Last weekend, Hicham Benmira and Bill Groom were driving down a New Orleans road, near the bank of the Mississippi, when Benmira spotted a run-of-the-mill mechanic’s garage and told his partner to stop the car. They were not having automobile troubles. Benmira simply had a feeling there might be something fabulous inside for their shop, Darr. Sure enough, an eight-foot-long painting of a catfish hung above car parts and tool belts. Before it became a garage, there had been a seafood restaurant in the space. They bought the painting on the spot.
Darr means “home” in Arabic. When people walk into the home-furnishings shop (which moved across Atlantic Avenue into a bigger space three weeks ago) they most often say something along the lines of “I want to move in here!” It’s not just the fact that there are beautiful things all around them that makes this affect. It’s that the beautiful things are arranged in casual little moments, with something extraordinary (a French glass bird feeder, $25) placed on something nostalgic or familiar (a cast iron griddle, $65). In the center of the store, some of the most decadent pieces are thrown together nonchalantly. A late-18th-century wooden table ($3,600) from Morocco is arranged with rolled-up Chinese ancestor portraits from the ’20s ($350 each), silver lamps from the ’70s ($550 for the pair), a samurai training helmet from Japan, circa 1870 ($495), a derby hat mold from the late 19th century ($185), and a taxidermy bird in a little cage, which Benmira isn’t sure he can ever part with.
Recently, while the two were away on a buying trip, an assistant who was covering for them at Darr decided to do a little rearranging. When they returned to their shop, things were grouped categorically, logically. Of course they were horrified and immediately reorganized. “I like flowers next to something metal, something soft next to something hard,” Benmira said. “We don’t ever want it to be fussy—or precious,” Groom said.
photo: Nina Lalli
Groom met Benmira at the old Darr years ago, when he bought some furniture for the film The Forgotten. Groom was a production designer for television and movies until he teamed up with Benmira, who was a personal shopper for Takashimaya from 1995 to 2000. Groom’s background has trained him as a storyteller. “For a lot of designers, it’s about the objects alone, not the people who live with the objects,” he said. “Good design should be relational and accessible. The desire to make certain levels of design inaccessible is not a contemporary aesthetic. The Internet age is about everything being more accessible, not less accessible.” Before a story is told by juxtaposing things, there is the story of each item itself, like the catfish painting. “Sometimes you know the past, and sometimes you don’t,” Benmira said. “It’s like rescuing something. It’s very personal.”
Groom agreed, saying that they love everything they buy, and consider each piece at length, often returning to a dusty, remote location several times before deciding. “I could sit here like a primafuckingdonna and just order stuff on the phone,” Benmira said, “but that’s just not my personality.”