The enduring beauty and durability of marble has captivated people for centuries, whether molded into fine art sculptures displayed in museums or weathered urns decorating old gardens. Lynda Vitry recognized the fascination and seven years ago opened Roman Capital (115 City Park Ave., 486-8800; www.romancapital.com) to offer customers finely detailed Italian cast-marble statues, fountains, planters, columns, plaques, pedestals and more at affordable prices. The store also offers custom-design items in limestone, marble and bronze.
"Cast marble is what I sell the most of," says Vitry. "It's more affordable than people realize. It's all made in Italy. With the cast marble, the marble is pulverized and won't crumble. The advantage is that the details are so pretty and fine, and it's very durable."
Vitry was working at a fashion-forward furnishings store when she started listening to trend experts discuss how people were increasingly investing more interest in their homes and yards when the idea for Roman Capital hit her. She found a company in Italy that made quality cast items using the pulverized marble process she preferred and Italian craftsmen to take care of carving custom orders out of limestone or marble. Then she set up shop in a building near the intersection of Metairie Road and City Park Avenue that had been vacant for several years.
The experts' forecasts were right. "I've seen a lot more people accessorizing their gardens," she says. "I think they're utilizing that space a lot more. Years back, people did use their garden and decorated it. Then we went through a phase where we neglected the outdoors, but now they're seeing it again as a space they can utilize, with patios, backyard areas and gardens."
Business at the Mid-City shop, located a stone's throw from several cemeteries, has been good. Vitry says she has added cemetery statuary to her offerings, mainly because so many people requested it or had come to Roman Capital thinking it was a headstone business. There are angels, urns, patron saints and other religious images in stock.
Most of her customers, however, are looking for decorative items for inside and outside their homes that will maintain their beauty over time. "I think by far (the cast-marble Roman Capital carries) is the finest product of its kind made," the owner says. "It's structurally sound. It's durable. People are trying to put more energy into their homes; maybe that's where they feel secure and relaxed. It adds a lot to just tuck a piece into the garden, and fountains are relaxing with the sound of the water. I think people need that comfort zone."
The range of items runs the gamut from tall columns that can act as supports outside to shorter columns that can be configured into a four-poster bed to foot-high statues to sit on a table or a plaque to hang on a wall. In addition, the shop has a full-time artist on staff who applies finishes to cast and carved items as well as painting canvases and room dividers, which also are for sale.
Many customers come to Roman Capital to find giant urns for planting flowers or for display indoors, table bases they can couple with glass tops, statues ranging from life-size for pint-size, and fountains for indoor or garden use.
"There's something to match everyone's taste," says Vitry. "I've put an awful lot of marble in this city over the past few years. You have to be passionate about something. I love designer things, and if you can have it at a good price ... why settle for an inferior product?"
The New Orleans native says highway construction that closed off exits to City Park Avenue from I-10 has made it more complicated for customers to reach her shop, so she's offering a special in-store only "Thank-you New Orleans" sale through October that features up to 50 percent off almost everything.
"Because of the length of time I've been buying merchandise and the volume I've been buying, I get good prices, and I pass that on to the customers. There are discounts in the store every day. But this sale is for the locals, because they have to go to more effort to get to us now."
Vitry admits that since opening Roman Capital, she no longer has time to garden herself and has given up most of her free time to grow the business. It's not a complaint, however.
"It's a fun business, and I really enjoy doing it," she says. "I have a lot of regular customers who come back over the years, which kind of surprised me. It took some time to build the business, because it (the marble casting) was something people didn't know about. Now it has really caught on."
- Finely detailed cast-marble statues for inside or outside dcor come in a wide variety of designs and sizes at Roman Capital, which also sells fountains, urns, columns, table bases and art.