gift shop and not see "made in China" on it.

    Plus, people are into simulating a look and not necessarily buying authenticity when it comes to a true antique. A can of spray paint and a piece of sand paper, and they get what they want. ;-) So-called design shows on televsion are training a whole generation of hip young people to do this, and so is the net.

    Then some designers have shot themselves and the whole design/antiques world in the foot with this less-is-more mantra they have been chanting for the last decade or so. It started in the magazines. Just how many blah, bland interiors that look like hotel lobbies can you feature before readers stop buying? That happened with me with a couple of my favorite publications. Every room looked the SAME! I think of the difference in some of the top shelter magazines twenty or thirty years ago versus what they had become, and there's no comparison. Not saying I don't lament their passing. I do because I love shelter magazines. But never in the history of this country have you seen them all fall like a house of cards till now.

    Zen (or less is more) does not help the American economy. Zen (or less is more) does not need designers and antique dealers with lots and lots of baubles, be they fabric and trim or paintings and candlesticks, for sale.

    The internet and eBay have forever changed the face of the antiques business. It started out fun, and now even that is impersonal. I rarely buy on eBay unless it's for a replacement piece of china that's discontinued.

    My favorite store in the North Florida area is still around, but they told me that they had always felt the city in which they are located was recession proof. They have been in business for YEARS, but they said what worries them is that the wealthy have quit buying. This started some time back. They were saying the same thing about internet sales cutting into their business. Oh, and the guy I was talking to lives with one of the top designers in the area, and they have a beautiful home. He told me that their two young neighbors came over to borrow something, and out of the corner of his eye, he saw the wife sticking her tongue in her mouth like "gag me"! We laughed because their home is right out of a magazine, but many young people are into minimal decor. He smiled and said they probably didn't like his French antique gold mirrors that he had used liberally in one area. Of course not, they're not "silver." Don't you know that gold is evil! ;-)

    Lastly, many buyers don't have faith in the country or the economy. My MIL just lost $300 per month on her social security (that's thousands of dollars a year!), and that hurts. That doesn't just hurt her, but us. Our Christmas money that she gives us each year will be cut way back. That equals less spending in the economy because our Christmas money gets spent. I hope and pray that people go out and shop because this is the time that retailers depend on their customers. And you're right, loyalty appears to be a thing of the past with some. Fortunately, I don't follow trends. I'm still loyal and am buying. From my past professional background, I know buying is one thing that will help. If you don't buy, people are forced to close their doors. And I'm talking buying with the people in shops that have served our communities faithfully.

    XO,

    Sheila... exiting soap box! ;-)

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  12. Well I don't live anywhere cool enough to have a store like that in the first place. *sigh* not enough money in this town! Beautiful things that's for sure!

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  13. What bucolic scenery the chateau has! No wonder it pulls them there. I admire them for knowing when to make the change. Money isn't everything. Making money isn't everything, if you have money to live on. I know they will be very happy to move on.
    Brenda

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  14. It is disappointing that such a wonderful shop will close its doors. There are many many wonderful pieces shown in your images. Their dedication to bring so many of us these treasures will always be personal.

    I must disagree with the Magpipe. I think spending a fortune on any piece of furniture is somewhat absurd. I along with so many others, do not want to be married to a piece but rather, as with many, prefer the emotional gratification we get from a piece not the detremental dent it puts in our bank account. Utilizing the internet to source inexpensive reproduction may not stimulate the economy , but it sure will make a people happy...and a happy people with reproduction seems a lot better than unhappy people with authentic pieces trying to sell just to make this months mortatage.

    I am one who looks and buys the original, but I will at the same time purchase numerous inexpensive pieces.

    Its not about how much something costs, but how it makes you feel.

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  15. Wonderful story, Joni. Wow...what a treasure trove, and all the other wonderful shops in the area. I can certainly understand the Stringer's decision...what a wonderful new chapter for them living in their fabulous chateau in France. Trish

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  16. Magpie, I agree with much of what you say; however, young professionals want clean lines, uncluttered spaces with streamline decors. This is not necessarily bad taste but it meets the needs of the fast paced life of many young people today who work long hours in the finance industry and bring a lot of work home. They have cluttered minds - they don't want cluttered homes. Also, at about age 40 their taste will change and their appreciation of older, collected interiors will replace the sleek and uncluttered most probably because of marriage and family. I had a designer tell me only yesterday that he wishes his firm did more of that look because of the loss of business in that demographic. In addition, he is seeing many retired couples doing more simplified design as well. The musty smell of antiques is not for everyone nor is a house full of other peoples "throw aways". I recently inquired about a pair of antique chairs from a dealer in Belgium. I was stunned by the price and it's only because we have lost so much value in our dollar. I would not advise people to spend more than they can afford. Credit gone wild is what brought us to this place.

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  17. Once again, I wish I could visit Houston and shop these fabulous stores--especially this one! Everything in the store was the real deal. My girlfriend and I are visiting Houston the end of March. Can't wait to shop.
    Thank you for sharing. --Delores

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  18. What amazing pieces and what a sale! Have a great week, Joni!

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  19. Joni,

    What a wonderful spot. We have had so many shops close in Memphis as well. Next time I come to Houston (my sister lives there, she went to Rice and now works for the Alley Theatre), I want to get some of your favorite haunts to shop. Hope all is well. It is cold here. What is your weather like?

    Talk soon.

    Gwen

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  20. Gorgeous shop -- and we're buying extra lottery tickets today! LOL! Yes -- an interesting discussion above -- and I do believe that the "minimal decor" look brought an end to many lovely shops! Decor AND our budgets need a true sense of balance -- not a fixed level point -- but a ever-changing notion of finding treasures AND keeping coin in our purses too! Brightest blessings to this wonderful couple on their next journey!


    Jan at Rosemary Cottage (who would have to bring a hip flask to keep up with Joni's fabulous shopping trip ideas! LOL!)

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  21. Joni,

    Your words brought back memories of so many of my favorite shops, now gone. Funny how special little stores become such a part of us!

    My memories always include the unique fragrance of these dear treasures -

    Jjjj

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  22. wow...what a lovely store...so many beautiful things -I think I'd go cross-eyed trying to soak it all in!
    I hope they will be very happy in France. :0)

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  23. Joni & QM ---

    Now that I've read your spot on rant , I simply must add :

    My business partner and I used to joke about our feelings on the
    extremely pared down look - though I admit to a preference for "well-edited" ..... the reality is
    "Zen Decorators Starve!"

    Jjj

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  24. btw...that side table with the wooden tablecloth is awesome!! Do you have anymore pictures of it?

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  25. It is so sad to have to say to Good Bye to this great shop. Everything, I saw is quite stunning!!
    I'm sure sure they will be missed. Yet with every ending...Brings a new beginning! I'm sure they are delighted to start a life in France.
    I also would like to add...I am of the same school as *StudioJudith* I always tell my assistants...One must always strive for a well edited room!

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  26. I truly am sorry for the lose of your friends to France. Bonds that form over years of visits are never broken.
    Thanks for the post on this great couple.

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  27. Joni!!! Upon reading your post I was saddened for the Stringers, but excited for myself and the opportunity to purchase some gorgeous antiques at bargain prices. However upon calling the store first thing this morning I learned that you were in the store for this article a full month ago and that most of the items in your photographs were already sold! I am so disappointed.

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  28. So sad to hear that yet one more antique dealer is closing shop. It's definitely tough right now but it sounds like they have had a good, long run of it and will be very happy on the other side of the antique world.

    Tricia
    Avolli

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  29. What massive post, Joni! Both happy and saddened for the Stringer's. They sure won't be needing newspaper advertising as they got Cote de Texas coverage! Word will spread wildfire fast!

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  30. Joni,
    What a beautiful pieces of antiques this people have in their shop! But I can imagine that they really can't wait to spend more time in their beautiful chateau!!!!
    We only can dream of it!!!
    Joni,
    I have a good idea! Why don't you take over their antiques business!!! And sell these pieces to European buyers!!!!
    Think about that!
    xx
    Greet

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  31. Happy Shopping Joni! As always I wish I were closer by your nook in the woods. Great tradition, so sorry to hear.

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  32. Hi Joni!
    This really hit home with me. I remember when we just moved to Houston, and we lived on West Alabama just a couple of blocks down from the Stringers shop. There were very few designers there at the time but I enjoyed driving by to see his remarkable pieces. It is great you support people in this business that are going out of business. The design community in Houston is better for that. The dining room in their place in France is just delightful...Me Likie!!

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  33. What a beautiful story - I read every line and you are such a great writer. I could feel the wistfulness in your heart that this era is ending. Very sad indeed, but I imagine they will have a lovely life abroad, and a much-deserved rest. What a loss indeed. Good work Joni.

    Wish I could hit their sale! What a collection of gorgeous pieces. I can see why you coveted many over the years. We don't get things like that here in Calgary - I would die to be able to visit a shop like that regularly!

    xo Terri

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  34. I hope you buy alot of pretties! AND share photos of your loot with us!
    Also thanks for stopping by Dwell and leaving a comment for me.
    xo xo

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  35. i am sad to hear the story they have such lovely things... but thankful they have such an amazing place to retire... as always... a brilliant post joni...

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  36. What an amazing story of a storied career. And such a beautiful store. I wish I were closer...to that gorgeous tufted leather sofa, that is. Enjoy the shopping frenzy and then please do share the bounty. I'll live vicariously! :0)

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  37. Nooooooooooooooo!!!!! I still have an old Houston Post magazine with his home (and Carol Glasser's too). So sad!!!

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  38. Why must you tease us so!!? lol.

    I don't blame them, hello!!! if I had any kind of chateau in France, heck, it could be a one room shacklet, I'd want to spend more time there too. Great post...xo

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