In a cozy boutique full of French antiques, a white standard poodle sits when commanded to assieds-toi. Upon hearing bonjour, he holds out his paw to give a nice handshake. It sounds like a scene straight out of Paris, but it unfolds regularly right here in New Orleans. "(Balzac) understands my antique-dealer French," says Sarah Scott Thomas, owner-operator of Balzac Antiques (3506 Magazine St., 899-2668; www.balzacantiques.com).
The antiques store is named after the dog, who in turn is named after 19th-century French writer Honore de Balzac. The writer was a quirky character, making him a fitting namesake for the store, which Thomas seeks to fill with unique pieces. "I inevitably gravitate toward things that are a tiny bit quirky," she says. "They're going to have a twist."
Like his namesake, Balzac is a bit of a quirky dog. "He's elegant to look at, and he sits like a king, but he's just still a goofball," Thomas says. "If you're talking to him, he'll continue to walk, and he'll look at you over the shoulder and bump into a wall."
Though the name may be appropriate, Thomas' son, who was around 10 years old when Thomas bought the dog, was not such a fan of it. "He was very upset that I named the dog Balzac," Thomas says, pausing. "Because it sounds like anatomy." Fortunately for those who are uncomfortable with the name's homophonic quality, the dog also answers to Zac.
Thomas does her antiques shopping in France and Italy. The shop includes tables, armoires, settees, tapestries and artwork, but Thomas has a special affinity for certain antiques. "Drawings, chandeliers and mirrors are things I really, really love," she says. Every piece has a story, and Thomas does thorough research to learn the history. She takes pride in steering customers toward the right pieces for their budgets and aesthetics.
Like Thomas, Balzac also has favorite items. "Balzac usually picks a piece of furniture that he loves," Thomas says. He can often be found curled up on one of those favorites, be it a settee or a chaise longue, which generally draws customers' attention. "They feel guilty when they buy it, and I have to assure them it's OK; he'll get over it," she says, with a laugh.
One habit of Balzac's could actually deter people from purchasing certain items: taking the price tags off furniture. "People are like, 'Why don't you have a price tag on this?' and I'm like, 'I do, I do! I did,'" Thomas says. "The really funny thing is that he's kind of a sneak about it. It's not like I find him under my desk chewing paper, I'll find him in a corner chewing on paper."
Thomas enjoys being able to spend time socializing with her customers, many of whom become good friends, and looks forward to mingling with them when Balzac Antiques participates in Art for Art's Sake on October 1. "There's a comfort zone with the dog, with me, with the approachability of the things I sell, and so it's ... nice to have a special event after hours," she says. "And people won't leave. It's like they won't go to other stores. It's really, really fun."
My Favorite Things...
Staying at Zeus' Place
Playing in puddles