When New York transplant Christopher Gardner opened the doors on his whimsical antiques shop in December, the opening day reception was something of an unexpected success as A-Listers poured in, many walking out with coveted items from the Gardner & Barrow Ltd. treasure trove.
It was a move long overdue according to friends. Arriving in Houston in 2012 with his partner, Museum of Fine, Arts Houston director Gary Tinterow, Gardner put his career as antiques dealer (shops in Soho and later in Bridgehampton) on hold as he settled in to their new home, got to know the social landscape and began to understand the tastes of H-Town sophisticates.
It took finding just the right venue to convince Gardner that it was time to get back into the business — a charming 2,800 sq.ft. bungalow on Sunset. "I was looking for something a little bit more intimate (than a strip shopping center), something with a bit more patina and then this became available unexpectedly. It's 100 yards from where I live, so this was just irresistible," he says.
Gardner has filled the homey space with an eclectic collection of items ranging from the 19th century Minton jardiniere in the shape of a nautilus to a collection of mini Eiffel Towers to a child's double Adirondack chair.
"It's very eclectic," Gardner says. "It's home furnishings, objets d'art and interesting architectural elements. I'm not really into provenance so much. I'm just into interesting objects."
"Not everything is going to be brown furniture. It's going to have a little bit of whimsy. Whimsy is important."
The cozy bungalow enjoys an unusual homelike warmth due in part to Gardner's design talents. He was sales manager for Ralph Lauren Home in Europe before taking on the interior design of a hunting lodge in the Scottish Highlands. That project took several years and "gave me the opportunity to buy antiques and to eventually bring them back to New York to open up the shop."
As for the Houston endeavor Gardner says, "I wanted to make a new sort of antique shop, one that isn't so overwhelming. Not everything is going to be brown furniture. It's going to have a little bit of whimsy. Whimsy is important."
Indeed, in the front room of the house, Gardner has assembled a colorful grouping of 19th century hand-painted Czech furniture (a find from Belleville, Texas) with racks of colorful merino wool and silk scarves and embroidered raw silk jackets and caftans from India. "I've seen beautiful shops in Paris and London and New York," he explains "that are just the rack and I thought I wanted to do something like that myself and show beautiful colors and great craftsmanship."
Throughout the bungalow, the visitor will find vintage books, design books, the odd piece here and there and paintings of all varieties decorating the walls. "I think it's unusual to have so many pictures and it's a very hard sell, to sell artwork unless you have a Warhol," Gardner says adding "I like collecting the pictures and I think it makes for a really homey, residential feel."
For the record, Gardner says of his shop name, "It's just me. There isn't any Mr. Barrow." The moniker and logo were inspired by a 19th century woodblock print.