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Circa: Deuxième Partie

*This is Part Two of my blogs about my former antique shop, Circa, in Santa Barbara, California. If you have not read part one, click HERE.… You need the back story…

Shopping for merchandise for our antique store, Circa, was very very difficult… mainly because I loved it all so much I didn’t want to sell it. My mother and I had a pact, like I mentioned in a previous blog, we would only buy that which we loved. Maybe that wasn’t such a good idea.

We sourced our merchandise from all over the world… France, Spain, Italy, New York, Morocco, Atlanta, Los Angeles… You name it, we were there. With absolute pride, every piece (almost) went into our shop.

My mother had to tell me that I had too many NFS (not for sale) tags on too many things. But how could I sell that 18th-century statue of the woman in that dress! How could I sell that? How could I sell that plaster frieze? How could I sell that painting of the man with the easel ( I didn’t, I’m looking at it right now in my living room in Paris.). It was torture watching some of my favorites leave the shop. I have a little secret… Sometimes I was very naughty. Sometimes, if someone asked me the price of my very favorite piece I would either tell them that it wasn’t for sale or that it was $5 million dollars. That ought to deter them.

One of my favorite things to do at our shop was to find a great piece that needed a little help. For example, I found a beautiful Napoleon III chaise in Paris that needed a little love. My mother and I decided that we would give it a lot of love. First things first, we marched our little selves to one of my favorite fabric shops, Silk Trading Company. (I only go to Diamond Fabric and Foam for the free bread.) Silk Trading Company has some of the best fabrics, the best textures, the best prints and the best colors and you can have a cut that day… You don’t have to order it. I don’t have that kind of patience, I am an Aries. Silk Trading Company knows what upholstery silk should feel like and look like and it is not super expensive… Only kind of expensive. Their velvets are the creamiest and Silk Trading Company knows what a pop of blue should look like and how the warmth of beige should look. We chose three different fabrics for the chaise… A print, a silk and a velvet… All in a warm golden beige. And for the grand finale, we chose a pop of velvet peacock blue with golden trim for a pillow. I mean, c’mon!

My mother was the one who was obsessed with lamps and lampshades. While we were in Paris collecting for our store, my mother always made a point to find usual objects to be used as bases for lamps. We would bring them back to the states, have them wired, and then the fun would begin. My mother would go to a little atelier in Montecito and work with a woman who was a master at lampshades. They would look at the base and decide what its characteristics were, its attributes and then they would decide the best shape of the lampshade, the best color for fabric, the best texture and most importantly the best trim. The love and care that my mother put in the lampshades was evident because the lamps would never be in the store for more than a couple of days… Sold!

One of our most favorite pieces to buy were mirrors. My mother and I absolutely adore mirrors… Mainly 19th and 18th century gilt mirrors. Honestly, a mirror is one of the most important pieces of a room. It’s your focal point, it’s the reflection and it is the highlight of any room. One of the main reasons that I rented this apartment in Paris is because of the two monumental 18th-century gilt mantle mirrors. My mother and I brought back at least 15 mirrors from Europe for our shop. Only four of them made it to the store and the rest only made it as far as my mother’s house.

We both were obsessed with accessories. Sconces, chinoiserie boxes, tole trays, coffee table books, vases, candlesticks, blue-and-white anything, picture frames, Anichini hand towels, paintings, sculptures, busts, garden urns, tablecloths, Faberge boxes, jardinières… Total obsession. There were so many different types of accessories in our shop but somehow they all went together perfectly. When you buy what you love, it all works.

We did have one little accessory that was extra extra special. A woman in Paris was offering her entire collection of gold hearts. Why is that so special, you ask? The hearts are called ex voto which means in Latin “from the vow made.” These little hearts /sacre coeurs were used as religious offerings to a saint or deity as gratitude on little hand written notes inside. The ones that I bought have a little French prayer on the front,

“Lisez, O Notre Dame

Dans le coeur que voici

L'espoir de mon âme

Son amour aussi.”

I bought all of the hearts… And kept most of them… Giving them as gifts to my friends. Yolanda still keeps hers on her bedside table.


There are a few things that I wish I never sold… My white taxidermy peacock named Ursula, the set of four black leather chairs with gold detailing from the 1920s, a Jacques Garcia black lacquered clover table, a marble and iron industrial table, every lamp we’ve ever had, every Fortuny pillow, every statue… I basically wish I never sold one thing.

Do you want to know something interesting? My best sales were before 10 o’clock in the morning before the store opened. I would go to the shop after I dropped little Gracie off at school at about 8:30 in the morning. Our shop was on a street that was great for early morning walking with a Starbucks latte after the farmer's market. My mother and I made sure that our windows stopped the early morning walkers in their tracks. Our windows were huge so you could see the entire first level of the store from the outside. Without fail, the people who had their faces pressed to our windows could see that I was inside at my desk… Tap tap tap. Something you might not know about me? I’m actually overly polite and I would never ever just sit at my desk and not open the doors early for customers. (Some shop owners do that and I think it’s so rude.) The good news is that these early morning openings resulted in some of my best sales. My favorite early-morning sale was to an older gentleman (he told me he was 82 years old), very refined, who bought my beloved 18th-century statue of a woman draped in a beautiful gown/robe. It was a gift for his wife for Valentine’s Day. How sweet!

Our shop combined antiques with new items as well. My mother and I traveled to the famous Maison et Objet show in Paris twice a year. For furniture and accessories, this is the show of all shows. You want to know something funny? The first time we went to the show, my internal biological clock was off and I wasn’t thinking clearly and I accidentally took too many birth-control pills and I basically threw up the entire first day of the Maison et Objet show and I was completely delirious. Day 2 of the show was much better and I was so glad because this is not a show to miss. I wrote a blog about it back in 2009 that is kind of funny. If you want to read it click HERE. We placed our biggest order with a company based out of France. Everything that they have is a reproduction based on the original… Let me tell you, these are the best I’ve ever seen. They are masters of getting the gold gilt just right and can make the piece look exactly like it was handed down to you by your rich great aunt who lived in Paris. We bought lamps, chinoiserie boxes, lanterns, small tables and these great skinny rectangular mirrors.

We also designed our own line of sofas and headboards. For the bedding, we chose the best…Anichini. We could barely keep the Anichini throws in stock with their great patterns and colors. While we were in Paris, we found an artisan who made the chicest Moroccan tea sets you’ve ever seen with vibrant colors of purple, blue, pink and green with little chains. We were offered the chance to design the tea sets with our own shapes, colors and accoutrements to make it very special for our shop. My other favorite “new” product was our line of Faberge. Can you believe Faberge still makes stuff? They do! We purchased for our shop their line of picture frames, enamel boxes etched with love notes inside, and a fabulous set of champagne glasses and caviar bowls. Amazeballs!

I wish I had better and more pictures to show you but they are all packed away in my storage in Los Angeles. Let’s take a look at what I do have…


Voilà! Circa!

I have a little surprise for all of you regarding Circa as well! Stay tuned for the next blog…


  1. Love it all! Have a great weekend!

    xo xo and prayers,

  2. So gorgeous. Every detail is truly perfection!! But--did you know that The Silk Trading Company is no longer what it once was? It was greatly reduced in size after the divorce of the owners. So sad because I loved buying fabric there, too. Those black leather neoclassica/ldeco chairs are to die for. xoxox Mary

  3. Maren has a gold heart also..And, I have mine. Thankfully I grabbed everything you showed me! XO

  4. Dear Ellie,
    I love everything.
    As in absolutely every single thing that I can see, I would be deeelighted to have in my home.
    Actually, I would have been more than happy to just move into Circa and be done with it.
    Thank you for showing us a little glimpse of perfection.
    Did I mention that I love everything? Oh, I did.
    Well then, have a nice day.
    Love, your pal,

    (as you can see I am in full restraint mode but if you so much as glance at the dam I will gush like a river...)

  5. You and your Mom had the most beautiful shop I've ever seen! My goodness, you two are talented. I never would have wanted to leave.

  6. The balance of color in these vignettes is so pleasing and the black seems so comfortable rather than imposing. I love it and wish I could go back in time and work in your store. My sister makes a lot of her clothes and my absolute favorite piece is a skirt she made with silk from STC. I love that place and how the fabrics there all catch light in such a moody way. I think the way silk reflects light makes it always look at home in a space because it adjusts so seamlessly to changing light.
    I would be the exact same way. I hate to let go of beautiful things. I know that having a store would not be for me! I'm sure the people in that neighborhood were so sad to see you go. Especially because they had just cleared their lacquer-induced headaches.

  7. Oh good Lord...I would have thrown my rent money at you every month! xo

  8. Ellie i am in awe of the fabulous offerings from your shop. Was it terribly difficult to close it? I mean it must have been although you've kept so many treasures. I cannot even begin to tell you my favorites there are so many. I do love to have a show stopping mirror in every room along with great art.
    The Arts by Karena

  9. Love your store photos! I'm a mid-century modern person myself but I would have mixed in some of those Asian pieces in a heartbeat! And, all of the heads! I love heads and I love ex voto pieces! Waaaaa! I want to shop in your store!!!

  10. What a shop - and what lovely taste you and your mom have. No wonder you two had a difficult time not keeping everything!

  11. I love it all too. That final picture of the deconstructed chair is now my inspiration to recoverer a love seat I have.

  12. Now I understand why I am not inclined to spend the funds I have on home furniture and objects: I am waiting for your Cirque to re-open. What a glorious and, in my experience, unparalleled establishment! I can certainly understand why it was agonizing to part with the treasures you had found and/or created. (What you did with that chaise is extraordinary! It is the chaise for which my mother searched all her life.) Bravo, Eleanor and mother!! Thank you, Eleanor, for your posts about Cirque: every photograph and anecdote is a gem. Such talent and generosity!

  13. I'm really loving your stories about your and your mother's shop Circa! I'm also staying tuned for the next blog, because I can hardly wait for the little surprise regarding Circa. Have a wonderful day and evening in you part of the world!

  14. me too! love it......wish I were there visiting you! xoxo merci Ellie ~

  15. Wow, are those black chairs the ones that you were referring to that got away?? I LOVE THEM, and the aquamarine settee, and the mirrors, and on and on....what an absolutely LOVELY store!! It was obviously a labor of love between two very talented women!!! Thank you so much for sharing and I will be the first in line when you you must;) Mary P

  16. Such a wonderful journey - Mom and You searching and finding and gathering treasures in all those amazing destinations . Circa was a gem in this little town , thank you ! Love to Anne and always to you darling girl , A

  17. Circa was the best store I have ever been in. And I have been in many!! And the best-looking!!! Big mistake to paint over that chic black lacquer. Now it's empty!!!

  18. Gorgeous shop you and your mom had! How lovely that you celebrated your love of design there and shared it with the lucky people in your neighborhood.

  19. I had a shop.
    I had a PACT with MYSELF....only buy what I LOVE.
    HARD to sell some of it.
    Got tried of explaining what NFS meant!!!Then woman would say......."Why is it in the store if YOU do not want to sell?"
    My response...........AMBIENCE.
    THANK GOD you and I did not meet up earlier in LIFE!!!!!

    1. Actually; I wish you HAD!! Soulmates par excellence!!!!

  20. I now understand your hatred of Pottery Barn. ;)

  21. Dear Ellie,

    Fabulous story and photos! Love that you and your Mom share such a passion of design and decorating together. Thank you for sharing your passion with your readers. It's a highlight of my day when you post your stories. Jeanne Smith, West Jordan, Utah

  22. Can't wait for your next post. You have a fanciful way of exciting the masses…at least the masses with good taste! You are right about your mom's way with lamps. And those heads on the wall are fabulous! Love body parts in decor…kinda creepy cool… that Ursula. I would miss her too! xoxo

  23. just so you and everyone knows.....the lady above who made this comment makes the most fabulous pillows on this earth! all made of antique tapestries; gold and silver embroidery; and various beautiful textiles! Google her! and bookmark also! I had a "speaking engagement" in Dallas......and I was paid a fortune (for having more fun than I have ever had in my life); and I spent every single penny on Rebecca's pillows of 17th century tapestries!
    Worth every single penny!!!!

  24. Patina, patina-coated beauty....stepping out of another era...awakening in one memory-laden
    genes refusing to lie dormant...... I have sat on that daybed...looked in that grand mirror....
    been there - done that....that is one of the reasons Cirque prevailed..... it welcomed one back
    in a most tasteful and elegant manner......