The best rooms mix styles,” says Georgia Vanites Ingram. The vignettes she creates in her airy, welcoming California shop in Corona del Mar, Cloistered Collection, demonstrate her point: A pair of 1750s Scandinavian chairs that retain their original blue paint stand near a contemporary abstract oil; a Gustavian sofa keeps company with a Swedish Baroque chest and a 300-year-old carved bust of a French bishop. The effect is simultaneously eclectic and harmonious.
Opening a boutique filled with art and antiques might seem an unlikely venture for a former lawyer, but a sojourn in England, where her husband’s job had taken her family, rekindled her early love of art history and led her to the decorative arts. Living near Windsor Castle, Ingram spent time exploring museums in Britain and throughout Europe. One day, she happened on an antiques fair in London’s Battersea Park. “As soon as I walked in, I was blown away by the painted Swedish furniture,” she says. “The first piece I bought was a massive Danish linen press.”
The fair kindled Ingram’s collecting spirit. “It was instrumental in developing my love for and interest in antiques, and it propelled me to attend other antique fairs and hunt for treasures in other parts of Europe,” Ingram recalls. She became friends with dealers, and they in turn encouraged and educated her. One day, one of those dealers said to her, ” ‘You do know you have the bug, don’t you?’ ” she recalls. “I realized he was right. I was obsessed with these painted pieces–the patina, the history, the provenance.”
Ingram took that obsession back to the United States when the family relocated to Orange County. In looking at design shops in the area, she realized that no one carried the kinds of Scandinavian pieces she loved, which seemed to be a natural fit for Southern California. “The whites, creams and blues work well for sunny places, especially for coastal homes,” she says, adding, “Just one antique piece can make a huge difference in a room. It can make your house feel curated.”
When choosing to buy a piece for her shop, she notes, “I have to love it in order to sell it.” Among the things she loves is the washed and textured look of dry-scraped painted pieces from Scandinavia, but she also adores painted furniture from southern France and the Low Countries. “I like a piece to have an interesting story and to not be too antique-y,” she says.
Acquiring interesting pieces with unique stories is made easier by her extensive contacts in Britain and throughout Europe, which her clients–mostly interior designers–appreciate. And she’s happy to help them seek out special items. With some time, “I can usually find exactly what a client needs,” she says.
Ingram complements the furniture she displays with architectural elements and contemporary paintings by artists such as her friend Lorraine Pennington. Sculptures, too, have proven surprisingly popular with her clients. “I think it helps to see furniture and art together,” she says. It’s that layered look, Ingram adds, that makes the shop inviting–and perfect for modern Southern California homes.