Call it serendipity. That's what brought interior designer Chris Bronson and teacher Renee Hunt together to create French Quarters Antiques in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
A busy high school French teacher and mother of four, Renee was enjoying a rare afternoon shopping excursion when she stopped at Chris's downtown store early in 1999. Noting the number of French antiques, Renee struck up a conversation with the shopkeeper, who mentioned that she had dreams of traveling to France to purchase antiques. Her big roadblock--she didn't speak the language.
Still, the meeting sparked Chris's imagination. A talented interior designer with 20 years' experience, she envisioned the success they could have together. Few people have the language skills to buy direct from France. Most are forced to rely on others to select their merchandise and negotiate the price. Even Renee, the logical teacher, could see the possibilities.
Just a week later, the two formalized their partnership, which includes their husbands, Terry Hunt and Storm Carr. Soon, Chris and Renee were making travel plans, and in June 1999 they came back with their first container of antiques. They now spend at least two months out of the year traveling in France and throughout Europe.
Renee's negotiating skills and fluency in French paired with Chris's design talent have enabled the partners to find treasures such as the 8-foot-tall, 18th-century hand-carved Louis XV walnut clock that was sold recently to a Little Rock collector. "A lot of people have pickers--they're French people who pick out pieces and then send photographs to American dealers," Renee explains. "It's a whole different thing when we are looking at it ourselves--Chris with her great eye and me finding out as much as I can about the piece. That makes a huge difference in the quality of what we bring back."
French Quarters certainly reflects their success. As soon as you walk in the front door, you're instantly transported to Europe. Scenes from a French village cover the walls, providing the perfect setting for the fine merchandise. Selections range from marble-top tables and hand-carved armoires to rustic mustard pots and dainty Limoges boxes.
"Often what we seek can be found in our own backyards," Chris muses. "People who discover our shop while passing through the Ozarks or on our Web site are amazed that our prices are usually half of what they have seen elsewhere. We truly bring the French countryside to middle America."
French Quarters Antiques: 11 North Block Avenue, Fayetteville, AR 72701; (479) 443-3355 or www.french-quarters.com.
"French Shopping in Arkansas" is from the November 2002 issue of Southern Living. Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it's still current before making your travel plans.