One Trip to France...
How a Trip to France Changed Pat Monroe’s Life
AUSTIN, TX. Just as Austin reinvented itself as the Live Music Capital of the World, a portrait artist named Pat Monroe re-trained her eye to become one of Texas’ pre-eminent antique dealers.
As a portraitist, Pat was very successful. But as Austin began growing, corporate opportunities abounded and Pat carved a niche for herself in health care marketing. By 1996, with two fully formed career paths Pat was ready for something different. It took only one trip to France to discover her real passion. She fell in love with the lyricism of French furniture and hasn’t looked back since.
In the beginning Pat was too timid to shop France and load up a container, so she shopped local estate sales and nearby auctions.
Living in a home already endowed with proud antiques from her mother and mother-in-law, Pat found way to incorporate her acquisitions. Before long, she was selling them to her friends and a few decorators.
Of course, selling from home can have its drawbacks, as Pat discovered when a buyer coveted a pair of chairs she loved. Off they went, and at that moment Pat Monroe made the transition from amateur peddler to professional dealer. For who else could part with something she loves?
Sometime later, she became enchanted with a dealer’s shop in a nearby shopping center. Pat remembers the owner had a collection of Paris Shabby pieces that she displayed as though they were in a Bohemian apartment. An oriental rug thrown over a table. A nearly human sized carved stone statue adorned in an 18th Century dress and crown. Seeing what could be done with displays, Pat realized, “Antiques can be anything you want them to be. You can mix them with contemporary pieces to get an up-to-date look or you can use them to create an antique look.”
This moment of truth led her to bite the bullet and open a small shop of her own in the same shopping center. She did well-- very well-- and soon was searching for a space in a more prominent part of town. She moved some of her inventory into an established dealer’s shop and there she says she “got the education of my life."
Such relationships are not unusual in the world of antiques. The passion that flows from one dealer’s heart and the knowledge that he spreads in the course of conversation can be the nugget that inspires another person to delve deeper and deeper into the history of styles.
Today Pat Monroe greets new customers, old friends and decorators in her light, airy, 2,000 square foot shop at Whit Hanks Galleries, a few blocks from Austin’s busy Convention Center.
The shop is dressed, as it were, in vignettes and paired pieces that stand out against the putty colored walls. The spectrum of harmonious colors gives the shop an elegant but cozy feel. Beneath the skylights, chandeliers sparkle and show off their rococo designs. Sconces adorn the walls. Most of the lighting is non-functioning when Pat finds it but she has it rewired before offering it for sale.
For the most part, Pat carries unusual pieces, such as a pastry table with an antique bottom and a newly cut top, a gold Italian sofa with black mohair upholstery, a Paris balcony converted to a console, with a zinc top that makes it suitable for use indoors or out.
One of the items she is most proud of at the moment is an 18th Century French wedding armoire. The highly carved casepiece bears turtle doves, fruit and traditional French motifs. As Pat tells the story, when a daughter was born, the family cut down a tree. Over the years, it became an armoire to be given as part of the dowry. Interestingly, the piece breaks down into sections the size of one sidepiece. It seems the French did a lot of traveling back in the 1700s and furniture needed to break down and fit into a cart.
Pat Monroe peppers the French with English and Swedish furniture too. The former are the faithful of traditional homes. The latter is now coming into vogue, especially around the Houston, Dallas, and other spots across the South.
If you ask her what she looks for in an antique, Pat will tell you she likes things that are luxurious but comfortable. “A chic easy look with elegance,” she says. “I love to buy things that people can pamper themselves on.”
A born retailer, Pat hates to see people ogle a piece and then have to walk away from it because of price. She works with customers, offering payment options and lay-a-way plans. “I just find it so rewarding when people find something they love,” Pat told us.
It must be so as she went on to say that when she leaves Pat Monroe Antiques each night to go home, her first thought is always that she gets to come back tomorrow.
or visit her at 1009 West 6th Street in Austin, Texas