Looking for something different from what all the other kids were wearing, Nora started buying vintage clothes while attending high school in her hometown of Byron, Minn., population 3,000. "Not a whole lot of fashion or design going on there when I was growing up," says Nora. "But we had a great thrift shop, Miller's, near town. I made some of my clothes, too, so that gave me a greater appreciation for finely made clothing."
Today, her wardrobe is alive with texture and color, and there's no shortage of bold fabrics (which are deftly balanced with reliable, quality staples like a favorite pair of Joe's jeans and a go-anywhere Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress). This is not dusty bohemian counterculture-wear nor is it granny chic. It is a very grown up take on vintage dressing assimilated yet uncompromising.
"I love the whole Biba era, and I like to wear pieces that are very individual and remind me of when my Mom was dressing up to have a dinner party," says Nora "I'm also inspired by the Parisian woman's everyday style of looking good nothing overt, but beautiful because it's creative and elegant, not overdone or obvious."
In her home and in her closet, Nora shows an affinity for collecting things in a way that seems natural and organic not contrived or rushed. The focus is clearly more personal than random. Always inspired by the story a piece has to tell, she relishes pondering where it came from, how it may have looked in its original home and the places a woman who owned a piece of clothing before her may have worn it.
"I also treasure the items that carry my own or by husband's family history. It's fun to pass these stories on to our kids," says Nora, who works as an intensive care nurse. (Her husband, Joe, is a physician.) And she is especially fond of things bought while traveling with her family. "We try to make sure the kids are part of this so they can start to create their own memories of the things that surround them," she explains. "I guess that's why I rarely purchase things in the conventional way."
Some people rescue animals. Nora likes to rescue furniture even if that means crossing the Atlantic for a special adoption. Take the 1940s signed Gerard Guermonprez piece in her front window. A few years ago, while visiting her old college roommate in Paris, she spotted it at the Puse (flea market) and just fell for it. "Joe and I walked away from it when we first saw it because we knew we couldn't get it home easily," says Nora. "I lamented to my friend about this fabulous credenza that we had found, and she and her husband went back and bought it for us about three months later and shipped it back with a shipment of their furniture. I was ecstatic!"
She was also delighted to find the two yellow armchairs (on either side of the credenza) right here in New Orleans at the Bridge House Thrift Shop. "I was there donating my car and noticed the chair the guy at the desk was sitting in," says Nora. "I asked if I could look at it, flipped it over and saw the Milo Baughman name. I tried to control my enthusiasm, ran over to the warehouse and struck a deal."
The sofa down-filled and in its original slip cover from the 1950s was a Magazine Street find, meaning she found it sitting there on the sidewalk about to be abandoned. "The owner thought it was too heavy to haul around, so I bought it for $75, not too bad. I love a good bargain!" says Nora
Above the sofa, a work by local artist Myrtle van Demitz incorporates painting and collage. It's called Gluttonous Little Warriors. "I really love this piece," says Nora. "A bit ghoulish, but every time I look at it, I see something new. I like art that is more interesting than pretty. I don't buy art to fit my furnishings or color palette; that's too easy and boring."
Nora is fascinated by Peggy Guggenheim, who made it her life's mission to expose the world to the new and sometimes controversial works of artists such as Picasso, Miro, Man Ray and Klee. "She was instrumental in keeping many artists' work alive during WWII," says Nora, who is awe-stricken when she visits Guggenheim's home (now a museum) in Venice. "It is stunning. She surrounded herself with things that she loved, nothing trivial. That is something I try to stick to with both fashion and design: only buy things you love and can enjoy for many years. Leave the space empty rather than fill it with something meaningless."