Today is my actual move day as I depart Berlin for my new home in Venice. Mimi’s post takes me back to my first magical years living as an expat in Paris, visiting the marchés de Noël in Paris and the French countryside. I won’t be celebrating Christmas in Paris this year; thank you Mimi for my souvenirs de Noël à Paris…
Three French Guilds
The Golden Age of French Furniture
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Merry medieval towns all over France are twinkling with magic. The little wooden stalls resembling mountain chalets that make up the marchés de Noël (Christmas markets) are open, and Père Noël’s lutins (elves) are hard at work sewing doll clothes, crafting toy sailboats, and carving wooden dollhouse furniture — all by hand.
Santa and his elves aren’t the only artisans who have been handcrafting fine furniture for centuries. Some of the most beautiful furniture ever made was created in Paris during the eighteenth century. It was a joint effort between numerous carpenters, carvers, and cabinetmakers, with a little help from some sculptors, painters, gilders, and upholsterers — all members of an elite Parisian trade guild system that was established during medieval times. Just like Santa’s elves learn woodworking, candy making, and toy making skills in order to join him in his workshop, eighteenth-century French craftsmen meticulously trained under master furniture makers on their way to becoming members of the Corporation des Menuisiers.
The Corporation des Menuisiers (which became known as the Corporation des Menuisiers-Ébénistes in 1743) was divided into two trades; one for those who made boiserie (paneling for buildings) and another for the actual furniture makers. The furniture makers were then split between the menuisiers, responsible for the making of solid wood furniture such as chairs, beds, and console tables, and the ébénistes (cabinetmakers), makers of veneered case pieces such as desks, cabinets, and commodes.
The skills needed to be accepted into the guild took enormous time and effort, and years of training. Families with enough means would ask a maître-menuisier (master carpenter) to take their child on as an apprentice around the age of twelve to fourteen. The master would be paid to feed, clothe, and house him throughout the rigorous training process, which lasted six to nine years.
Life as an apprentice was not easy. For the first three years, the apprentice worked six days a week, from sunup to sundown in the workshop of the master, often sleeping there. Only the truly committed managed to gain enough expertise and knowledge to reach the next rank of the guild — compagnon or journeyman. Although considered official members of the guild, journeymen had limited access to the guild’s resources. Those who trained in Paris as apprentices continued working under their master for another three years, while those who trained outside of Paris were obligated to train an additional six years.
To earn the title of master, each journeyman had to prove his competency by creating a chef-d’oeuvre, or masterpiece, that would be submitted to the guild for approval. If successful, the journeyman would receive the rank of master. He was then eligible to become a full-fledge guild member and free to open his own atelier — as long as his guild fees were paid and a vacancy was available.
Paying guild fees was not always an easy feat, however. The various guilds didn’t function like today’s American trade unions. Fair wages were a concern, but making sure that each specialist maintained the highest level of artistic and technical standards was priority numéro un. While these humble craftsmen worked tirelessly honing their skills, they received no salary, yet were forced to pay fees at every stage during training. The fee to become a master was high, and often took years to pay, delaying official guild registration. Many were so broke by the time they earned the title of master that they had to borrow money just to pay their guild fees. For this reason, they decided against setting up shop in Paris, preferring to go to the less expensive provincial regions like the Loire Valley or cities like Lyon or la Rochelle. The provincial furniture they crafted was scaled down for more modest interiors, but the craftsmen were just as skilled as those that gave it a go in Paris.
The menuisiers who set up shop in Paris could be found in or near the rue de Cléry and were usually French-born, often descendants of well-known French carpenters or chairmakers. The ébénistes who decided to open their own ateliers often came from Germany and Flanders and worked in the faubourg Saint-Antoine, which was flanked by the River Seine on one side. This was a perfect place for woodworkers to operate from since much of the timber that was shipped to Paris arrived there. The fact that most of the ébénistes were foreigners only intensified the rivalry between the two furniture making groups.
Beginning in 1743, the guild required that every piece of furniture that was for sale be stamped with the maker’s name – ensuring that foreign craftsmen weren’t excluded and allowing for at least one of the creators of any given piece of eighteenth-century Parisian furniture to be identified. An additional stamp, JME, for jurande des menuisiers-ébénistes, would be added after a committee of elected guild members, who inspected the workshops four times a year, had approved the quality. This rule was strictly followed in Paris until 1791, when the guilds were abolished, putting an end to the most artistic and opulent period of French furniture making. The strict rules and guidelines that had governed the training of craftsmen for centuries were over.
The superb furniture handcrafted by eighteenth-century masters filled everything from royal residences to Parisian pieds-à-terre, from country châteaux to hunting lodges. Hundreds of hours went into the making of each piece of furniture. The various trade guilds or corporations were very strict about each member’s role. Unlike most furniture made today, furniture makers and various other craftsmen and artisans from several different guilds were needed to make a single piece of furniture during the Golden Age of French Furniture.
For example, to make a chair, a menuisier (carpenter or joiner) would create the frame and would eventually be the one to stamp his name or mark to the chair. If any ornate carving was needed, it was done by a sculpteur (sculptor). If bronze mounts were part of the design, they were provided by a member of the guild of fondeurs-ciseleurs (smelters). Lastly, the opulent fabric was applied by a tapissier (upholsterer). Each of these experts was a loyal member of a different guild that trained long and hard in his own particular specialty… And these are the guilds that made the chair that sits in the palace that Louis built.
Lolo’s Travel Tips
“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.”
– Lao Tzu
Hmmm… Lolo and I must be great travelers! We left Birmingham for our carefree summer getaway through France with way too much luggage (mostly mine), one carry-on going clickety-clack as we rolled it out the door (also mine), and no hotel reservations at all — anywhere (my responsibility). The reason for our trip was to shop three large antique fairs in the South of France and visit Lolo’s family afterwards. Since I had made no reservations other than our flight to Paris, things could have really gone awry, especially with all of France about to embark on les grandes vacances. Fortunately for us, they didn’t. We filled a 40-foot container full of beautiful French antiques and spent a lovely week with family.
Since returning home, I’ve had a little time to ponder some of our decisions. While I strongly suggest getting off the tourist track and experiencing the “real” France as we did, I have to admit we might have approached some things a little too carefree, resulting in foils and fumbles, smiles and tears. In the end, however, our work-cation was just as I’d hoped (minus the little red convertible) — one filled with family, food, fun, and romance. It wasn’t about the destination, it was all about the journey!
Imagine the art world if Monet had only painted water lilies in Giverny, without ever learning to paint en plein air? What if he never visited the Louvre or never traveled to Algeria or never lived in Argenteuil or Vétheuil? There are so many great destinations waiting to be seen. I hope these travel tips help you enjoy your next journey and that you will always take time to smell the roses!
What We Learned From Our Work-cation
Lolo French Antiques Guide to Experiencing the Real France
It’s August and back to school time. Those lazy, crazy days of summer are slipping away — in America, that is. But not in France. Vacation is sacred to the French. Five, seven, even nine weeks of vacation per year is not unusual for them. From the first week of July until early September, the French are “hard at vacation”… not, “hard at work!” Les grandes vacances (the summer holidays) are generally divided between the juillettists (Julyists), those who take the month, yes “month,” of July off, and the aoûtiens (Augustians), those who begin their month-long vacation in August.
Lolo and I experienced this sacred rite first hand during a recent buying trip/vacation in France that took us from the picturesque villages dotting Provence to the coastal scenery and seaside resorts of the Loire-Atlantique. I had dreams of driving through France in a little red convertible. But, that was not to be!
We were very “hard at work” buying in the South of France, traveling back-and-forth between three large fairs and two major marché aux puces. We were in France, however, and “when in France, do as the French do.”
Meaning we shopped the antique fairs and puces all morning, then lingered over delicious lunches, eating our fill of crusty baguettes, crevettes, huîtres, and ratatouille while sipping fabulous regional wines, and more often than not, chugging a Coke Zero avec de la glace (as one needs to stipulate, “with ice”). Afternoons and evenings included more shopping, more food, and a lot of driving, whether sightseeing or traveling to our next destination.
Driving in France… that’s a sore subject! Not because we were traveling in a big box truck instead of a shiny red sports car, not because the box truck we rented for the fairs and markets was too high for many of the bridges we needed to pass beneath or too wide for the narrow streets we had to maneuver, but because the air conditioning wasn’t working during the unexpected summer heatwave! Now, I’m a country girl at heart. I’ve ridden plenty of miles in a pickup truck with the windows down and a cooler of ice cold beverages in the back, but after two days in a big box truck with no a/c, no cooler (because you can’t buy bags of ice), temps over 100 degrees, and nights spent in hotels that were “climatized” (to nothing lower than 73 degrees), my split personality was beginning to rear its ugly head. Laurent realized it was in everyone’s best interest to repair the air — ASAP! After several desperate phone calls, he found a dealership that could fix it. In less than three hours, “we were on the road again, the best of friends, goin’ places that we’d never been.” Hallelujah!
We continued on our buying trip. The best moments were when we veered off the suggested GPS routes and stumbled upon hidden antique shops, quaint medieval villages, and a 12th-century Benedictine abbey that was converted into a wine cave in 1791.
We made new friends, took selfies in lavender fields, sunflower fields and random vineyards, and dined outdoors along various riverbanks and canals. We gaped in awe at the beautiful surroundings, living life comme il faut.
Once we were done being “hard at work,” it was time to claim our own les grandes vacance. We hopped a short flight to Nantes from Montpellier and spent a fun-filled week with Laurent’s wonderful family. It was magical.
There was tons of laughter, lots of story telling, despite my terrible French, and more delicious food! We shopped the local seafood and produce markets instead of antique markets. We ate langoustine straight out of the Atlantic and fresh vegetables right out of the garden.
We took a riverboat cruise down the Erdre with Laurent’s sister acting as our personal tour guide. She’s a remarkable local historian and was so generous sharing her knowledge with me. It made the days Lolo and I ventured off by ourselves much more fascinating and enjoyable.
We continued to linger over lunches, after all, we were still on French time — everything was closed from noon until 2:00 pm. We saw dungeons and jails, salt flats and saltwater marshes.
We walked (and walked and walked), and climbed all 350 steps of the Grand Degre that leads to the Abbey at Mont St. Michel. We piddled around his mom’s house, watched French TV, and slept with the windows open. I can’t wait to return in the fall!
For almost three weeks we wined and dined in sun-drenched towns and fog filled villages. From the Languedoc-Roussillon and Provence-Alpes-Cote-d’Azur regions in Southern France to Brittany, Normandy, and the Loire Atlantique in Northwestern France, we got a “taste” of the real France, with its gorgeous countryside, narrow, winding cobblestone streets, castles and cathedrals, bubbling fountains, outdoor cafés and of course, beautiful antiques.
While there’s nothing more quintessentially French than the Eiffel Tower (or the Louis XV bergère), every Francophile should get off the tourist track for a carefree getaway full of fun, romance, and incredible seafood (I’m talking every kind of little shelly creature you can imagine) paired with the best wines in the world. As the title of this summer’s dramedy starring Diane Lane, Alec Baldwin and French actor, Arnuad Viard suggests…. Paris Can Wait, there’s so much more to France.
Here’s a look at three of our favorite South of France side trips.
Have you experienced the real France? If so, tell us where your carefree getaway took you. And look for Lolo’s Travel Tips From Our Carefree Summer Getaway next. We had a few foils and fumbles along the way, but managed to go with the flow and have one of the best work-cations ever!
Lingerie, opulent embroidered sheets, and treasured textiles — these are just a few of the pieces a young French mademoiselle would have made or collected as part of her bridal trousseau, a centuries old wedding tradition that originated in France. The family heirlooms and handmade linens that a bride-to-be was expected to bring to her new home as part of her trousseau was often an indication of her family’s wealth and typically included twelve pieces of each: napkins, tablecloths, dishtowels, bed sheets, nightgowns and petticoats, all hand sewn and hand embroidered. Since wealthier families often had live-in seamstresses that would do most of the sewing (instead of the bride and her relatives), well-to-do brides might bring hundreds of pieces of linens with them — including linens for the servants — as well as custom dresses and gowns sewn by dressmakers in Paris. Oh la la!
When fourteen-year-old Catherine de Medici arrived in France in 1533 to marry into the French royal family, her uncle, Pope Clement VII, spared no expense on the many trunks of lace, linens, bed hangings, gowns and silk included in her bridal trousseau. It’s said her sparkling gowns were embroidered with three pounds of gold and two pounds of silver — that her sheets were made of the finest silk and her lingerie from the most delicate lace and gold and silver cloth. Catherine may have been considered an Italian commoner at the time of her marriage to Henri II, but her bridal trousseau was nothing less than dazzling. Of course most young girls didn’t marry royalty, but being sent off in style was of such importance that a wedding would often be canceled if the trousseau was incomplete. It was often more expensive than the wedding itself, as it was expected to contain all of the clothing, including gloves, hats, stockings, dresses and gowns, that a young madame would need for her married life.
I’m sure you read Toma’s recent blog post on the tradition of the trousseau and how families often began preparations at birth. Once the “I do’s” were said, a new bride was expected to have all she needed to set up her new home — from linens and lace to petticoats and parasols. Preparations for the armoire de mariage (wedding armoire) that would store this carefully curated collection throughout a girl’s lifetime also began at birth. Neatly folded antique linens, ruffles of delicate lace, family heirlooms, and countless napkins and table cloths that were once part of treasured trousseaux can still be found stored in elaborately carved marriage armoires in master bedrooms across rural regions of France today. And you can be sure they’re stacked from the bottom, not the top, to ensure strict rotation.
Similar to a hope chest, the beautiful armoire de mariage is much larger and hand carved with motifs of wealth and prosperity that represented good wishes for the newlywed couple.
Intricate carvings include lovebirds evoking love, baskets of flowers representing fertility, pairs of nesting doves symbolizing the “nest,” sheafs of wheat and grape vines describing abundance and domestic prosperity, and musical instruments and sheet music as an allegory for harmony.
Traditions vary, but it is said that in parts of Normandy it was common for a father to cut down a large tree when a daughter was born and use planks from the tree to make the armoire de mariage once the daughter was engaged.
In other parts of France, it was common for a father to make a wedding armoire when a daughter was born and give it to her during adolescence. As the girl grew up, she would fill it with items from her trousseau and take it with her to her new home after she was wed. By the 18th century, wedding armoires were made by craftsmen and given to the newlywed couple as a gift from the bride’s parents. In Brittany, it was customary before a wedding for the marriage armoire and the bride’s trousseau to be carried to her new home in a brightly decorated cart drawn by a pair of oxen draped in flowers. The bride’s mother would fill the armoire with the trousseau once it arrived and the father of the bride would then throw open the doors in a dramatic fashion to the “oohs and ahs” of all the guests. Afterwards, the priest would bless both the marriage armoire and the marriage bed before the two families sat down to dinner together.
Wedding bells are ringing and the bridal season is in full swing now.
Why not consider giving your favorite bride and groom some lovely home spun, home sewn, and home embroidered French linens that were part of some young girl’s trousseau many, many years ago? Nothing feels and smells like good linen that has been freshly laundered. And even if you don’t have a marriage armoire yourself, try storing your favorite linens in an antique French armoire. You’ll be surprised what a difference it makes! It’s a perfect blend of French charm and modern storage. Everything looks nicer and you’ll find yourself using your linens more. After all, they’re meant to be used every day!
And if you’re lucky enough to have an armoire de mariage, take some time to really look at the carvings and see what all you can discover. You’ll be surprised! A whole lot of love went into these armoires!
Lolo French Antiques Bergères at Home
It’s no secret I have a thing for chairs, especially French chairs. From the House of Bourbon to the House of Bonaparte, stiff and straight backed to padded and tufted, fancy fauteuils to chic chaises, I’m obsessed with French chairs. They’re so much more than just functional objects to sit on. They’re like pieces of art — colorful canvases within exquisite, hand-carved frames, some gilded, some painted, some á la capuchine. With their beautiful upholstery and regal frames, French chairs are the perfect combination of style and function. They work as well with traditional interiors as modern interiors. They bring to mind visions of king’s thrones with ladies-in-waiting, smoky gentlemen’s clubs, and memories made at holiday gatherings.
Sit up and take notice of eight of my favorite French chairs.
Thought to be the oldest existing example of European furniture, the Dagobert chair began as an “X” shaped or curule stool in the 7th century. It wasn’t until the Renaissance that backs and arms were added and heavily carved wood versions with grotesque figures appeared. The most notable example, now in the Louvre, is the alleged gilt bronze throne of King Dagobert I (603-639 AD). Though not the comfiest chair, it’s a classic French chair that can easily be incorporated into any decorating style. If it’s fit for a king, it’s fit for you. Grab the Dagobert chair when you need extra seating.
Often Seen… tucked in a corner, in pairs, in a hallway.
A Closer Look Reveals… most often dark wood, carved grotesque figures frame the back of the chair and grotesque faces are found at the ends of the arms, distinctive curule design of the base, where intersecting curves or an “X” define the legs and the seat, they sometimes fold, cushions often added for more comfort.
Os de Mouton (Louis XIII)
During the 17th century, grand dining rooms in châteaux all across France were filled with os de mouton (sheep bone) chairs. Their stately stature and shapely legs give them a classic, timeless appearance — while graceful carvings, paired with upholstered backs and seats with nailhead trim, add elegance. With legs shaped like those of a lamb, this classic Louis XIII chair is the perfect dining chair. Take your seat in an os de mouton chair with friends and family ‘round the dining room table.
Often Seen… at dining tables, as an accent chair, next to a side table.
A Closer Look Reveals… sturdy, heavy, fixed upholstery, decorative gilt or silvered nails, more comfortable and were more commonly used for ordinary domestic purposes, os de mouton chair is the most notable example of the era.
Fauteuil (Louis XIV)
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Every chair should be a throne and hold a king.” The high back upholstered armchair with heavy carvings and rich upholstery, known as the fauteuil, was more like a throne during the reign of Louis XIV. While the Sun King ruled, chairs were status symbols and commoners could only hope to own one. A hierarchical seating system featured a fauteuil, majestic and royal by design, for the king and queen to sit upon. Original designs were often signed as proof of their significance. Be the king of your castle. Select the fauteuil as your throne.
Often Seen… in pairs, flanking buffets or armoires, as fireplace chairs or library chairs.
A Closer Look Reveals… upholstered armchair with straight lines and open sides, elaborate ornamentation reigned supreme, legs were figural, baluster and claw, many with pied de biche (hoof foot), most have stretchers, pads were later added to the armrests for more comfort.
Bergère (Louis XV)
Besides a crusty baguette or a fine Bordeaux, there’s nothing more quintessentially French than the en vogue Louis XV bergère (shepherdess chair), with its signature “S” shaped cabriole legs. The 18th century was indeed the Golden Age of the chair, and unlike earlier regal seats, the smaller and more feminine bergère was designed to accommodate the opulent fashions of the day. Chair arms were shortened to account for hoop skirts, while chair backs were lowered to spare huge coiffures. The embroidered silk upholstery was meant to complement the patterns and colors of the boiserie. The carved wood frames, closed arms and loose seats of the bergère blend style and comfort seamlessly and add a touch of noblesse to any room. The bergère’s ability to fit in anywhere speaks to the influence of royal mistresses. You’ll be sitting pretty in a plush bergère.
Often Seen… in pairs opposite a sofa, grouped in a formal seating area, or tucked into a corner of a bedroom
A Closer Look Reveals… included fabric covered panels between the arms and seats, there’s no mistaking the legs, shaped like an animal’s hind legs, stretcher supports disappear, easily adapted to suit the needs of all classes, from royal to provincial, every refinement in comfort was attained.
Bergère Corbeille (Louis XV)
Another popular 18th-century French armchair, the bergère corbeille, with it’s carved, basket-shaped wood frame above short padded arms and upholstered, loose cushion, was also designed for cushy lounging. Great care was given to the upholstery work in order to achieve the maximum of comfort. Don’t let someone else get your seat. Put all your eggs in this basket. Choose the bergère corbeille every time.
Often seen… in pairs, opposite a sofa, tucked in a corner.
A Closer Look Reveals… feminine, closed arms, a wide seat and basket-shaped back, short padded arms, cabriole legs.
Bergère à Oreilles (Louis XV)
Amongst the wide range of accent chairs available today, the 18th century French wing chair, the bergère à oreilles (with ears) is easily recognized by its upholstered side “wings” which were originally introduced to shield the face from the heat of a roaring fire or to protect the upper body from drafts in cold, damp houses. It also provided support in case one nodded off. This popular chair is sometimes playfully called a bergère confessionale, as if the occupant were hidden from view, as in a confessional. Cozy up with a book by the fire in a bergère à oreilles.
Often Seen… in pairs, as fireplace chairs, in a library or study
A Closer Look Reveals… protruding, upholstered wings, enveloping and closed forms provide support and comfort to the head, back and arms, as sophisticated now as it was two hundred years ago.
Primarily used for decorative purposes and not usually thought of as an accent chair, the prie-dieu (prayer chair) — the seat of which is not intended for sitting but kneeling — makes a great seat for tiny tots. Pull them up under the coffee table and they’re great for playing games, doing puzzles or coloring. They also make a good seat for kids to sit in while eating in front of the TV. Need extra seating for the little ones? Pull up a couple of prie-dieux next time.
Often Seen… used for decorative purposes, in a corner.
A Closer Look Reveals… very low, serves as a kneeling chair for prayer, upholstered seats and carved wood backs.
Fauteuil Confortable (Art Deco)
Now referred to as simply a “club chair,” the famed French fauteuil confortable (comfortable armchair), was an essential part of 20th-century luxury furniture, introduced during the late 1920s by way of trendy gentlemen’s clubs. These timeless club chairs exude luxury and character, evoking an era when well-dressed men met and relaxed in plush leather chairs with a good cognac and a Cuban cigar. The original round form was legendary, but it soon evolved and new forms such as the “moustache” back with lip-like curves across the back were introduced. Rugged, yet handsome with its clean but, sinuous lines and refinement, the fauteuil confortable is still very much admired today, offering an instant sense of history. Everybody will want to sit in it, so you’ll want more than one, or you’ll have to share. Relax in comfort while watching the big game in the fauteuil confortable.
Often Seen… in pairs or groups of four, in libraries or studies, tucked in a corner, opposite a sofa.
A Closer Look Reveals… variation of the arm chair that has low seats, arms, and backs, the curved back and armrests are heavily upholstered (usually in leather) and decorated with nail head trim, large seat and plush cushion provide the utmost comfort.
How do you decide which chair is right for you? Do you like sexy curves? Or bold, straight lines? Whatever your preference, there’s a little (or large) French chair that’s perfect for you. Like the perfect little black dress, the perfect French chair will add personality and charm to any space. It will also add a little color and maybe some drama, as well as extra seating. Next time you want to curl up in a corner with your favorite book or create a conversation area to share secrets and charcuterie with your bestie, consider a stylish French chair — or two. I chose two Louis XVI style bergères for my corner. I love the fact that they have a history and a story to tell. One day I’ll upholster them, but for now they work with just burlap. What’s in your corner of the room?
Antiquing in Parma at Italy’s Premier Antiques Fair
Fancy meeting up with a group of fabulous designers, delightful dealers, (antique dealers, of course), magazine creatives, gracious guides, and one Diva extraordinaire to #shopeatplay in Italy for five days. Well, that’s exactly what Laurent and I did last month during Mercanteinfiera, Italy’s largest antiques fair held in the historic and gastronomic city of Parma, Italy, famous for its Renaissance and Romanesque architecture and prosciutto, parmigiano cheese and Lambruscu.
Twice a year, Toma Clark Haines, the Antiques Diva, and her Diva Guides take a VIP group of mostly interior designers and antique dealers on a trip that can only be described as an “antiques lovefest” because not only did we fall in love with the beautiful Italian antiques we saw, but we also fell in love with the people and places of Italy as well as everyone in our group. (While The Antiques Diva & Co NORMALLY only does one on one customized antique buying tours, a few times a year they work with 3rd parties to put together special VIP Group Tours; Mercanteinfiera is one such occassion. We were lucky enough to be part of that group!) What we thought would be a “look see” turned into an outright buying trip filled with more food, fun and friends than we could have ever imagined!
buy directly off the trucks as dealers
were unloading and setting up
The nine-day shopping extravaganza, which attracted more than 50,000 purveyors of antiques and designer finds from around the world, opened to the public on February 25th, but as VIP guests of the AD&CO we were fortunate enough to have early access during the pre-trade and trade days. This allowed us the ability to buy directly off the trucks as dealers were unloading and setting up. It was a bit crazy with everyone heading in different directions, dodging doggies and dollies (the furniture moving kind), but it provided us first dibs on the crème de la crème of Italian antiques and wares of over 1000 dealers.
Dealers are set up in five different pavilions selling a mixture of styles and periods of antiques and vintage furniture, jewelry and fashions, lighting (lots of lighting), art and accessories. Because Toma was in full-on Diva mode and making history in London at the House of Lords with the first ever Facebook Live post at the Houses of Parliament while speaking at the 9th Annual LAPADA Conference, she wasn’t able to join us the first day. We were in very capable hands, though. Her amazing Diva Guides, Orseola Barozzi Rizzo and Chiara Zanella, took charge and managed to navigate our large group through the multitudes of shoppers. They made sure that we each found what we were looking for, whether it was an 18th century Baroque Italian painted cassapanca or the nearest ATM. They also made sure we could communicate properly. Everyone in our group was from the South, and we could all be heard asking “quanto costa?” in our best southern accents!
A Few Vendor Booths at Mercanteinfiera
Our Goal: A Large Monastery Table
Since Laurent and I had one goal in mind, to find a large monastery table, we were thrilled to find not one but two 18th century tables almost immediately – and decided we best take them before someone else did. One table was fourteen feet and the other was twelve feet – hard-to-find sizes, at reasonable prices and both in excellent condition. We had already arranged to have our “collector” there just in case, so we immediately called him and let him know we had made our first purchase of the day. He would be collecting any items we purchased and taking them to our warehouse in Nantes, France. When Laurent goes to France in April to make a container, he’ll add the pieces from Italy with what he buys in France to be shipped back to our shop in Birmingham, Alabama.
A few things you need to know about Laurent. He’s been importing antiques for 25 years and has his own sources and does his own containers, usually four to five a year. So he was really reluctant about buying anything during this trip. He thought everything would be way over priced, and many things were because it’s a very high-end trade show, but once we started shopping, we realized what a wonderful opportunity we had been given.
even established antique dealers, set in their ways,
can really benefit from one of AD&CO’s many tours
In the two days that we attended Mercanteinfiera, we were able to purchase some incredible Italian antiques and were also able to find sources and make contacts that we will use in the future. Without the AD&CO, none of this would have been possible! We can’t thank them enough! It just goes to show even established antique dealers, set in their ways, can really benefit from one of AD&CO’s many tours. We plan on taking another tour in either Belgium or Sweden as soon as we can. Time is precious. And the time saved having Diva Guides with us to make introductions, translate and negotiate when necessary, and take care of the small details (like reading a menu) made all the difference in the world. Our imaginations could not have dreamed up anything more perfect. The energy, creativity, ingenuity, experience and the professional and personal attentiveness shown to us by Toma and her Diva Guides made this buying trip a truly magical journey.
French Christmas Traditions
I love Christmas! It is the most wonderful time of the year! A magical time of twinkling lights and tinsel trees, lords a-leaping and ladies dancing. A time to splurge on fine wines and feasts with friends and family. It’s also a time of year steeped in traditions that have been passed down through the generations – holiday traditions that bring back childhood memories of popcorn strands, paper chains, colored lights and a shiny tin foil star atop the tree; of eight tiny reindeer and a song about dancing merrily.
My holiday traditions encompass much more now, however. Just as Santa takes on many shapes, many sizes, Christmas traditions do also, varying from family to family and country to country. You won’t find an “elf on the shelf” wreaking havoc on our household and our stockings are still hung by the fire, but with our own jolly French elf… uh, I mean cook… in the family, we do indulge in a little more food and fun. From foie gras and the Bûche de Noël to French santons and the nativity scene, this Southern family has added some à la française to our pa-rum pum-pum-pum.
In France, Advent is usually ushered in with the opening of the Christmas markets. French towns and villages light up, vin chaud flows freely and the merriment begins. Christmas in France is a grand and joyful time, with celebrations focused on the birth of Jesus, family, friends, and food, of course.
French culinary customs have a tendency to be over the top, and Christmas is no exception. There’s nothing like celebrating with friends and family around the dinner table after the Christmas Eve service until the wee hours of the morning. With only five days until Christmas, I’m sharing five Gallic traditions that will have you and yours dreaming of a French Christmas. Try a few…
Postcards from Père Noël
Each year in late November, children around the world begin sending their Christmas wish lists to Père Noël by way of a postal office in the small French village of Libourne. About 60 volunteer La Poste “elves” sort through and reply to every letter – over 1 million from 140 different countries. Santa’s first official response was in 1962 when Le Sécretariat du Père Noël was started by the Ministère des Postes et des Télégraphes. For more than 50 years, letters addressed to “Père Noël, France” have been answered. Postal officials say this French station probably gets more letters than any other country because it’s the oldest of its kind. The operation costs an estimated $1.4 million each year.
Shoes by the Fire
French children don’t hang stockings by the fire on Christmas Eve. Instead, they leave their shoes or slippers by the fireplace, filled with hay and carrots for Père Noël’s donkey to eat. Père Noël takes the hay and carrots and refills the shoes with small presents, candies, fruits and nuts for children to find Christmas morning.
Three Kings Day
The people of France gather together on January 6th each year to celebrate the day the Three Wise Men or Magi visited baby Jesus in Bethlehem. They mark the end of the holiday season much like they do all celebrations – they chow down on food that’s fit for a king. A traditional galette des rois (Three Kings cake) is offered as a gift during the feast of the Epiphany, also known as La Fête des Rois or Three Kings Day. Inside the cake is a small object or bean, known as a féve. The person who discovers the hidden féve is declared King for a day and wears a gold paper crown.
Le Réveillon de Noël
Le Réveillon de Noël is the traditional late night feast held to réveiller or wake up again once families return from la Messe de Minuit (Midnight Mass) on Christmas Eve. While the menu varies from region to region, delicacies including oysters, lobster, foie gras, escargot and a turkey or goose stuffed with chestnuts are common. Dessert always includes la Bûche de Noël.
55 French Santons
La crèche de Noël (the nativity scene) is very popular in France. It’s usually displayed from the first Sunday of Advent until February 2nd, the date of the presentation of Jesus at the Temple, known as la Chandeleur (Crêpe Day). During the French Revolution, public nativity scenes were prohibited so small figurines called santons (little saints) were created in Provence for display in the home. The Provençal crèche includes the Holy Family, shepherds, animals, angels and Three Wise Men, as well as bouchers (butchers) boulangers (bakers) and various other village people – for a total of 55 characters – all waiting to welcome Baby Jesus, who isn’t added until midnight on Christmas Eve.
The countdown is on! As you finish decking the halls, wrapping the gifts and making the menu, there’s still time to add some French cheer to your home this year. You can read about more French Christmas traditions on our home page. Be sure to let us know if your holiday plans include any Francophile festivities. But wherever you are and however you’re celebrating….
Identifying French Furniture Periods
If there’s one thing I’ve learned since falling hopelessly in love with an adorable Frenchman it’s that French people definitely appreciate the finer things in life. They’re famous for l’art de vivre. From fine wine to fine furniture, from the Eiffel Tower to the fields of Provence, the people of France surround themselves with art and furniture that spans hundreds of years of impeccable style.
The task of identifying French furniture that’s often two hundred years old can be daunting though. How do you tell a Louis XV buffet from an Empire buffet? What’s the difference between a period piece and a style piece? There’s so much to learn. But you don’t need a Ph.D in Art History to grasp the basics. I’m making everything easy for you. Our Timeline of French Furniture Periods takes away the guesswork. From the French Renaissance to les Années Folles, you’ll learn how to identify the styles you love best by following Louis — our Frenchie (which you’ll see a lot), on a trip through time as we look at the various French furniture periods and the primary motifs and elements of design for each.
What’s most important to remember when trying to decipher who’s who and what’s what is that the periods in French furniture design follow the time periods associated directly with the reign of a particular king, politician or military leader. While each king’s style differentiated his reign from the others, there’s much overlapping of styles. Take the acanthus leaf for instance, it’s used in almost every period, the swirls and curls just vary.
The difference from one monarch’s style to another is usually only a matter of a few degrees of decadence, with a couple of transitional styles thrown in between for good measure. When a piece was actually crafted during a particular king’s reign, Louis XV for example, it’s identified as a Louis XV buffet or a period buffet. It will often have the stamp of a known ébéniste and will be more valuable than a style piece, which has the style motifs typical of the Louis XV period, but was made at a time after the Beloved’s reign — then it’s referred to as a buffet in the style of Louis XV or a Louis XV style buffet.
For nearly two centuries, the House of Bourbon ruled not only the courts of France, but also its worlds of fashion and decor. The “Fab Four,” Louis XIII, XIV, XV and XVI, had a huge influence on the arts and design. These four famous kings introduced French society to music, art, fashion and furnishings. Louis XV style is the epitome of French furniture at its finest. The period is regarded by many as the Golden Age of French furniture, a period of grand creativity, influenced by scandal and royal mistresses like Madame de Pompadour and Madame du Barry. It was all about comfort in the 18th century and Louis XV style was designed for the comfort and glorification of beautiful women. The classically French bergère was introduced. This cushy armchair has stood the test of time and blends stylishly into the most contemporary of rooms.
But French furniture lost its position of dominance with the execution of Louis XVI and The French Revolution, making the early 19th century the last great period in French furniture making.
Whether you mix it up with the delectable designs of different periods or let one style dominate your decor, what’s your favorite? Let us know about the styles you love best.