Humble Beginnings

April 30th, 2010 comments 0

Imagine being offered a beautiful box, hand crafted by your future husband, destined to hold the things you find most dear.

The tradition of the wedding coffer dates back to the middle ages. Originally it was the nobles or the father of the bride that commissioned this piece of furniture, which was designed to hold the future household’s valuables. It was a luxury only available to the affluent and as time passed it became the future husband that offered this treasured gift to his bride. The coffer found it’s place in the master bedroom at the foot of the bed and was painted with symbolic imagery to reminded the couple of their wedding bond. Renowned woodworkers and painters in France and Italy crafted such pieces from the Renaissance through the 19th century and today they’re sought after by collectors around the globe.

The examples of of this tradition that appeal the most to me however, had much more humble beginnings. The small coffre de mariage pictured here were crafted with love, and often by the future husbands themselves. They might have held the family silver or important documents. The base of the box was always wood and their decoration ranged from stylized 18th century paper to simple painted country imagery. I love that the interior is often more magnificent than the exterior. A hidden beauty only the lucky recipient enjoys.

Now instead of receiving, imagine giving one of these treasures as a wedding or shower gift to a bride to be! I like the idea of taking part in a tradition that survived for centuries and even more that these pieces find a new life as part of the ceremony that sparked their creation in the first place.

Market Day In Lourmarin

April 26th, 2010 comments 2

If you’re visiting Provence this summer you’ll more than likely want to spend a morning at one of the weekly village markets. One of my all time favorites is in Lourmarin on Friday mornings.

The village is achingly picturesque: colorful history, a Renaissance castle, lovely cafes for people watching, Côte Bastide, a great antique store and the quintessential weekly market. See you on Friday!

Thursday’s Gallery

April 22nd, 2010 comments 0

One More Reason To Love France

April 21st, 2010 comments 0

Morels found by my iron worker, in my garden

“Madame, Madame” he cried, “vous avez des Morillons dans votre jardin!” Our ferronnier (iron worker) is here working on an iron railing that leads to the top of our cliff and this morning the thing he’s most excited to tell me is that I have morel mushrooms growing in my garden. I spotted them yesterday and had planned to take them to the pharmacy, just to be sure. In France the pharmacist is the local mushroom expert. But my iron worker assures me that of the 4 varieties of Morilles that grow in our area, these are indeed one. It’s clear that he’s as passionate about the cuisine as his craft. And he’s offered up some recipes and cooking tips. He say’s that I must make sure they are bien cuit…bien bien, cuit (very well cooked), otherwise they can be toxic. Or I can dry them, which will also eliminate the offending toxins.

I’m all for living in the moment so I won’t wait for them to dry. They’ll be on tonight’s menu. I think we’ll sit outside and drink a toast to France and to the mushroom loving gourmand artisan ferronnier who’s talents are responsible for our new handrail to the stars AND a very delicious Asperges Roties aux Morilles Poudrées de Parmesan (roasted asparagus with morels and parmesan shavings). Merci Frederique!

Handrail to the stars...

….Stairmaster Part Deux

April 19th, 2010 comments 2

when we last left off I was resting on the mezanine having been told by the 85 year old proprietaire that climbing the never ending stairs in our future maison de village would be good for my rear end. If you weren’t climbing along with me you can read part one here.

Leaving the mezanine we climb 6 steps and go outside, where we immediately turn to the left and go back inside to find the kitchen. A very pink kitchen and a half-ish bath. Back outside and up another flight of stairs we are now at garden level. Madamoiselle built a separate stone building on this level with her bedroom and bath. It also included a toilet for garden workers and a utility room. From this level there were panoramic views to the north and east and south… and sun and trees. Across a stone terrace to another bedroom/bath sequestered into the rock cliff with a terrace above that’s accessed by another set of stairs. And from this terrace I followed Madamoiselle up yet more steps to the top of the cliff where we had a 360 degree view of the entire Luberon valley.

"Before" photos and yes, that is one of the bathrooms -but 70's retro wasn't on the program for this house.

I like an architectural challenge and by some accounts this was olympian, not to mention the olympic fitness requirements of the stair climbs. In a hilltop village such as ours, finding property with a real garden and views from both house and garden is very rare. The house either had tremendous potential and no one had had the vision to see it, or I was crazy. Maybe both, so call me crazy.

Our plan went something like this: the first task was to remove the roof from space at ground floor to create an interior courtyard entrance to the house. Next up (and I mean that in a very literal way!) a redistribution of space. The bedroom at the top became the kitchen, the kitchen became the bedroom. It sounds so simple when you type it but it was anything but. Next on the program: connect all the pieces under one roof and add additional living space. And finally a pool on one side and a garden on the other.

Inside, outside, upside… wait, the pivotal word here is up. Up with the claw foot tub, up with hundreds of square feet of stone and tile, up with the frigo Americaine, up with the cement, the sand and the plaster. Helicopter anyone?

We signed for this house close to four years ago and the majority of the work on the interior of the house is finally finished. My husband and I are grands bricoleurs (big do it yourself-ers) and although we’ve had help from artisans and  several strong backs along the way, this project has stretched our skills in ways I could have never imagined. It’s a small house with lots of outdoor living space, so how could it possibly have taken so long? Oh, the stories I will tell… unless they threaten a nervous breakdown. Sometimes it’s just better to look forward.

Chien Mechant ?

April 15th, 2010 comments 0

The path from the village that leads to our garden dead ends at our garden gate. The tourists love this little path as it offers an unobstructed view of the Luberon valley. And being curious tourists they’re equally tempted by what lies beyond our gate. Last spring during the construction on our house the gate was often left unlocked. One day a man appeared just outside our house followed by a group walking up our garden path when I heard my son’s voice politely explain that this was private property. But the trespasser wouldn’t leave. I could hear my son’s French become more animated and finally the gentleman walked away in a huff stating that it wasn’t posted as private property and that we were infringing on his rights by denying him access. Unfortunately this wasn’t the first episode but we swore it would be the last, so we put up a very unattractive screen on the open ironwork gate and a sign, entrée interdite… entry forbidden. The approach to the gate looks so unappealing I can’t imagine it arousing curiosity, but the tourists are back and there were two heads bobbing above the gate today, so I need a new strategy.

Segway brocante…. where I saw a vintage sign that might help, Chien Mechant –Mean Dog- but then I would need the dog and that’s when I came across the photo above on Peter Sohier’s website. If only the dog were mean! But it made me smile and it gave me the idea to introduce you to Peter and Lucy’s business.

When I’m at the deballage -professional antique fair- in Avignon I always stop by their stand, they set up outside in the large parking lot. Peter and Lucy’s antiques are often garden inspired and have a sense of humor. Here are some of their current offeringings. They add to their site often and you can add your name to their email list to be notified of updates. They will also arrange for shipping to the US or work with your transporter if you’re sending a container.

Making Lamps – DIY

April 14th, 2010 comments 4

the French interiors I’m most drawn to have a quality I call perfect imperfection.  The French design magazines capture it well in their photographs and my French friends homes serve as inspiration. They have just the right amount of real to balance the good taste.

Capturing the imperfect essence is a place where we sometimes fail in American interior design. Being too perfect our interiors can look like stage sets, props for a life, not homes. Admittedly Europe has an advantage. The structures, the backgrounds, the surfaces, have just the right amount of “crunch” to balance the crispness of a modern interior or provide the counterfoil to period antiques. There’s an adage in the graphic design biz that holds true for interiors as well. If everything’s bold then nothing is bold. I would also include the word perfect. If everything is perfect then nothing is perfect. Native Americans understood this principle when they purposely wove a spirit line – an imperfection – into their weavings.

One trick my French buddies use for adding an unexpected quirk is DIY lamps. I make a lot of my own lamps and all of my antique dealer friends here in France do too. We’re always on the hunt for a found element that can be turned into a lamp, to then be tucked into an unexpected spot in a room.

I bought the above group from a Belgian designer/antique dealer, Michel Lambrecht. I happened on his shop several years ago in Brussels and fell in love with his lamps crafted from architectural salvage. His shades set his pieces apart, the shapes, colors and proportions are fantastic. I order them for many of the lamps I create for antique fairs.

And I’m a big fan of (unruly) exposed cords, provided they’re not the plastic kind. I think they knock perfect just enough off balance. Here are some other creations that might inspire you to bring an imperfect lamp into your home. If you’d like to give DIY a try, the Grand Brass website has all of the supplies you’ll need.

One of many editions of our lamps created with antique claw foot tub feet

A mossy stone baluster for this one - Michel Lambrecht shade - oops the seam is showing...

Wood element found at the brocante - shade crafted from an old French linen nightshirt.

Another found wood element - this one's Italian and the base was wired back together at some point. We left that bit for character. I used an antique terra-cotta tile for the base. Antique chanvre (hemp) shade.

The exposed cord gives it just the right amount of "je ne sais quoi". Topped with a vintage upholstery twill tape shade.

Chandelier arm turned into a sconce. Chanvre (hemp) lampshade.

Keeping the Brocante in Perspective

April 12th, 2010 comments 3

once in a great while a treasure at the brocante tugs hard at my personal heartstrings. I felt that infrequent pull this weekend.

There’s a type of 18th century mirror that I’ve always admired, very rare, expensive, something I happen on only occasionally. I’ve never actually bought one, to resell or to keep. This mirror has been my secret crush, unexplainable, best left as a yearning, until this weekend.

On Saturday my daughter and I went to the brocante in Villeneuve les Avignon. I’ve mentioned it here before. It’s a regular weekend haunt and this particular day was my favorite sort of day in France. I was with my best friend, the weather was gorgeous and we were surrounded by antiques. And it was at this Saturday’s fair that the mirror and I finally had our encounter. I tried to “walk on by” but I couldn’t do it. Perfect frame, perfect glass, it would be absolutely perfect chez moi (in my house)! Done deal, it was coming home with me.

We had an errand to run on the way home. The mirror was tenderly placed in the backseat. I covered it with a folded packing blanket and as I did, one of the day’s other finds rolled to the floor of the car. My daughter leaned in to retrieve it and that’s when we heard the snap of glass. She had placed a hand on the blanket that was covering the mirror.

I looked up and saw the horror on her face, the gasp and the tears welling in her eyes and I wished with all of my heart and soul that I could rewind the clock so she wouldn’t feel the way I knew she was feeling. The mirror meant nothing, her pain was everything, if only I could do something, because in the end, the day’s brocante treasure I cared the very most about, was her.

Thursday’s Gallery

April 8th, 2010 comments 0

Favorite Easter Weekend Antique Finds

April 7th, 2010 comments 1

First it was the Swedish secretary, then I found these fabulous hand colored drawings. The artist worked at the end of the 19th century and into the first half of the 20th. He was commissioned to document all of the amazing light fixtures, furniture and mirrors of Versailles. He was a prolific artist and produced drawings for many other Parisian design studios. The drawings show his original pencil lines and design details. They’re perfect. And they’ll be in the online shop soon.

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