As we celebrate our 30th year in business, I sat down with our owner and founder, Mary Cates, for a peek into the history behind one of Dallas’ most loved home furnishings stores. From sharing her early inspiration to the passion that keeps Mary Cates and Co. so relevant, Mary shares what motivates her continued success.
First of all, where did you grow up?
I am a lifelong resident of Dallas, growing up and living in Preston Hollow for many years and in the Park Cities for the last 20 years.
When did you first realize your love of textiles, antiques, and interior design?
At age 12, I babysat for a neighbor who I considered my “second mother”. She loved all things interior design and I quickly realized that I did, too! From moving things around the house and decorating to preparing for her wonderful parties, I continued helping her until I went off to college.
Where did you attend college for your interior design training?
I went to the University of North Texas my freshmen year and during summer break, I got a job at a small home boutique in Dallas where I discovered my career path. This led me to apply SMU, where I could not only study design, but also keep my job and a footing in the retail design industry. There I earned my degree in interior design from the art department which was very important to me. It gave me a broader knowledge and understanding of art and art history that has impacted my interior design style over the years.
When and why did you decide to open your namesake retail store and where was your first location?
After college I worked for several shops as an interior designer. Then I began travelling to Europe to buy antiques for my clients. As my trips became more frequent and my purchases became much larger, I rented a space in the McKinney Avenue Antique Market. In 1989, I moved my interior design office into a purple Victorian house at the corner of State and Boll Streets and used part of the space to open Mary Cates and Co. I sold antiques and folk art, hosting events with many of the artists from the New England area. They would bring in their newest pieces including beautiful hand-made Santas, which is when I fell in love with Christmas decorating.
After about eight years, I moved the shop across McKinney Avenue on Boll into two wonderful historic houses, eventually building an enclosed bridge that connected the houses. Here we added bedding to the lineup and made much of the bedding in house as well as bringing in bedding made by other vendors. We enjoyed several years in the location before moving the business to West Lovers Lane. As my interest in Christmas design and decorations grew, so began our decorating of client’s homes for holidays. This led to another business in itself, prompting another move across the street to our current home in Inwood Village. Finally, five years ago, we expanded into the adjacent space, and as customers tastes changed, we began selling new furniture alongside antiques as well as beautiful bedding, pillows, lighting, art and décor and, of course, Christmas!
Can you tell me what early challenges or obstacles you encountered as a new retailer and how you overcame them?
I would say getting it right in terms of the right product that people wanted to buy. In my early days, I likened myself to a basketball player who had to keep shooting. If I missed a basket, I could not go over to the bench and lament over the missed basket. I knew if I kept shooting, I would finally make a basket. Often my scores were few and far between, but I kept shooting to get it right!
I also learned that I couldn’t keep doing and selling the same things over and over, so I had to get out front and stay out front of new trends and the changing tastes of our customers. To accomplish this, I constantly reinvent myself and with the help of my talented staff we have been able to remain fresh and interesting. When long-time customers comment on how they notice and appreciate our evolution of style, it gives me even more encouragement to keep taking risks.
What is your favorite aspect of your job?
First, I must say that the shop and my interior design business are my passion! I love every minute of what I do. From looking at things in new ways and trying new ideas, it is very important to learn something new every single day. Believing this enables me to succeed in finding different approaches to revise my way of thinking. With that said, buying is my most favorite aspect of my job and having a wonderful, talented staff allows me to focus on this passion!
Where do your travels take you when finding product and where do you find your inspiration?
I do my buying at the major markets in Atlanta, Dallas, High Point, New York as well as travel across Europe. While I’m in other cities, I always make time to visit other shops and stores. It’s always invigorating to see a different point of view through another shop owner’s eyes. Really, inspiration is everywhere for me, from nature and gardening to books and magazines.
What do you enjoy on your time off?
I spend as much time as possible with my wonderful family! Since both of my daughters live in Dallas and have blessed me with six grandchildren, there is always someone to have an adventure with. We’ve begun a tradition of renting a house in Maine and we all just love it! So, I plan to take a bit more time off to spend with them, and also do more travelling.