Karyl Pierce Paxton is not a native New Orleanian, but her appreciation and devotion to the city rivals that of people who were born here, even after her home dcor design studio in the Warehouse and Arts District took on water during Hurricane Katrina. Although she sells her designs worldwide through Savoy House, a Georgia-based home fashions retailer, and could work anywhere, Paxton says she wouldn't consider leaving her adopted hometown.
"My work is so heavily influenced by New Orleans," she says. "To design, I go to the French Quarter and look at fences, railings, buildings. All of my design inspiration comes from the city. I'm a hardcore New Orleanian."
The designer, who specializes in lighting but also ventures into other home dcor, grew up in Texas and opened Pierce Paxton Studio Design in Jackson, Miss., but came to New Orleans several years ago because she could find the space and artistic resources necessary for turning her design ideas into products.
"I needed more access to artists and fabricators," she says. "It's the best thing I ever did. Here I found talented iron fabricators and could get my furniture hand-painted. It requires an extremely sophisticated artist and advanced woodworking skills, not just a carpenter but a true wood furniture artist. That's what the city has to offer."
About eight years ago some of her designs that were featured in Southern Accents caught the eye of Savoy House, which now carries an extensive array of her products from chandeliers to lamps, ceiling fans and other furnishings in both wood and metal. It's been a mutually beneficial union as Savoy House's sales have doubled every year since they became partners.
"This gave me the ability to design anything I want ... because we have so many options. It's been a really great ride."
She currently is developing affordable but classic lighting designs, bathroom furnishings and a fixture collection for a national home-improvement retailer, and Paxton plans to license her designs in floor and wall coverings, decorative accents, dinnerware, flatware, glasses and containers.
"Anything that goes in the home is exciting for me to design," she says. "It keeps me and my designers invigorated. Lighting is what I focus on now, but furniture is something I love."
Paxton is known for her signature furnishings that draw heavily from 18th century styles and hand-painted finishes. The Old World influences, appreciation for classical architecture and centuries-old patinas combine in designs that fit in nicely with the aesthetics of today's homeowners.
"My experience with Americans is that the majority want a taste of the old, of history in their homes," even in new homes, Paxton says. "Most of the products I design go into new homes. There is a market for contemporary, but it's a small market."
Because modern homes have such a huge emphasis on luxurious bathrooms and outdoor spaces such as screened-in patios, open porches and outdoor kitchens that are extensions of the living space, Paxton designs exterior chandeliers and lighting fixtures as well as a range of ceiling fans for these areas. "We find ourselves designing products that we didn't design before," she says. We've designed ceiling fans that have a light fixture on them and fans to match other exterior lighting fixtures."