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Nostalgic Import-ance

Just as the hint of cinnamon reminds you of the cookies your grandmother used to bake, and that “oldie but goodie” song on the radio takes you back to the summer of your first kiss; an antique often sparks a similar form of nostalgia. Whether there’s a personal connection or not, an antique holds a historical richness that causes people to think. “That’s what is so great about owning antiques,” says store co-owner Cathy Négrel. “They are so unique and instantly add character to a space.”
Upon entering Négrel Antiques, you are completely submersed in a timeless and beautiful ensemble of antiquity. Rays of natural light softly illuminate the rare collection of European and French antiques, and who wouldn’t want to be in a room filled with one-of-a-kind stories? We sat down with Négrel and quickly discovered that the rich character is not limited to the items in her store.

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How did you get started in the importing industry? “My husband, Pierre, is from France.” (Which we assume has something to do with her fluency in the language.) “Although we had a connection to France, neither of us had a background in antiques. We had a longtime friend who had been in the antique business in France for many years and who encouraged us to start importing. In the fall of 1994, my husband and I went to France to make our first purchase. Our friend introduced us to the whole process, along with several merchants. We weren’t exactly sure how to go about starting our business, but at this point we were determined.”

Do you remember your first purchase? “I’ll never forget. Our first purchase was a beautiful 19th Century Directoire Desk with an olive green leather top, several drawers, and a secret compartment. We were told that the breathtaking period antique was from a small village chateau and I was very sad when it sold.”

What’s the most stimulating part of what you do? “We prefer to do our own shopping and travel to France once a year for four weeks. Now that a lot of merchants have retired, it’s common that we go to antique fairs. There they have merchants from all over Europe selling a broad and very diverse collection of furniture. One of the most stimulating parts of the whole process is not knowing what we’ll see on any given trip. I love that feeling of curiosity and am always anticipating the surprise of what we’ll find.”

How do you determine what’s a good fit for your store? “I grew up in a home that had a very eclectic mix of furnishings. For instance, we had a bamboo sofa with hot pink vinyl cushions and an antique chest in the corner. It was a beautiful blend of antique and modern. Similarly, we try to select items that appeal to a broad audience and work well in any space from modern and classic homes to downtown lofts. We also try to find pieces that are multifunctional. Antique French carpenter’s benches can be difficult to find, but are extremely versatile and make for great consoles, entry pieces, or even kitchen islands. The items you’ll find in our store are one-of-a-kind elements of history and conversation pieces that feed your soul, with craftsmanship that’s impossible not to appreciate.”

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What part of your business gives you the most satisfaction? “First and foremost, I’m a people person and I love when my customers are happy. Secondly, no two days are the same, which allows me to wear many hats. From picking out great pieces, orchestrating getting them back to the U.S., preparing them to be in the store, marketing and blogging about them, and finally selling the imports, there’s never a dull moment. Who knew? I learn something every day, and because the industry and technology continue to change, I don’t foresee my personal growth coming to an end anytime soon. When you go into business for yourself, you have to love to work, which my husband and I both do. But more so, we love to help people bring beauty into their homes and find something that will bring them joy. It’s always fun to help someone with their first antique.”

What are your goals? “To adapt and evolve with the changing world of antiques. We continue to change with the times, and right now we’re working on our online presence. There’s so much to explore! The integration of online marketing, social media, blogging, etc., has allowed us to reach a huge demographic that we couldn’t have even imagined. Picture this: We import a piece of furniture from France to our store in Austin. Someone in Australia sees that piece of furniture, purchases it online, and then we ship it there. It’s absolutely incredible!”

When you were 15 did you imagine you’d be where you are today? “My grandparents were business people who owned a ladies’ clothing store. My grandfather was the public figure who engaged with the customers, while my grandmother was in charge of the financials. When I was 15 I got my first job working for them at their store. It’s both funny and ironic that years later I find myself repeating history and running my own business with my husband. Indeed, we have come a long way over the last 20 years. We started in a small gallery and a year and a half later we moved into our current antiques center. Now we import forty-foot containers and aside from our store, have a warehouse filled with more treasures.”

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What is something you can not live without? “Exercise! I love to practice yoga and run. I like getting out and enjoying all of Austin’s green space like Barton Springs, Deep Eddy, and the Oasis. Also, socializing! I love getting together with friends and family, taking walks around Town Lake, and going to the farmer’s market at Republic Square every Saturday. One of the best things about Austin is the opportunity to buy local and support Austinites and their businesses. The University here brings so much to the city, and it has been quite fascinating watching it grow.”

Speaking of supporting Austinites, tell us about Project Transitions. “Project Transitions is a non-profit organization that helps people living with HIV and AIDS in Central Texas. For about 18 years I worked on grants and fundraising. It was a very rewarding experience and I am proud to have been a part of an organization making a difference in the world by helping those in need.”

Any words you try to live by? “Attitude is everything. We all have ups and downs, but it’s our perspective that makes all the difference. I try to approach everything with a positive attitude. Having a great husband by my side makes this a lot easier –I couldn’t do it without Pierre. It’s allowed us the opportunity to meet such a great mix of people all over the world, and what a wonderful adventure it has been!”

Négrel Antiques

Store Location: Gallery at Whit Hanks – 1009 W. 6th St., Ste 106 – Austin, TX 78703
Warehouse: Lamar Oaks – 2001 S. Lamar Blvd., Ste. F – Austin, TX 78704
Online:http://www.negrelantiques.com/ Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/negrelantiques

Project Transitions
Info, Volunteer, Donate: http://www.projecttransitions.org/