Anne Rainey Rokahr’s colorful, eclectic style
By Nancy Oakley • Photographs by Amy Freeman
In Anne Rainey Rokahr’s world, there are, quite literally, no shades of gray. “It’s depressing!” exclaims the energetic designer of the recent trend toward interiors done in the subdued tone. As owner of Winston-Salem’s Trouvaille Home, as well as its venerable consignment store, The Snob Shop, Rokahr doesn’t just preach the gospel of color, she lives it. For proof, step into the cozy living room of her 1920s bungalow in the city’s West Salem neighborhood — and don a pair of sunglasses, all ye sensitive types who enter: The room’s walls are painted a dazzling hot pink. “I love color. I absolutely love it! Pink is one of my favorite colors . . . and I don’t have a husband to fight with about it,” Rokahr quips in machine-gun-fire cadence before breaking into a throaty laugh. She believes that small rooms, which she likens to jewel boxes, actually lend themselves to bright hues. “And if you’ll notice, the scale of the furniture is very small,” she observes, before declaring: “I’m a maximalist.”
An understatement if ever there was one. For lining the tiny room just beneath its windowsills, are, sure enough, low-slung, mid-century sofas upholstered in a hot pink–and-cream floral fabric, a reproduction of a 1930s Indian block print that repeats in the Roman window shades. An elegant crystal chandelier that looks like it was snatched right out of Grandmother’s parlor hangs above a round, mid-century Fornasetti coffee table with gilt flourishes on its glossy surface. This rests on a faux fur rug, creating a nexus for the sofas and two matching armchairs opposite one another, covered in softer shades of pink. (“Pairs of chairs are my thing,” Rokahr allows.) The hot pink walls provide a backdrop for various genres of paintings, including a huge portrait of a 1930s blues singer that looks as though it belonged on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.
Another splashy, buttercup-yellow painting titled The Spark Between Us, by local abstract artist Kendall Doub, hangs over the mantel, which is filled with various objects: a pair of brass oak leaves, a fox figurine, another of a deer, both of them “protected” by a stately and much larger tiger figure sitting by the hearth, and across from the fierce-looking feline, a large turtle with a tabletop back. “I can’t help it. And it’s one of those things, you don’t know when you’re doing it,” Rokahr reflects, fondly recalling a game of “count the animals” with her godchildren when they would come to visit.
But the most important creatures are the ones who aren’t there: On an end table, a black-and-white photograph reveals a smiling Rokahr with “the first love of my life,” her dearly departed English bulldog, Abe, and beneath the table, a dog bed for his successor, Henry.
The animal theme echoes in a leopard print rug covering the sunny sitting room across the narrow hallway from the pink living room. “Animal prints are, I think, neutrals,” Rokahr says, adding that she’s dubbed the space her “Florida Room,” where she likes to take her morning coffee. Its bright yellow walls complement another pair of chairs upholstered in an Impressionist-style floral print, continued in the window shades. Once again, the designer’s use of color lends itself to displaying several paintings, many of them nightscapes, which pop against the yellow walls. There is one exception, a watercolor of a cityscape in daytime, the work of A.H. Rey, illustrator of the Curious George children’s books. “That was [from] my aunt and uncle,” says Rokahr. “They were great collectors. They left me that and some pieces that were just incredible. A Noguchi coffee table. You don’t know what it was when you’re a kid, but later, oh my God!” The centerpiece of the room is a chartreuse sofa, flanked by two dark end tables with gold accents. “These end tables actually belonged to Earline Heath King, says Rokahr, referring to the late Winston-Salem native and sculptor, who created the iconic equestrian statue of R.J. Reynolds downtown and another of Bowman Gray, which stands before the Wake Forest School of Medicine in Innovation Quarter. “They were in her studio. They were bright blue and I had them painted,” the designer continues, pointing to a lamp with an oblong ceramic base that rests on one of the tables (“my aunt’s mid-century”). Atop the other end table is its counterpart, with a white ceramic base shaped like a pineapple. “I found it somewhere else,” Rokahr says, straightening one of the gew-gaws on the sitting room’s mantel. “Even though I’m a maximalist, I do like surfaces to be organized and planned,” she says. “There’s a method to the madness.”
She became mad for decorating and interiors as a child — as far back as third or fourth grade. “Much to my mother’s chagrin — she would come home from work and I would’ve rearranged the whole house, taken stuff out of her bedroom and put it in the living room and put the sofa in a different direction. She was just like, ‘OK, whatever.’ She would just let me do it,” Rokahr recalls as her irrepressible laugh bubbles up again. “She was like, ‘Well at least she cleaned up while she did it.’” But the self-taught designer’s real education and “love of stuff and decorating and furniture and antiques and everything” came later, when around age 12 or 13 she started working at The Snob Shop, Winston-Salem’s — and possibly North Carolina’s first — consignment store.
The brainchild of original owners and founders Marguerite Lord and Margo Majette, The Snob Shop opened in 1974 on West End Boulevard, at the convergence of Reynolda Road and Broad Streets and has been a fixture of the local retail scene ever since. Generations of shoppers have filled houses and apartments with housewares and books they pulled off of shelves that abutted bulging racks of prom dresses and cocktail attire, casual wear and children’s clothing. Rokahr remembers walking to her part-time job from Wiley Middle School. “The first thing I had to do when I came in was to empty all the ashtrays,” she says with a chuckle. “It was a mess. It was such a mess! Tangles of jewelry and stuff everywhere.” But here, too, among the madness was method: “They kept all the records by hand. All by hand. Every piece in there had a consigner number, description,” Rokahr says, recalling the clerk who painstakingly entered all the information into large accountant’s ledgers. “It was crazy! I wish I had those ledgers. I would totally have them displayed,” she says wistfully.
It would be many years before Rokahr’s journey would come full circle, preserving The Snob Shop’s legacy as its latest proprietor — or as she prefers to say, “caretaker.” In the intervening years, Rokahr left Winston-Salem for Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Virginia and ultimately, New York. There, she poured her boundless energies into a career in documentary and commercial filmmaking that took her to points across North America, Europe and the Middle East, with a stint as a publicist for the fashion and beauty industries in between. After a couple of years of living in Dubai, where she relocated in 2006 as head of production for Desert Door Productions, Rokahr began to feel the pull of home.
So, in 2008 she returned to the Twin City and closed on the West Salem bungalow. “I wanted to be here! I love this town!” she says enthusiastically. “There is such a renaissance here! And the number of women entrepreneurs — it’s crazy!”
She became part of the entrepreneurial class in 2009 with the purchase of Snob from its third owner, Maggie Reece, but it was in 2015 that Rokahr took her passion for interiors to the next level when she opened Trouvaille Home. Situated on Burke Street, the short stretch connecting the West End neighborhood to downtown, Trouvaille, along with 1502 Fabrics upholstery store, anchors what is gradually becoming a design district of sorts, with other smaller home furnishings boutiques and services cropping up — including The Snob Shop, which Rokahr moved from its cramped quarters to a much larger space last fall.
The name “Trouvaille” [pronounced troo-vye-uh] derives, in part, from the French verb, “trouver” meaning “to find.” When cobbled with its near-unpronounceable suffix, the word translates to “lucky find.” Indeed, luck is on your side once you step inside Rokahr’s vast operation, filled with a constantly rotating and artfully arranged assembly of eye-candy that the designer susses out at big antiques dealers’ auctions primarily in the Northeast, (where she’s often the only woman, she’s quick to point out). New pieces of furniture mingle with antique and vintage pieces, rugs, lamps, objets d’art, glassware and curiosities — such as the “fox in the box,” a taxidermied fox mounted in a glass case. “You’d never know I was chair of the Humane Society,” she says drily. “Isn’t it ridiculous?”
Scampering among the oriental rugs and cameo chairs and mid-century Z chairs (all thoughtfully set in pairs, don’t you know) and carts of vintage barware is Rokahr’s “date” to the Forsyth Humane Society’s Furr Ball gala last fall, 4-year-old Henry, the English bulldog whose likeness serves as Trouvaille’s logo. Having started out in a pack-and-play in the store’s back office since he was 5 weeks old, Henry is not just any old shop dog, but “head of p.r.” Rokahr says half-jokingly. Half, because a large part of his job is to put customers at ease. “Our whole thing is: It’s gotta be liveable. So when people come through our door, we say, ‘Let me take your bag, let me take your coat. Plop down on everything. Throw the pillows on the floor. Try out the sofas. Don’t be scared.’ You’ve got to see how it feels, you know? And we hope that with the dog running around — we all have dogs and kids . . .” her voice trails off before she finishes her sentence with, “Life is messy.”
Which is not to say that life can’t be gracious at the same time. And that’s where Rokahr and her staff come in, offering customers not just pieces for sale, but also a full array of design services. “I tell people when they come in and they’re moving and they don’t know what they’re going to do, ‘Go through first and look at the sofas and chairs. The upholstery. [all of it made in North Carolina, by the way.] Because that’s what we’ve got to do first. The stuff that we’ve got to special order. Those are your big, expensive pieces,’” Rokahr explains. A soft-goods designer can fashion drapes, skirted tables and pillows. Just choose from the fabric samples in the back of the store. How about a one-of-a-kind pillow with one side consisting of bright blue velvet, and another in classic, Schumacher Chiang-Mai dragon print, with gold trim? Or maybe you’d like to see how those small pairs of Z chairs look in your living room with the 12-foot ceilings. No problem, says Rokahr. “If you can fit it in your car, or if you want to pay for delivery, you can take anything home and try it first. Anything. It’s so much better that way. We encourage it.” Working with a decorator, she says, “can make your life so much easier. If you want a home for entertaining, and you want it to look nice, it just makes it so much easier, to have people present something to you.”
Rokahr moves about the store, demonstrating a folding buffet that’s recently been refinished. “It’s totally ’80s! I love the ’80s.” Similarly, she opens a painted secretary, revealing an ongoing nautical theme rendered inside its upper cabinet, musing, “I gotta find the right house for this thing.” She recalls the store’s first year when she and her cohorts put in 15-hour days. “We would just sit and drink wine in the evenings, and be like, ‘Gosh! Don’t you wish your house looked like this?’ We just loved it so much! There’s nobody to tell you ‘Oh, no, Corporate wants you to put it this way.’ I just buy what I love and shove it in here.” She gazes up at the ceilings at the chandeliers, one from the 1970s recalling the vibe of 2001: A Space Odyssey; another that looks like curled ribbon; and yet another, a whimsical tole fixture in the shape of a hot air balloon. “Italian. From the 1960s,” Rokahr explains.
It recalls another tole chandelier hanging in the bright green-and-black kitchen of her bungalow — a far cry from the mod cluster of glass cylinders in the dining room, or the traditional crystal piece hanging from the ceiling of the hot pink living room. All of them reflect her proclivity for mixing periods and styles, a tendency that is also instructional. “My clients, they worry so much,” Rokahr says. “They’ll say, ‘Can we have this in an adjoining room? Can we do this? Can we do that?’ And I’ll really, almost always turn to pictures of my own house.” Trouvaille Home and her personal space are intertwined throughout. “These are from my shop,” Rokahr offers, gripping the backs of the dining room chairs situated a round table. Some are mid-century with a chain-link pattern for the backing; others are 19th-century pieces that Napoleon III might have admired. She entertains “constantly,” and repurposed the house’s old mudroom by adding built-in shelves and a bold magenta-and-green oriental wallpaper as a place to store her various china patterns, some of them stately, elegant pieces she’s inherited, others dainty — and lucky — finds, as if they are waiting to be set for tea or an afternoon garden party on Rokahr’s back deck. “In the summer this is a great house for entertaining, because you have the front porch coming through and then the back,” she says.
She loves the flavor of the transitional neighborhood, with its diversity of people, professions and income levels, where folks stroll about in the evenings, and she even converted a dilapidated house across the street into a duplex, which she rents out. When she isn’t lending a few precious, extra hours to the Humane Society, Rokahr serves on the UNC-School of the Arts’ Board of Visitors. But most days, you’ll see her dashing around Trouvaille Home or at Snob just down Burke Street, greeting customers with a wide smile, chatting them up, offering them a coffee, or on Saturday evenings, a glass of wine. “You get a lot of people in the store,” she says, “but I’ve had days where there are 15 people in here and they all know each other.” She wouldn’t have it any other way, this affable hometown gal, who got her start emptying ashtrays, and grew up fufilling her dreams — and so many others’.
Info: trouvaillehome.com; facebook.com/TheSnobShop