When designing a room, the last thing that Gene Kerns and Dean Warden want you to do is select a cookie-cutter look from a catalog.
The owners of Heritage Antiques & Interiors in Dallas suggest that home design be sewn together with stories and pieces that stretch through time. One’s living room shouldn’t have a duplicate in their neighbor’s home down the street. Instead, it should have a vignette that captures the attention of guests—think an ornate French Bombay chest from the 1800s with a piece of abstract art hanging above and flanked by Lucite lamps from the ’60s.
“Are you trying to create a museum or curate a home?” Kerns asks. “Just a couple of those really good, older pieces blended in bring a level of quality and character that is not achievable any other way.”
Kerns, who owns Heritage Antiques & Interiors with Warden, his partner in life and business, grew up surrounded by antiques in his home as his grandmother was an antiques dealer. As the couple searched for pieces to complete their own home, they were drawn to the craftsmanship and quality of antiques, and they jokingly thought, “What would it be like if we owned our own antiques shop?”
That fleeting daydream soon turned into a reality when they took the plunge almost 13 years ago and took a booth in an antiques mall. Fully committing to the business that they had fallen in love with, they opened their own shop in the metroplex six years ago.
“Our rule is nothing is sitting in our store that we wouldn’t put in our own home immediately,” Warden explains. “We buy the best. We know how to care for them—their finishes—and we do that in the original way.”
In the store, customers will find carefully arranged furniture, tableware, artwork, accessories, Delft pottery, and more than 60 chandeliers and lighting fixtures hanging from the ceiling. Most of the inventory comes through relationships Warden and Kerns built with exporters in France and Belgium, as well as wholesale furniture providers across the country. Perusing their store, one will see a piece from the 1700s sharing a space with something they ordered from the Dallas Market last week.
Kerns and Warden’s curated collection of goods earned them the title of Designers’ Choice for Antiques by the American Society of Interior Designers and Gold for Antiques and Collectibles in the 2022 Best in DFW from the Dallas Morning News.
“This is not your grandmother’s antiques shop,” Kerns says. “We try to blend in the very best new things for a lighter, updated look.”
During their annual buying trips to Europe—sometimes as short as three days—the two hit the pavement to ensure they have time to meet with each of their connections. These multigenerational antiques pickers hail from Northern France and Western Belgium and go through estate sales and warehouses to provide a selection of top-quality pieces. Many they’ve met through Instagram, and they’ve built relationships of both friendship and respect.
“They’re all little businesses,” Kerns says. “It tends to be a husband and wife in France, individual people, and they tend to have a workman or a cabinetmaker on-site, so we’re talking about operations of three or four people at most.”
When Kerns and Warden do have a few hours to spare, they make a point to indulge in the local cuisine after a morning of negotiating and buying. There are also cultural sites to visit, such as the Louvre-Lens Museum, Waterloo, and weekend antiques fairs—namely, the celebrated Tongeren flea market in Belgium. It’s the largest weekly flea market in the country and boasts about 400 vendors.
Whether at home in Dallas or on trips to Europe, running Heritage Antiques & Interiors is truly a labor of love. During these buying trips, they’re also coordinating shipping, customs, clearance, movers and unpacking when they arrive home. While Warden runs the showroom, Kerns still works full time in educational software. He works in an office in the back, often allowing him to come to the front in a pinch. When they are away, their friend Tammy Powell covers things. They’re not a small business, they’re a micro-business.
And despite the name, Heritage Antiques & Interiors isn’t just about the old and vintage. Antiques are about half of what they sell, as they also source furniture from contemporary wholesale furniture and lighting providers, such as Aidan Gray Living in Dallas, Eloquence in Los Angeles, Revelation from North Carolina, and a number of other makers from the High Point showrooms.
“They hand distress every piece—each one comes in somewhat unique,” Warden says of the attention to detail by one of their wholesalers. “There’s only a handful of people that can do that well. Other brands try, and you see through it pretty quickly.”
Learning to care for pieces has been top of mind for the business owners, too. While in Europe, Warden learned the disappearing art of French polishing as well as the proper way to clean pieces. The two are happy to pass along this knowledge to customers so they can continue to keep their purchases looking fresh. Popular picks include sideboards—which many repurpose for entertainment centers—and farmhouse tables.
But no matter what customers walk out the door with, it’s about quality and character, something that every single piece that comes into Heritage Antiques & Interiors must have.
“Let’s create a home for people that is not just something ordered off the pages of a catalog; it’s something that’s curated over time, specific to them with pieces that no one else could have,” Kerns says. *
Christiana Lilly is a freelance journalist in Pompano Beach, Florida. See more of her work spanning the arts, community news and social justice at christianalilly.com.