“Antiques,” declares Kay O’Toole, “are full of history and mystery.” And her Houston shop, Kay O’Toole Antiques and Eccentricities, is full of choice European furnishings from the 18th and 19th centuries. O’Toole, a courageous buyer with an eccentric eye, a honeyed drawl and a fabulous sense of style, travels Europe searching for the time-honored treasures. “I’ve painted since childhood,” she says. “My sensibility about antiques comes from my art training. It has taught me a unique way of looking at things.” She lives her work, even building a small, three-room home behind her shop and furnishing it with her favorite old things, most of them from Italy. “Antiques breathe romance into a room,” she says. “The ones I buy are the ones that call to me.” While sitting in the shop, O’Toole still works on her watercolors. “I like surreal art,” she says. “I’m doing a series of blue skies and clouds now.” The link between her art and her antiques? Like longtime friends, they speak to her in calm, reassuring tones.
LX: Describe your home:
KO: I made sketches for a dozen years before I finally got the courage to build my perfect pied-à-terre. It’s a little house based on a 1700s New Orleans French Quarter home. It’s peaceful and dramatic.
LX: Favorite decorating sources:
KO: Houston antique shops are some of the best in the country. In my opinion, they are even better than Paris, better than New York.
LX: Dream collaboration:
KO: I’ve always wanted to work with Renzo Mongiardino. He passed a long time ago, so it will never happen, but I love the glorious faux finishes he created for walls in Europe and the United States.
LX: I always carry…
KO: Hermès’ Un Jardin Sur Le Nil perfume.
LX: Design icon:
KO: Andrea Palladio. He did these fabulous houses inspired by the simplicity of Greek architecture and took advantage of light and space.
LX: What do you collect?
KO: Friends! I have enough antiques.