Interior designer Amanda McMahon dreams of New Orleans.
When she relocated her store last month from South Tampa to the city's Channel District, she followed her heart.
She found a 5,000-square-foot , 1920s warehouse with high wood ceilings, skylights striped with iron bars, funky overhead fans, gritty brick walls, and metal doors that looked like they had been there for decades.
She propped up the decaying wooden shutters and old windows she rescued from a Louisiana plantation and added her great grandmother's upright burled-wood piano. The effect, she says, was pure Bourbon Street.
"There was so much charm and energy to this place, I even wanted to live here," says McMahon, 34.
Her store, Expressions Custom Furniture, features a furniture collection that feels sexy, eclectic and charming.
"I wanted my customers to walk in and go, "Ohhhhh,"' she says of an inventory that includes a faux black mink sofa, decoupage bamboo tables with pictures of birds and a drop-dead gorgeous gold-framed wall hanging of a butterfly.
On the walls, yard-and-a-half long dowels with sumptuous fabrics serve as a sort of theatrical backdrop: shaggy chenille, terry cloth, quilted fabrics, even leather. Paper parasols add to the effect; so do floor-lamp candelabras. All furniture can be customized with a fabric of the client's choosing. She even offers interior design services.
Her taste fits like a soul mate with its surroundings.
McMahon searched for an interesting urban space for her store for years. For awhile she flirted with Ybor City, but wasn't sure about it, partly because it seemed more geared toward nightclubs than browsing. When she closed her store on Dale Mabry Highway recently with the idea of taking over a sprawling historic warehouse, she understood the gamble.
"I knew I was taking a risk," she explains. "But so what? The biggest risk in life is not taking one."
The store, which occupies an entire warehouse on S 12th Street next to Rustic Steel Creations, was to officially open Sept. 1. McMahon, who has a 6-year-old daughter and who studied at the International Academy of Interior Design in Tampa, bought the franchise in 2001 because it was the first store she ever worked in.
"They took a chance on me when I was very young and gave me an opportunity," she recalls.
The original store next to Plant High School where McMahon started out 12 years ago is long gone. Everything about her own franchise is highly individual, she says, something the chain's owners encourage.
That includes the downtown location.
Expressions is a small, national furniture chain with only 11 stores, but a lot of style. Though the stores share an upholstery manufacturing plant in Tupelo, Miss., each one is unique. McMahon's franchise reflects her New Orleans-meets-Tampa karma. She's already doing lots of business on nearby Harbour Island and hope to expand her downtown clientele as the spate of new residential projects are completed.
"I've had my eye on Channelside for a long time," says McMahon, whose mother is her business partner. "I loved what was going on, all the building. I looked at all the high rises and realized that everyone will need furniture."
In fact, she's so in love with her new location that she's leaving the warehouse as is - down to the worn floors and pulley system on the ceiling.
A perfect setting for a faux mink chaise.
"We appeal to clients who have the ability to think out of the box; that really is the best way to describe it," she says. "It's classic with a twist."