Twelve years ago, Margaret Naeve was a 20-something shopgirl. A Houston native, she'd started a degree in art history at the University of St. Thomas but intended to move to New York for Parsons' interior design program. In search of a summer job here, she called up the owner of an established antique business "on a whim" and was hired. Six months later, she owned the place.
Today, it's M Naeve, a spacious showroom on Westheimer in Montrose full of a curated blend of one-of-a-kind antiques and fine contemporary furniture. Naeve never made it to Parsons, but that didn't stop her from launching a full-service interior design firm nine years ago after a regular client at her shop requested help with her bedroom.
"So here's my way to break in, right?" Naeve says. "Because that's what I really loved, interior design, and it was hard ... it's hard, unless you have a portfolio, to get hired for a job."
She does have a portfolio today, one that reflects her trademark elegance evoked through muted palettes, rich texture, and strong contemporary art. As business has grown, so has the eponymous store, which moved to its current Montrose location—double the square footage at a prominent Westheimer address—four years ago and is a far cry from your grandma's antique shop.
Naeve recognizes her path is an unconventional one, opposite of most designers who open shops or start their own furniture lines based off established interior businesses. To Naeve, being self-taught is an advantage, and she's come a long way from the "25-year-old kid" who took over a store with nothing but a passion for the business. "All those little stages just got me to where I am today," she says.
On her lack of formal training:
"I honestly had no experience in furniture ... I'm self-taught. You can't learn that in school—how to run a business, how to buy inventory. There was a lot of trial and error. I had to figure out what really worked. This is not an insult to anyone that's [formally trained] or anything, but I think all of this stuff is an inherent thing. You can't learn scale; you can't learn color. I had this small little thing: I was supposed to do this. I couldn't see myself doing anything else."
On the shop's evolution:
"We stayed in that small shop [for a while] and focused mostly on imported French, Swedish, and Italian antiques, but we always had a fresh take. Loving contemporary design also led my shop to transition to its current state which offers a unique blend of both contemporary and quality antique pieces from around the globe. We of course have other great design stores, but I feel my mix is unique for the Houston market. I wanted the shop to be more of a reflection of my design work rather than just antiques. ... I often find it difficult to source furniture for local design projects strictly from Houston, so I find myself shopping in other markets such as New York or LA. My goal with M Naeve was to bring vendors to Texas that I have discovered during the course of my design career that up to this point could not be found in Houston."
On M Naeve's inventory:
"It all kind of tells a story together. The [contemporary] pieces from Egg Collective and APPARATUS are of quality. The manufacturing, the detail—it's kind of how these old pieces were produced, too. I'm all about quality, and there's a very natural connection with the old and the new pieces. And I've also become obsessed with early 20th century Scandinavian and French furniture. ... My pace has evolved. I'm really happy with the way it is now. I'm open to change; there's no formula with me."
On buying pieces:
"I travel to Europe and do all the picking. I don't hire someone to source that out. I've got to see it, feel it, touch it—I think that's very important. I can never go with a list, because you never know what you're going to find. I could come home with 20 mirrors ... [I look for] something unique, something current, not on trend but that can be placed with different types of designs. And honestly, it's just got to grab you."
On her aesthetic:
"It is a mix of old and new. No one's ever going to say that it's cluttered ... there's a sense of restraint for sure, and use of organic materials. I'm more into using color lately, but I'm just absolutely obsessed with texture, and that can be a replacement for color. People don't realize that. You can create warmth without having tons of colors or objects. Contemporary art also plays a big part in what I do."
On the state of design in Houston:
"It's been interesting to watch people get more intrigued by contemporary furniture. People are getting very interested in that type of thing in Houston. We're totally behind, because that's been going on for a long time. ... I want to see people taking more risks and not sticking to a formula. I think that's really important, just to open their eyes to mixing different styles. Keeping it sophisticated, simple, and classic, you're never going to go wrong. Don't get too trendy; don't buy the piece that's now mass-produced."
On her approach to design:
"I think there's a whole educational process that needs to happen, not like, 'let's put this all on a piece of paper and give me a check.' It's a journey with myself and my clients. I prefer to do it this way, and then you build a relationship. ... I'm not a by-the-books decorator. I had one client who was so into art that we literally bought all the art for the house first and based the entire project around it. I'm open to a more unconventional approach. ... I will say people think it's a glamorous thing, but it's a lot of work."
On achieving work-life balance:
"Honestly, I do work long hours these days. But, if you love what you do, work can turn into a hobby. There isn't an hour that goes by in a day when I'm not searching for that unique piece or educating myself on the upcoming trends I see around the globe. My husband is also involved in my business; he loves design and architecture as well and occasionally travels with me on buying trips, which is a huge perk. Of course this job comes with stress like any, but I’m so lucky to have found a career that is rewarding. For me, there is nothing like that feeling of creating a space for your client that truly reflects them and the joy of turning these houses into homes. "