Every few months Paula Nataf or one of her sons, Franck and Alexis, travels to France to source the finest antique stone and building materials, such as 18th- and 19th-century fireplace surrounds, decorative tiles, antique limestone, terra cotta flooring, garden elements—and even old roof tiles from the sunny south of the country—for their Los Angeles shop, Exquisite Surfaces. “Our close relationships with French artisans and suppliers means that we can get the best materials for our clients,” says Franck. “That’s a key aspect that sets us apart from our competitors—we are from France and we have access to unlimited resources there.”
In just six years, Exquisite Surfaces has become a premier source for French limestone, both antique and new slabs that have been aged; a variety of tiles, including old terra cotta that has been reglazed with Renaissance patterns; free-standing and attached wall fountains, some of them made from old blocks of stone; fountains, troughs and stone garden benches. Unique items, such as jumbo, four-foot-high vintage olive oil jars, abound, and the Nataf’s often chance upon unusual finds, including architectural elements. “We were offered some beautiful windows and doors from a castle,” recalls Paula. “Now they’re in a customer’s house in Brentwood.”
What also sets Exquisite Surfaces on a plateau of its own is inventory, stored in a nearby warehouse. In the interior design and architecture practices, a two-month wait is common, a four-month wait is annoying. The Natafs keep a huge stock of aged French limestone from Massangis in stock, and they have a hundred fireplace surrounds in storage. “A customer wanted to buy antique roof tiles in a certain shade,” notes Franck. “Within a day we were able to locate a large matching lot, and the shipment arrived in two weeks.”
On the subject of color, the Natafs are careful never to promise that they can get exactly the same shade as the stone sample a customer will see in their shop. “It’s impossible to match something that comes from nature, unless a client goes to the quarry and chooses the stone he wants himself,” says Paula.
She often advises clients on how a floor should be patterned, and the company does all of its own fireplace installations, whether the house is in California, Utah or New York—all places they have supplied.
Paula and her sons are considering opening a shop in New York, but first they want to be certain that they will be able to offer the same level of personal service. “That is what keeps our clients coming back,” notes Franck. “We know our material, we can get it quickly and we can have it put in place properly. We are not a chain.”