THE IRISH EXPERTS

by HELEN HILL / photography by HOLGER OBENAUS

You won’t hear a Texas twang when you meet Nevan O’Shaughnessy of Rockwell Antiques in Dallas. His lilting Irish brogue reflects the origin of many of the store’s treasures. And the company’s name recalls his years at a noted Irish boarding school—Rockwell College in County Tipperary.

“We call ourselves the ‘Irish Experts,’” he says, including his art historian wife, Mary, in the conversation. “Over the years, we’ve developed true expertise in fine-quality British and Irish antiques.”

Their Dallas store features antiques from around the world, with the British and Irish collections taking pride of place. The section on the Rockwell website includes furniture, artworks, clocks, collectibles, pottery, porcelain and silver, with a hundred or more items in some categories. His vast inventory of other antiques spans a range of genres, from American furniture to French-Euro bronzes, Anglo-Indian objects, fine jewelry, letters and autographs, and even vintage toy cars, planes, trains and model buildings.

Like any devoted dealer, O’Shaughnessy likes them all, but he is most passionate about Georgian and Regency furniture crafted from walnut, mahogany and other woods into well-proportioned, carved and decorated pieces, with elegant curves of cabriole legs, restrained lines of upholstery and distinct characteristics of style. “It was the Golden Age of furniture that has passed the test of time,” he says. “That era produced such high quality; it inspired furniture design for centuries following.”

The core of the collection came across the Atlantic in two 40-foot containers when O’Shaughnessy moved from Ireland. He notes that the 2,000 pieces of antiques and artwork from his personal collection formed the store’s initial inventory. He spent two and a half years checking quality, restoring and cataloguing it all.

O’Shaughnessy’s interest in antiques dates to his childhood in Ireland, when his mother, a keen collector, dragged him off to antiques shows. “I was immersed in it and actually enjoyed it,” he recalls. By the time he was in high school, restoring the furniture his mother bought was a spare-time hobby.

Antiques continued to fascinate him while he studied law at University College in Dublin. He then went to San Francisco, where he restored high-end antiques for a period.

Back in Ireland, he spent 25 years as a country town lawyer, living in a three-story Georgian house and indulging his passion for collecting antiques. “I was surrounded by things I liked,” he says. “I had the lingering feeling that at some stage I would end up as an antiques dealer.”

The dream came true in 2014–15, when he and Mary decided to relocate to her hometown of Dallas and open an antiques store.

O’Shaughnessy is delighted that his broad knowledge of antiques has made him a go-to expert. “My expertise has come from years of researching, but I still learn something new every day,” he says. “I’m blessed with a photographic memory; I can recall information from catalogs years later straight off the top of my head.”

He believes that giving an honest, accurate report on each Rockwell antique creates customer confidence. “Customers should never be intimidated,” he says. “If they love it, they will buy it.”

Provenance, with detailed descriptions of pieces, is a main focus on the Rockwell website. “For example, with a Victorian sofa, I will give its history, lots of information about sofas and take photos from every angle,” he says. “It is added value for the buyers. When they’re paying for treasures, they deserve to know the story behind them.”

Rockwell Antiques’ extensive online presence enhances the brick-and-mortar store, making it easy for customers, especially collectors, to track down special items. The store’s location in the Dallas Design District puts it in the midst of an outstanding antiques area known to dealers nationally and overseas.

The O’Shaughnessys must be doing something right. For the past two years, international magazine LUX has recognized Rockwell Antiques as the “Best Fine Art and Antiques Dealer in South West USA.”

O’Shaughnessy sums it all up: “The best antiquing comes from trusting the dealer you’re dealing with.”

Helen Hill has lived in South Florida since moving from her native England two decades ago. When not writing for varied publications about her favorite lifestyle topics of design, architecture and real estate, she likes exploring local antiques and thrift shops, looking for fun collectibles and inspiration.