Antiques for a New Era

Lucullus Antiques moves to Bywater and targets the next generation of collectors
Lens Workspaces 01

Lucullus Antiques
915 Kentucky St., Bywater
Facebook: Instagram: @lucullusantiques

In 2019, Lucullus Antiques — a French Quarter fixture for 38 years — moved to Bywater. The new iteration is housed in a lightly renovated warehouse that owner and antiques dealer Patrick J. Dunne bought 28 years ago. The approximately 8,000-square-foot space includes a design showroom, warehouse, workshop and atelier. The relocation was part of a plan to reach the next generation of antiques buyers, meet them where they are and introduce them to the world of antiques.

“We realized the younger clients were not that enchanted by coming to a crusty old French Quarter store,” said Dunne. “The antique biz is ever evolving. We decided on a warehouse format where there is sort of a wow factor of coming to a warehouse opening the door and finding some 17th-century antique. It was a conscious decision.”

Dunne took a break from his summer buying trip in France to share a few details about this most recent incarnation of his business.

Biz New Orleans: What was the biggest design challenge (if any) and how was it overcome?

Patrick J. Dunne: The biggest challenge was to move from the charm and scale of the French Quarter shop and try to find a new idiom of style in this warehouse and make it make sense. I do think it was successful, due to [interior designer] Nathan [Drewes] and [decorator-stylist] Kerry Moody. It is not a pretty building, but somehow, they were able to make a charming and esthetic experience.

What is the standout feature of the design and why?

The standout is being able to pull off the contrast of the fine and ordinary. We have crystal chandeliers hanging from steel girders. It’s a playful contrast between the envelope and the contents. We didn’t want just a jumbled-up warehouse where things were dirty and stacked everywhere. On the other hand, we didn’t want to stucco the interior and create a mini-Versailles. We wanted to play with the industrial elements of a warehouse and style them for the 18th and 19th century.

How would you describe Lucullus Antiques and its core clientele?

Because of our modest longevity, our core clientele is the neighborhood. When I say the neighborhood, I mean Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. People of taste who are interested in collecting as opposed to just decorating.

How do you set yourselves apart from organizations doing similar work in the city?

Part of it, in terms of why our clients come back to us, is in fact the level of knowledge. From the beginning, I made a commitment to have an intellectual context to the business. If you came for a visit, you would notice that a good deal of the wall space is dedicated to books that are research materials. [It’s about] the content of what we are selling, but also the fact that we are a smaller store — very select. There’s no filler. I puzzle as much over a set of six glasses as I do an armoire that cost over $6,000. The thing we get the most feedback on is how precise and organized Nathan is.

How do you promote a positive work atmosphere for the staff?

I don’t know why they keep sticking with me. That’s a good question. I don’t like to use the notion of employees as family because families are very dysfunctional. I’ve avoided that parallel. But I do give them complete freedom. I never criticize a decision that might not be the best and I’m very heavy with the praise when they do fabulous things, which is often. I’m very grateful for their help. I don’t feel like they work for me. I feel like they are just working for a business I’m part of. I think one of the attractions is continuity. When we shrunk the shop, no one had been there for less than 15 years. I would say our model is antiquated, but maybe that’s best for antiques.

What are your biggest challenges?

The biggest challenges at the moment are the mood of casualness that has pressed into every aspect of American business — not returning calls, not following up. At all levels, whether it’s ordering fabric or transport, [the struggle is] having people be willing to be on time and coherent. On the supply side, that is the biggest challenge right now, because I’ve always taken the business side of it very seriously. On the demand side, the most challenging thing is that the internet has created a certain level of expectation and impatience that we find difficult to satisfy. [It’s about] adapting to a more Caribbean kind of life, and New Orleans is that on steroids.

What goals are you looking to meet in the next 12 months?

Our goal is to continue to expand our design work and to reach out to a larger, younger clientele and get them interested in things that are substantial. It’s a numbers game to get people interested in what we do. It is for antique dealers in general. To stay in business, it has to be interesting to me; it has to be fun.

Antiques are not sacred relics of the true cross. They are meant to be useful and playful.