This New Orleans Antiques Dealer’s Stylish Home Doubles as Her Art Studio
A former lawyer, Karina Gentinetta has achieved second-act success as a furniture gallerist and painter.
by Ted Loos | photos by Cedric Angeles
July 12, 2020
A creative life can pass through phases, like the moon. Just consider the path of the New Orleans–based Karina Gentinetta, who started as a corporate lawyer, became an antiques purveyor and added to that the roles of abstract painter and artisanal furniture dealer. As distinct as these endeavors may seem, she has brought to each the same ingenuity and capacity for hard work.
Most recently, she has received acclaim for large, vibrant canvases that channel the best of 20th-century abstraction. These are available on her 1stDibs storefront, along with artisan-made furniture imported from Italy and a selection of vintage and antique pieces.
Characterized by all-over black markings, occasional bursts of color and a strong compositional sense, the eye-catching paintings seem like the work of a lifelong practitioner. In actuality, her practice has developed in large part over just the past decade.
“Cy Twombly is a hero of my life, and so is Franz Kline,” says Gentinetta. “You see the intense black and white — that’s how I started. I like big and bold. I can’t do small paintings. I tried, but they bore me. The bigger, the better.”
Gentinetta is chatting from her home in New Orleans, where she lives with her two teenage children. She designed the place herself, modeling it on a former, smaller house in the same city.
It’s meant, she says, to resemble a sidehall Creole cottage, a local traditional building type. The palette inside mirrors that of her paintings. White grounds the scheme everywhere, the better to emphasize her antique finds and contemporary accessories, including a crystal chandelier fashioned by one of her makers in Arezzo, Italy, and a mid-20th-century reed and goat-leather Tuareg rug handwoven in Mauritania. Ten-foot ceilings give the home contemporary proportions, but classic Big Easy–style wooden shutters link it firmly to the past.
Her studio is in the thick of things — in her kitchen of all places. “For a long time I didn’t say I painted in the house because I felt that was a sign of an unsuccessful career path,” Gentinetta says, laughing. “But I don’t think I would ever be inspired to work anywhere other than my own home that I’ve built from the ground up. While the paint dries, I stir a pot on the stove, since I love to cook. This is where I feel the most inspired and where I feel the most comfortable.”
Gentinetta’s family emigrated from Argentina when she was 12. “We started with nothing,” she says. That beginning makes her all the prouder of her academic achievements: After graduating from high school as class valedictorian, she attended Tulane’s undergraduate program on a scholarship, followed by its law school. She graduated from both with honors.
During her undergraduate years, Gentinetta had a brief glimpse of a possible artistic future. She took some art classes, against the strong objections of her parents. “They said, ‘We’re immigrants, we cannot support you. Are you going to be painting portraits down in the French Quarter? We want you to make something of yourself and be financially independent.’ ”
Gentinetta decided her parents were right and threw some of her sculptures in the trash. But they were fished out of the dumpster and put into a student art show, which she happened to attend. She was surprised — and pleased. “They were labeled ‘Anonymous,’ ” she recalls. “I didn’t say anything, but that to me was a big personal validation. It showed that art was something I was maybe good at, even if I would never really do anything about it.”
She went into law as planned and had a successful run as a corporate litigator. But in 2009, after 13 years in that career, she decided she needed a change, for both personal and professional reasons.
It was the process of building and then furnishing her house that prompted Gentinetta’s next, aesthetically oriented phase. “I was buying antiques around New Orleans, but they are expensive,” she says. “So I bought some of the cheaper ones, and to spruce them up, I started painting them in the Swedish and French way.Etsy was just starting up. So I opened a little free account, and four of my pieces were bought right away.”
Things really took off when musician Courtney Love Cobain bought her work. Word spread, and in short order, Gentinetta became a 1stDibs dealer and opened a space in what was then the 1stDibs showroom at the New York Design Center. One problem: “No one in New York wanted my antiques,” Gentinetta says. “They wanted glamour.”
A colleague advised her to brighten up her presentation at the design center with some abstract paintings. “ ‘ Maybe that will modernize your look,’ ” Gentinetta recalls the person saying. “ ‘It’s more edgy, more eclectic.’ ” She couldn’t afford to buy artworks. But, says Gentinetta, “necessity is the mother of invention. I thought, ‘I’ll paint my own.’ ”
She shipped the first up to New York as a prop, but it soon attracted a purchaser. Geninetta wasn’t sure how much to charge. The buyer offered 10 times the figure she had in mind. And another new career was born.
That enterprise keeps her in touch with the accessory and furniture design world that sparked her painting career, with each talent feeding the other going forward. As she puts it, “It took me so long to get here, but it’s a great place to be.”
“Ingenuo is part of my ‘Primal’ series, which expresses emotion on a very basic, almost primitive level. There is a sense of childlike vulnerability about this work that has a beauty and boldness all its own — thus, I named it Ingenuo, which means ‘naive’ in Spanish.”
“Although I paint predominantly in black and white hues, I went totally out of my comfort zone on this one and painted Muses in a bold, stop-you-in-your tracks bright red. This I completely juxtaposed with soft childlike pencil markings throughout the piece. Muses is passionate, inspiring yet innocently fun and a bit mischievous.”
“Unfiltered is part of my black-and-white series, which I started back in 2012. These paintings were inspired by my own experience of loss following the destruction of my home in New Orleans as a result of Hurricane Katrina. Using a monochromatic color scale, the stark paintings juxtapose opposing sentiments, including vulnerability and strength, chaos and balance. The bold, abstract compositions speak to a multiplicity of themes, including grief and despair, but above all celebrate the triumph of rebirth and hope over loss and devastation.”
“My entire home is based on a light, airy, fresh white hue, including the wooden floors and walls. These amazing sculptural lounge chairs, which I had custom made for my 1stDibs showroom by one of my talented artisans in Florence, Italy, would fit right in in my living/family room. As an artisan of sorts myself, I love working with other craftspeople (particularly Italian ones) and bringing their talent and creations to my 1stDibs inventory.”
“I first discovered Tuareg rugs in the gorgeous showrooms of some of the most prestigious interior design houses in Milan and Florence. Handwoven by the Tuareg tribes in Mauritania, who bind reed with goat leather, these vintage rugs bring a beautifully organic, earthy and eclectic element to any interior decor, regardless of style. They are incredibly versatile and pair well with just about anything — from an Italian crystal chandelier (as I have in my living/family room) to mid-century minimalism.”
“The large Italian Murano crystal chandelier in our living/family room was handmade by a second-generation chandelier artisan who I met by chance in Abruzzo, Italy. I spent hours in his small workshop with my family watching him as he painstakingly hand knotted and tied each individual bead and pendant to the gilded frame to create his beautiful pieces.”
“As is clear from my artwork and house, I love black and white and earthy tones, plus a touch of unpredictability here and there. This early-19th-century chair would feel right at home next to my Louis XVI gilded armchairs and white linen sofa. I love the visual tension between old and new, elegant and casual, gilded and earthy. These chairs capture all of that!”
“I adore a good antique farm table, and the more patina, the better! When I was decorating my house, a table like this was a must for the kitchen, which also serves as my studio, formal dining room, casual breakfast room and main congregation area for family discussions. A good farm table can go from being a workbench to an elegant dining setting in one swoop, and you don’t have to be afraid of scratching it or dropping paint on it, as it only gets more beautiful the more it is ‘lived on.’ “
“In a world of constant change and chaos, it is comforting to know you can count on the ever-classic French beauty of a Serge Mouille light fixture. This iconic lamp, similar to one in my kitchen, is timeless, and it plays well with others — including everything from antiques to modern furnishings.”