I’ll ring in the New Year with my favorite Prosecco. I first became aware of the Prosecco house Bisol when I visited the winery earlier this year in Valdobbiadene for my birthday in the nearby Veneto region just an hour north of Venice. When I discovered it was the house Prosecco at the Gritti palace my good taste was reconfirmed. At my house, the glasses are vintage champagne coupes – a Christmas present from my mom several years ago. They aren’t the standard flute but rather champagne bowls and rumor has it (I don’t know if the story is true) that the shape of the round coupe is inspired by Marie Antoinette’s bosom! Along with my friend and co-host Steven Moore of the Antiques Roadshow who is visiting for the New Years celebrations I’ll be serving ‘cicchetti‘, small Venetian tapas-like hors-d’oeuvres, and of course, my Paris favorite: caviar on toast with a dollop of crème fraîche; served #DivaStyle from my antique 17th-century Spanish secretary which I’ve styled as a bar cart!
With New Year’s Eve right around the corner, the timing is perfect for Mimi Montgomery of Lolo French Antiques et More’s 3rd article in our series on holiday tablescapes and entertaining design inspiration! Here are Mimi’s tips on stocking the bar for holiday entertaining and how to style your bar cart with antiques – do NOT miss Mimi’s barmoire!
Felice anno nuovo!
Stocking the Bar for Holiday Entertaining
Photos by Eric Gray Photography
Nothing calls for celebrations and cocktails like the holidays. There’s no better way to make spirits bright than with a well-stocked bar and a well-mixed drink! Both are a must for anyone who enjoys entertaining at home. Read on to see how you can mix and a-mingle in the jinglin’ glass… and shake and stir your way through the holidaze with ease.
Stocking the bar can be both affordable and easy. There are several essential elements that need to be included for it to be considered a success. Since many of us may have limited space and/or limited funds, choosing wisely is very important. No matter your budget, the first rule of our guide, The Art of Stocking the Bar, is to buy quality ingredients. From bourbon to bubbly, the wines and spirits you choose to stock will set the tone for your bar and the type of cocktails you can concoct. You don’t have to go top shelf, and remember price doesn’t always mean quality. You do want to cover all your beverage bases, however, so we suggest you start with the following:
Wine & Spirits
- Champagne or Wine
Once you’ve taken stock of what you need to mix up some classic cocktails, like a French 75 or an Old Fashioned, add what you like to the above essentials. If it’s tequila, popular for shots and margaritas, you should definitely have a reposado and an añejo. If you’re a fan of whiskey, be sure to include a good Scotch whiskey, made from malted barley in Scotland, a bourbon, an essential American whiskey for the southern gentleman (that’s also great for sipping), and a classic rye from Canada. You may also want to add in some liqueurs like Cointreau, Campari, and both sweet and dry Vermouth, a key ingredient in iconic cocktails such as the Martini and the Manhattan.
Whether shaken or stirred, with a twist or with a chaser, all cocktails need mixers and garnishes. Which ones you decide to stock will depend on the drinks you want to make. When displayed in small glass bottles, mixers add a splash of color to your bar and make pouring a breeze. Garnishes, on the other hand, can take a boring French Blonde from oh to oh la la. They also give you something to nibble on while sipping your drink. These are our choices for basic mixers and garnishes:
- Club soda
- Tonic water
- Sodas – Coke, Sprite, 7-Up
- Ginger Ale
- Juices – orange, lemon, lime, cranberry, tomato, apple, pineapple
- Angostura Bitters (technically not a mixer — only a dash or two to add a bit of flavor to a drink)
- Simple Syrup (made by dissolving equal parts water and sugar over heat — will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator)
- Peels and Wedges – lemon, lime, orange, cucumber, grapefruit
- Fruits Soaked in Booze
- Spices – cinnamon, celery salt, clove, coriander, ginger, nutmeg, salt, pepper
- Veggies – pickled corn, asparagus, okra, beets, and cocktail onions; celery stalks
- Herbs – mint, rosemary, and basil
You have your booze, your bitters, and your bacon. When it comes to bar tools, only a few items are truly necessary to make a tasty toddy. Our favorite bar tools (and accouterments) include:
- Shaker, Mixing Glass, and Strainer
- Jigger – for all your measuring needs… try a 1 oz and 3/4 oz combo
- Bar Spoon – for all your stirring, mixing and layering needs
- Citrus Peeler and Handheld Citrus Press
- Ice Bucket and Tongs
You’ll also want to add your favorite cocktail recipe books, old or new. My favorite is The Coupe by our friend Brian Hart Hoffman. Brian has a fabulous coupe collection and offers tips for collecting coupes and styling a home bar, as well as drink recipes from some of our fave bars. We also keep monogrammed bar napkins and pretty hand towels readily available for spills and quick clean ups!
Next up… glassware. I love glasses like I do chairs — their different shapes and sizes, curves and angles. How you present your cocktails is almost as important as how you mix them. Having the proper glass for each cocktail isn’t a necessity, but it makes pouring and serving more fun. These glasses (and some red Solo cups) will see you through any soiree you might be planning:
- Coupe – our choice for serving cocktails that are shaken or stirred
- Champagne Flute – tall, slender, and fun… break out the bubbly
- Wine – white or red, and stemless — a real crowd pleaser, especially when serving batch cocktails
- Shot – that tequila isn’t going to shoot itself… and they’re fun to collect
- Highball – for any variety of liquor and mixer that your heart desires
- Rocks Glass – a short tumbler for making spirits bright… with ice or neat
Style and Location
Last, but definitely not least, is the style and location of your bar. We all want a home bar that’s welcoming and appealing to our guests, but make sure it’s fun and easy for you. Whether you mix Margaritas from a brass bar cart, or transform an antique placard into a barmoire — like we did — you can always personalize and elevate your cocktail hour.
Try these ideas for a stylish home bar that will shake things up a bit:
- Turn a console into a drinks station when space is limited. A pretty tray will keep a cocktail shaker, pitcher, and liquor bottles in one place, leaving plenty of room for setting up glassware. The tray also proves handy in keeping everything looking organized as well as making things easier to move around when needed.
- An antique chest or buffet makes an ideal bar. Place crystal glasses and decanters filled with your favorite aged liquors on an antique brass or silver tray to make spirits really shine. Add a lamp, artwork and flowers to bring color and height. You can store napkins, tools, extra glasses, and your favorite recipe books in the drawers or cabinets below.
An antique bar cabinet looks just as beautiful open as it does closed, especially when you set the bar high! That’s exactly what we did when we recently removed a built-in desk from our kitchen during a renovation and replaced it with a gorgeous Louis Philippe period placard that we had at our store. Originally a dark cherry wood, Laurent bleached it and added a lime wax before installing it. We turned the center section into a bar to store our collection of antique French ice buckets and antique and vintage glassware, and called on Santa’s elves at Barri Thompson Interiors once again to sip and style the day away just in time for the holidays! It was nothing less than magical, proving once again that mixing in antiques will always #raisethebar!
Antique and Vintage Glassware
Cheers to that!
Today in part 2 of our tablescapes series, Mimi is making s’mores on a mohair rug – #DivaStyle. The Christmas s’mores bar Mimi Montgomery of Lolo French Antiques et More shares below is simply divine – both the recipes themselves and the stunning photographs. Perfect for holiday entertaining – or any time you want a simple, elegant dessert that is dramatic, fun and easy!
Dreaming of a White Christmas S’mores Bar
Photos by Eric Gray Photography
Last week, we were all merry and bright for our Wonderful Christmas Time Ladies Brunch. This week, we’re going dark(er) and decadent for a winter picnic like no other. For our second tablescape, Dreaming of a White Christmas S’mores Bar, we’re taking the art of picnicking to a whole new level. Instead of roasting chestnuts on an open fire, we’re toasting marshmallows on an open fire and making s’mores… on a mohair rug.
I don’t know about your weather, but ours has been more than a bit frightful lately. The kind of weather that makes you want to stay inside and snuggle up by the fire. If you have a small home or studio apartment, I’m going to show you (with a little help from my friends at Barri Thompson Interiors) how to get creative and host a fun holiday soiree picnic-style around your coffee table. You’ll definitely have your guests Dreaming of a White Christmas…
A Closer Look
A walk on the wild(er) side. The luxurious look and feel of the natural undyed, mid-century Turkish Angora woven blanket from Paige Albright Orientals that Barri chose to cover the homeowner’s custom-made chunky white coffee table was just what we needed to spice up our picnic, along with a spiced rum cocktail, of course. I know most of you probably don’t have a tiger-striped mohair rug laying around — but if you do… If you don’t, you definitely want to add it to your list! IT’S. THAT. DAMN. FABULOUS!
Let Them Eat Cake
S’mores are the quintessential dessert — they require no baking! You’re free to choose as few or as many ingredients as you like, leaving plenty of time to concentrate on the tablescape and signature cocktail. For this place setting, Barri mixed and matched selections from the homeowner’s collection of modern tableware. She selected a white charger that really stood out against that fabulous mohair rug and anchored the black La Chamba pottery. The salad plate was adorned with fresh cut greenery, while the place card from Target was tied to the “bowl with one handle,” which was filled with marshmallows, tiny chocolate bits, and pieces of butterscotch. The coating of powdered sugar we added to the marshmallows (to keep them from getting sticky) added a slight shine to them, and we placed a sparkly napkin ring in the center of them for an extra pop of shimmer and shine! Because more is more, and we love shiny finishes, we chose Gold flatware by West Elm. Spiced Rum Old Fashioned cocktails were served in smoky gray rocks glasses from West Elm.
Since the S’mores Maker, filled with graham crackers, white chocolate peppermint bark, and marshmallows, had to be in the center of the table, Barri used gold mercury glass votives to magically light up the space. She randomly placed them on the table creating an oh-so romantic atmosphere. Votives give off a soft, beautiful glow, and because they shine the light upward, they make everyone look good. Voila! Who can complain about that? Just for kicks, she grabbed an antique wooden saddle stool that she saw sitting in a bookcase and placed a moss nest with a glitter ornament on it. She then added some vintage sleigh bells… for a very “beautiful sight!” Often, it’s the simplest things that make the biggest impact.
Barri also threw various pillows from PAO around the room. Incredibly stylish and versatile, they made for perfect party seating and snuggling. The neutral colors of the pillows, as well as the butterfly chair with the taupe Mongolian sheepskin cover, also from PAO, added just the right amount of texture… and had us dreaming of this White Christmas for days!
The best thing about s’mores is there’s no wrong way to make them. Here are a few of our favorite combinations that will have your guests asking for s’more.
Mimi’s S’mores Recipes
Classic S’mores Recipes
- Honey Maid Graham Cracker Squares
- Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bars
- Kraft’s Jet-Puffed S’moreMallows
- Honey Maid Graham Cracker Squares
- Oreo Cookies
- Creamy Peanut Butter
- Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bars
- Kraft’s Jet-Puffed S’moreMallows
- Ritz Crackers
- Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
- Kraft’s Jet-Puffed S’moreMallows
Sweet and Salty S’mores
- Ritz Crackers
- Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bars
- Kraft’s Jet-Puffed S’moremallows
- Cookies and Creme S’mores
- Honey Maid Graham Cracker Squares
- Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Crème Candy Bar
- Kraft’s Jet-Puffed S’moreMallows
What’s your favorite? Let us know!
Our next tablescape is a Holly Jolly Dinner Party. Instead of toasting marshmallows on a mohair rug we’ll be toasting “A day when cheer and gladness blend, When heart meets heart, And friend meets friend.”
Your home is a reflection of who you are – your travels, your passions, your lifestyle. As The Antiques Diva, I always incorporate antiques and vintage pieces into my home, mixed with modern and far more practical items for everyday living! When I entertain, I enjoy using antiques I’ve collected in new ways that showcase their beauty, but at the same time demonstrate that antiques are anything but old-fashioned and stuffy. Living with antiques is an art and a passion – and I love to share my home and #DivaLifestyle with my guests, especially during the holidays.
Today we’re starting a series of blog posts by Mimi Montgomery of Lolo French Antiques et More full of #designinspiration and tips on using antiques and vintage pieces for holiday tablescapes, bar carts and entertaining! Mimi is thinking pink! Are these tabletops not the most stunning Christmas shades of pink you’ve ever seen! I’d love to be invited to this ladies brunch!
Wonderful Christmas Time Ladies Brunch
‘Tis the season… to deck the halls, the walls, and the tables! Whether you’re celebrating all that’s merry and bright with an intimate group of friends or hosting a large family gathering on Christmas Eve, you always want to make sure your holiday tabletop shines. This year, I called on a few of my favorite friends for some sparkling inspiration. WOW! Did they ever deliver! You might have seen some sneak peeks if you follow me on Instagram or Facebook. For the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing with you the three table settings (plus a bar) that we created, along with detailed photos. So… put on your sleigh bells, pour yourself some bubbly, and fa la la la long…
TABLESCAPE #1 WONDERFUL CHRISTMAS TIME LADIES BRUNCH
When it comes to setting a festive table, especially one in shades of pink, like my Wonderful Christmas Time Ladies Brunch, no one does it better than Barri Thompson Interiors. I met Barri shortly after moving to Birmingham, and we became fast friends. When Laurent and I purchased our home, there was no question who would be our designer. Barri’s love of color and her enthusiasm for design is contagious. I recently asked Barri and her assistant Melinda Musgrove (one of the floral designers on the C. Wayman Floral & Events Team for Cardi B’s baby shower before joining BTI) to design not one, but THREE, holiday tablescapes for a photoshoot. They didn’t hesitate to say yes! Photos by Eric Gray Photography.
Barri embraces the romantic appeal entertaining at home has. It’s a well thought out affair for her, where “fancy” doesn’t mean complicated. She brings her signature modern style to each tablescape, yet she has the uncanny ability to mix in vintage and antique pieces — making things that probably shouldn’t work together look enchanting. Non-traditional details help to define her Christmas tablescapes, which are made festive with fresh flowers, boughs and greenery from the yard, signature drinks, and a break from the usual red and green colors associated with Christmas.
A pink and green color scheme. The green plates used as chargers make the mix and match place settings, in various shades of pink and green, pop when placed directly on my bleached walnut table. The vintage Tulu rug and the bright colors and bold pattern on the antique Louis XVI style chairs also stand out against the wood.
The table is set à la française — French style, with the tines pointing down. Barri chose to use heirloom silver passed down to me from a great aunt, Pyrex chargers, a gift from my mother, beautifully detailed antique Limoges dishes, and Raynaud Festivite salad plates. As you can see, my love of antiques and vintage is not limited to furniture!
Barri has such a discerning eye. She took the dainty little Limoges butter pats and placed two yummy macarons in each. What a delightful surprise! She also mixed the stemware, using Parklane by Mikasa and Manhattan Gold by Union Street. Blush pleated metallic napkins and chandelier napkin rings by Deborah Rhodes, were used to add extra shine.
Melinda placed a 19th century Limoges fruit bowl that is part of my china collection in the center of the table to hold a large glitter bottle brush Christmas tree surrounded by pale pink peonies, silver brunia and gumball pink hypericum berries. She ran a glitter garland down the center of the table and filled in with the live berries and more silver brunia, adding champagne colored bottle brush trees inside glass on each side of the centerpiece for height. Blush colored rope taper candles from Greentree Home in antique silver candle holders add additional height and provide elegant light.
Will any of you be hosting a holiday fête this season? If so, these 5 tips will help make you the hostess with the mostest:
1. Decide On A Color Scheme Or Theme — Think outside of the box with new color combos to create a fresh tablescape. Consider color combinations other than the traditional red and green. Dishes and glassware, as well as florals, are great ways to bring color to your table.
2. Get Creative — Take a cue from Barri and use things in unexpected ways like she did with the butter pats. We’ve been trained to set forks on the right and knives on the left, but holiday tablescapes give us the freedom to step away from tradition. Play with the napkins. Move them around until you find the perfect spot. And never feel like you have to cover a wooden table! The texture of the wood just creates another layer.
3. Make It Personal — Work with what you have. Don’t think you have to go out and buy everything new. You can’t go wrong with a mix of modern and antique tableware, or high end and low end. If you have a fabulous collection of sterling napkin rings or colored coupes, use them! Mix Limoges with Pyrex like we did! We played around with my china and crystal and swapped plates and glasses and candlesticks in and out many times before we settled on what we used.
4. Keep It Fresh — Go big on fresh flowers, garlands, and greenery. Natural elements are key to making a holiday tablescape memorable. Tuck sprigs of greenery into the tablescape or use them to adorn plates or candle holders.
5. Add Some Sparkle — Metallic finishes just draw people in. Whether its metallic threads in linens or glitter ornaments, everyone loves a little sparkle!
*All other table accessories except sterling candlesticks are from Table Matters.
Don’t miss our next tablescape, Dreaming of a White Christmas. We’re roasting marshmallows and making s’mores… on a mohair rug.
This time last year, I was planting my rooftop terrace garden in Berlin. In my new home in Venice I don’t have a terrace or balcony: but I do have large sunny windows that open on one side to the canal where I hear the musicians at the Conservatory rehearse Verdi, Puccini and Rossini and the gondoliers passing below humming Buonosera Signorina, Buonosera. Each Saturday morning I visit the Mercato di Rialto to buy fresh flowers along with my produce and vegetables. Nearby I’m lucky to have several florists with cut flowers and plants. My Venetian home may not have an outdoor space, but my home always has flowers. To me, flowers are a hallmark of gracious living. Mimi’s history of antique Provençal pots takes me back the beautiful gardens and countryside of my days living in France. I’ll be back soon…
Spring is truly here! It’s Antiques Week in Round Top, Texas, and Lolo and I (along with Cole and Louis) set up shop once again in Tent D at the Arbors. There are wonderful treasures to be found, great people to meet and see, and inspiration all around us. This is Texas Hill Country after all – and the roadsides are awash in color. All along the highways, cars can be seen pulling off the road – doors flying open and people spilling out with their phones held high like concert groupies. What in the world has everyone stopping in their tracks? It’s not antiques. It’s Flowers. Miles and miles of wildflowers. Beguiled by the bold and brilliant blooms, I can’t help but smile, and join in the laughter at the joy everyone is experiencing from the sight of people, young and old, posing and picture taking in fields and pastures of blue and red (reminiscent of the French flag!)
While these Texas bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush are beautiful signs that spring has sprung, it isn’t officially spring for me until I’m back at home and the empty planters around my pool are all planted. Nothing quite says spring like a weathered Biot jarre or an aged Anduze pot spilling over with a profusion of colorful blooms. Filled with geraniums set amongst rambling roses or climbing vines, topiary boxwoods or fragrant lavender, potted citrus or olive trees, jarres de Biot and vases d’Anduze always make an impressive display – whether in groupings or standing alone, inside or out.
These Provençal pots, considered iconic symbols of French garden decor, are an elegant yet charming addition to any garden or home. They both conjure up images of grand chateaux, manicured gardens, and the South of France.
Named for the picturesque Medieval village of Anduze in the Cévennes mountains in the South of France, the vase d’Anduze was created in 1610 by a local potter named Boisset. Drawing inspiration from Italian Medici vases he saw at a fair in Beaucaire, he created his version of the famous inverted bell-shaped pot in a flamed color with a glaze applied in green, brown, and straw hat yellow streaks. Floral garlands, a stamped medallion with the potter’s signature, and other refined decorations embellished each pot. Pots are still being made in the Languedoc-Roussillon by artisans in the same way as the old Anduze family craftsmen.
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Anduze pots were only found on the estates of the wealthiest of the wealthy. And at Versailles. The vases d’Anduze became en vogue when Marie-Antoinette lined the formal gardens and terraces of Versailles (perhaps the first container garden of note) with them and decorated the Orangeries with hundreds and hundreds of the shapely glazed planters.
Designed to showcase the potted orange and lemon trees found in the gardens and orangeries of aristocrats and nobles, production of the beautiful terracotta planters dropped dramatically during the French Revolution (1789-1799) when most of the factories in Anduze closed. With only a few artisans and factories remaining, the vase d’anduze became a rare commodity – one of the reasons the crusty old 18th and 19th century pots are so coveted and expensive today! There are a limited number of original, authentic Anduze pots made, with few vestiges of the dark green glaze remaining, along with a barely legible signature.
After the Revolution, the nouveau riche silk merchants in the Anduze region (those who sold to the Lyon textile industry) began designing and creating their own private gardens and parks. They demonstrated their newly acquired wealth by purchasing the most exotic plants and trees possible, such as sequoias, shipped in from California, and bamboo from China. The really successful were able to grow the orange tree, which had at one time only been grown at Versailles. The orange trees were planted in these beautiful large (and heavy) glazed pots, as they had to winter indoors. The Anduze pots grew in popularity as more French artisans began creating the style, adding their own flourishes.
Unlike the strictly decorative Anduze pots that served no real purpose, except to bring joy and beauty to the homes and gardens of those lucky enough to afford them, the famous earthenware jarres de Biot were used to store flour, and preserve and transport olives and olive oil before they became popular as “jarres pour le jardin.”
Named after the coastal village of Biot, near Cannes in the South of France, Biot jarres are handmade, without a mold or wheel, using the ancient technique of rope thrown pottery.
Made from a mixture of red and grey clays to achieve the desired color, the jarres are distinctive for both their classic shape and for the colorful drips of glaze, known as “mother-in-laws’ tears,” that occur when the glaze of one jar drips onto another jar during the firing process.
The most unique feature of the Biot jarre, however, is the honey colored glaze at the neck of the jar that prevented insects and varmints from climbing inside the jar and into the olives or olive oil. (YUCK!)
It’s this handmade process – the rim glaze color, the “mother-in-law-tears,” and the classic shape – that make the jarres de Biot, in production since the 16th century, so special and desirable.
Thank goodness you don’t have to be Marie Antoinette or Louis Seize to enjoy the amazing variety of fruits, flowers, and veggies or shapes, colors, and fragrances that can be grown in these fabulous pots. And don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and mix it up. Just like the French mix different styles of antiques in their homes, they often blend formal with informal and mix beauty and utility in their gardens.
I’ll be in Sweet Home Alabama soon! Sitting on the deck sipping iced tea or relaxing by the pool with a glass of chilled rosé. It won’t be long until I can enjoy the fruits of my labor. I can’t wait to start planting!
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!
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.