Ruth Gay tells all about the launch of her business, her love for European architecture, and how she strives to remain authentic.
By Kristen Ordonez
Though born in Parkersburg, West Virginia, Ruth Gay spent most of her childhood and adolescence growing up in Europe, traveling around the continent and living in places like Belgium, Ireland and Germany. This sense of adventure transpired into her career, as she opened Chateau Domingue, an architectural antiques firm, and became a 21st-century explorer.
How did you start in this business? What inspired you to begin working with antique home pieces?
My husband and I were going to build a house and my idea for his birthday was to take a trip to France to celebrate and shop for pieces to include in our new home. I really wanted to bring Europe to Houston. When we got there, it was harder to find certain pieces even though I knew they were there, and this was before the Internet was “big.” In 2001, I went on my first buying trip, starting out with one employee in the fall, and by Valentine’s Day I was asking my husband for a forklift as my gift. Now, with somewhere between 70 to 80 employees, it’s definitely no longer a hobby.
How often do you travel to Europe and what do you typically look for?
Traditionally, I go about every other month, but recently with the start up of Domingue Architectural Finishes [see page 32] I’ve only gone about three times in the last year. Typically, I will buy anything, from flooring to beautiful mantels and doors. I will buy things like entire private chapels, entire ferry stations for components at a time, orangeries, reclaimed lighting, ceilings… a lot of stone, mixed materials, and stone tables.
Do you prefer the smaller items like stones and tables, as opposed to the larger pieces like chapels and ceilings?
No, it’s got to be big, the bigger the better. Although I have a really big door fetish at the moment; we have about 700 doors in our inventory.
What are your favorite areas to visit in Europe?
My favorite area to visit and to work is Provence. I love the people, the weather, and the lifestyle. I’m also in Belgium a lot, which I really love. When it comes to design, I think Belgians are some of the more forward-thinking people, whether it’s interior design, architecture, or clothing design. I think the Belgians really have it going on.
What do you mean, “forward-thinking”?
They love to use old materials, and yet it’s so clean and contemporary looking. It’s the way they use the old materials. They probably use the old materials because they all live in old houses and that’s what they have.
A serene blue wall finish, inspired by the city of Bruges, from the Domingue Architectural Finishes palette.
Photo by Kennon Evett
Do you think this kind of style is how you base your searching, or are you open to other design styles?
I’m very open. We work with so many designers all over the country and so many people have their own style. It’s just so fun to watch how somebody will use our 17th-century flooring and old stonewalls in a very contemporary setting.
What would you like people to take away when they see you and your brand? What makes you stand out?
That one’s easy for me: it’s quality. Whenever we say something is what it is, if it’s reclaimed or it’s 17th century, it is. It’s really about authenticity and quality, and I think that’s what people take away when they come here. We’re an 18,000-square-foot showroom on 3 acres, and when people come to visit us, that’s one of the things we always hear: “I’m really blown away by the quality.”
Where would you like to see yourself and Chateau Domingue in 5 years?
Continuing to grow the business, and eventually my dream is to open another showroom somewhere else.
The Chateau Domingue showroom in Houston, Texas is appointed with antique, reclaimed architectural elements and features a consistently rotating inventory of decorative antiques acquired in Europe.
Photo courtesy Chateau Dominigue
Eddy Dankers & Ruth: Together Naturally
Gay recently partnered with artisan Eddy Dankers to open Domingue Architectural Finishes, a line of antique finishes within Chateau Domingue’s umbrella of other name brands.
How did you start in this art and in the business with Ruth Gay — what inspired you to begin working with her?
I could tell from the wonderful pieces Ruth imports for Chateau Domingue that she had an appreciation for natural materials and that her taste was very sympathetic to mine. We both care about things that are authentic and discretely luxurious, that capture quality and beauty in equal measure.
What about European design and art is so intriguing to you?
My passion is more for the materials than for a particular style. There is so much history behind what we do. These are materials that have been used in Europe for centuries and have never gone out of fashion for restoration projects. But what makes them exciting is how well suited they are for contemporary buildings and interiors. The finishes are so flexible; you can achieve any look, so they suit any style.
Can you go into more detail about Domingue Architectural Finishes and what the company offers?
We offer lime wash, mineral paint and a range of lime plasters. All of the materials are natural and together represent a collection of architectural finishes that are beautiful, flexible and unprecedented in the U.S. market. We will soon be introducing a line of interior and exterior paint from Belgium that is ideal for trim, windows and doors and other wood elements. It is a remarkable paint: easy to apply with a beautiful and durable matte finish.
What advice would you give to someone going into art, the antique business or even working on designing the interior of their home?
What we do is a mirror of our eyes so you always want to be curious and observant, traveling and connecting with people. It’s important to make no assumptions, to be naïve in a way, to just be honest and open.
Upon entering the Chateau Domingue showroom, one can expect to be greeted by a beautifully curated vignette.
Photo courtesy Chateau Domingue