The web, as in world wide web, was not even a thing when Bruno de la Croix-Vaubois opened the doors to Country French Interiors in 1986. Customers came in person to the 9,000-square-foot Slocum Street showroom to peruse the vast selection of antique 18th- and 19th-century fine European furnishings, Aubusson tapestries and objets d’art in search of unique pieces for their home interiors. Today, de la Croix-Vaubois still happily shows visitors around his showroom but, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, most buyers are viewing the inventory on the web—and business is booming.
“We were worried about not making it through the pandemic,” admits de la Croix-Vaubois, who says the first two months under the governor’s executive order to close nonessential businesses last year were difficult. “So, we kept adding more and more inventory online.” And sales ramped right back up.
As the name suggests, Country French Interiors specializes in country-style and provincial French furniture, as well as antiques from neighboring Spain and Italy. Complementing the beautifully crafted walnut, chestnut and wild cherry armoires, chests of drawers, writing desks and dining tables are countless decorative items, including mirrors, chandeliers, majolica and hand-carved clocks. “They are the colorful pieces that add warmth to finish a room,” says de la Croix-Vaubois, seated at his desk next to an 18th-century wardrobe that once belonged to his great-great-grandparents in his hometown of Versailles, France. “Selling antiques is sharing a part of history,” he says.
Although unnerving, the shutdown ultimately became a blessing in disguise for both the retailer and his buyers. Stuck inside their homes for months on end, people had both the time and incentive to reimagine their living space and refresh their décor to make it more comfortable. With online shopping the only option, customers were grateful to find one-of-a-kind pieces they wanted and have them delivered straight to their doors. For Country French Interiors, those deliveries often are far outside of North Texas. “We are shipping things to Australia, the United Arab Emirates and even back to France,” says de la Croix-Vaubois. “That’s the beauty of the internet.”
The irony of a business that specializes in 300-year-old furniture using modern technology to reach customers is not lost on the veteran antiques dealer. However, the showroom has had a presence on platforms like 1stDibs and Chairish for several years, along with a visual catalog on its own website, and was well positioned to pivot when the pandemic hit. Bruno de la Croix-Vaubois’ son, Chris, oversees the online listings, posting daily detailed descriptions and photographs of the showroom’s latest acquisitions that attract buyers from around the globe. “We have a good reputation on these websites, and we offer returns on everything,” says Chris de la Croix-Vaubois, adding, “We rarely get one, but it gives people peace of mind.”
Before the pandemic, the father and son team would travel two or three times a year to France to hand select the pieces they offer for sale. Bruno de la Croix-Vaubois was still able to travel last fall, and dealers overseas are always sourcing well-kept antiques for the showroom. But the duo also acquired numerous pieces from estate sales and auctions locally, as well as from longtime customers. For example, a couple that had purchased several pieces from Country French Interiors 20 years ago recently reached out to ask whether the business would like to buy back a few because they planned to scale down. By listing the furniture on consignment, the sellers likely will recoup at least 50 percent of their original purchase price, Bruno de la Croix-Vaubois says.
Although buying antique furniture is not an investment like the stock market, the items do have value, he notes. “There’s the monetary value and also the heritage,” he says. Antiques are distinctive and having a piece of furniture that is older than your country is special.
Just over de la Croix-Vaubois’ shoulder, his son works diligently at his computer, posting digital photos of furniture and tapestries rich with history. “Maybe someday, we’ll only need a warehouse and some really good pictures, and we’ll do everything online,” says the antiques dealer. He pauses a moment, considering the notion. “But this will never replace the one-on-one relationships we have with our clients.” *
Leslie J. Thompson is a Dallas-based freelance writer with a passion for interior design and international travel. Read more of her work at lesliejthompson.com.