When I was in my 20’s and had first moved to Paris, I opened a new journal and I wrote one sentence. I’ve started a million other journals since then, living a million different lives, as my journey took me the last two decades from living in Paris to Amsterdam and Berlin before making Venice home – but in that particular journal, there is still only that one sentence. The rest of the journal is blank. I didn’t know what words would follow – but I knew I was writing my manifestation. My mantra. The life I would live.
I want a life less ordinary.
My mom often reflects, “Your life is interesting, but it’s not easy.” She sees past the glamour of my life to the day to day toils of living abroad. Here there are inconveniences you don’t face in Oklahoma where I grew up. Radiators that never seem to heat the apartment causing me to sleep under fur coats in the winter. She sees me carrying groceries home in the rain over bridges and up flights of stairs. She’s regaled with stories of the acqua alta filling my magazzino and me frantically elevating storage items so they’re not ruined by the famed Venetian floods. More than once our Skype has been interrupted when the electrical fuse blows because I turned the tea kettle on forgetting I was running the washing machine. She sees the minor – but yet – practical – inconveniences of my life abroad. And while my life may not be convenient by American terms, darn it’s sexy.
I joke I can tolerate anything but two things – ugly decor and to be bored. And – my life is many things – but it’s always beautiful and it’s always interesting.
It’s this sentiment that made me smile when I saw the theme of this year’s Biennale di Venezia – “May You Live In Interesting Times.” The quote refers to 1966 when Robert F. Kennedy delivered a speech saying, “There is a Chinese curse which says ‘May he live in interesting times.’ Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty, but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind.” Anything is possible.
I found myself reflecting on this sentiment during the opening week of the Biennale as I attended the #DiorBall- also known as the #TiepoloBall – organized by the Venetian Heritage Foundation for their 20th anniversary. Held in the Baroque 17th-century Palazzo Labia, the ball was a reenactment of the 1951 Beistegui “Bal Oriental” – dubbed the ball of the century. Both in 1951 and this month at the event, all of European society floated down the Grand Canal clamoring to get in. Among the original guests in 1951 were Christian Dior, Salvador Dalí and Orson Welles. Now, the guests were Sienna Miller, Tilda Swinton and Sandro Kopp, Peter Marino, Monica Bellucci… and… uhm… me?!?! alongside my dear friend Steven Moore of BBC’s Antiques Roadshow. At times like this, I pinch myself. How did I get this life I’m living? With 380 guests in attendance, it was a formal sit down dinner catered by the Gritti Palace. And just as at the original event, the guests were charged to dress as if in a Tiepolo painting – tableaux vivants – so they became part of the decoration. As we climbed the stairs after being dropped by our water taxis and private boats at the palazzo we were presented in the main salon of the palace in the room where Giambattista Tiepolo painted his masterpiece The Banquet of Cleopatra. It was magic… (You can read more about the night in Vogue.)
Behind the scenes at the Venice Biennale Dior Tiepolo Ball
When debating what to wear to a ball hosted by one of the world’s greatest fashion houses where everyone I knew was going to be wearing haute couture… I decided to focus on the accessories. After all, “if” as Oprah says, “there’s one thing I know” – I know it’s all about the accessories. My dress was pretty – an emerald green empire waist strapless gown that I’d worn once before but on my head – I wore a swan. Yes. You read that right – but don’t take my word for it, watch Paris Mode TV to catch a glimpse of my feathers!
The jewelry was all my own design, Republic of Toma. Around my neck, I wore a ring of interconnecting pearl frogs with black diamonds for eyes. In life – not just in romance – you have to kiss a lot of frogs to get what you want. That means sometimes you have to go through failures and times in your life that things don’t go your way to get what you want.
At my table in the SeaRoom, I sat at one head of the table with my escort Steven across the table parallel me. At the very moment the Frenchman from Van Cleef & Arpels sitting to my right asked, “Why do you live in Venice?” and I responded matter of factly, “Because it makes me happy,” a photo was snapped. On my face is a look I rarely see. A look of quiet contemplation. I manifested this life. I build this life. A life less ordinary. I have found my home. Ca’ Toma.
In Dior’s autobiography, he wrote about the 1951 event, describing that evening as “the most beautiful” he had ever seen and that he “would ever see” and the event “a true work of art.” As my friend Steven Moore was on the water taxi heading home after an amazing week in Venice to England he texted me, “No detail was left unattended. No matter how small. We seemed to float along as if in a dream. I kept thinking I was going to wake up, but sometimes dreams do come true.”
You and only you have the power to make your dreams come true.
What are you dreaming?
Antiquing in the South of France
Coco Chanel said, “Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.” Two photos, taken a week apart capture the essence of me. In one I’m wearing a White Swan fascinator on my head at the Dior Ball in Venice. In the other, I’m wearing a white motorcycle helmet while sitting in a sidecar of a WWII era Ulta motorcycle antiquing in the South of France putting finishing touches on our newly revised Antiques Diva Provence Tours. (lol. Sidecar optional :). #WatchThisSpace we’re working on organizing our next training program for antique dealers held at a special retreat in the South of France. The photo is not about the helmet – though that is a great accessory – It’s about the adventure. We’re visiting Carpentras and Ville Neuve les Avignon, Aix en Provence and of course Ile sur la Sorgue. The deballages – in Avignon, Montpellier and Bezier – are still at the top of our #mustshop Provence list for antique dealers – but we’re also adding in appointments in private homes, and a surprising amount of chic new concept stores that show you that antiques can be super sexy. I’ve fallen in love with Marseilles recently – a city that wasn’t my favorite and now suddenly feels like home. It’s a city where Europe and Africa meet, allowing you to take a journey within a journey.
Journeys Ca’ Toma
Perhaps that journey within a journey is also what I like about reading. Summer is coming and we’ve our cabana booked in Lido and my stack of summer reads is mountainous. My bookshelves are overflowing with biographies, business books, travelogues and simple inspiration/motivation. It can take me months to finish a book as I don’t want to reach the end of the author’s journeys. I’m sad when it’s time to say goodbye, like parting with a dear friend who I don’t know when I will see again.
The last few books on the list start revolving around Venice… As Joann Locktov writes, “I Dream of Venice.” (If you’ve not read Joanne’s books then you must add her newest book to your reading list.) Hmmm… this makes me ponder… Joanne is another American woman making a mark on Venice.
As an American woman living here, I find it fascinating is that Venice has a history of being influenced by American women. There is Peggy of course. But the Countess Elsie Gozzio saved Fortuny, allowing it to become what it is today. And it’s practically impossible to write a chronicle of the 20th C without including the salons of Princess Winnaretta Singer de Polignac – yes, that Singer of sewing machine family fame. When she married her husband Edmond she bought him the Palazzo Contarini Polignac as a gift. And then there was Isabella Stewart Gardner who of course rented the nearby Palazzo Barbaro in 1890 becoming a patron of the arts. Today these American women who left their mark on Venice surround my home here. I live across the Grand Canal from the Guggenheim and the Palazzo Contarini-Polignac. My grocery store stands in the shadow of the Palazzo Orfei (today known as the Palazzo Fortuny on the Campo San Beneto) and the Palazzo Barbaro is a mere stone’s throw away.
Colnaghi: Private Exhibit at Abbazia di San Gregorio
During the Biennale Opening Week, I attended countless parties – but one of my favorites was the invitation from Parisian interior designer Chahan Minassian, Richard Nathan and Jorge Coll, the Spanish art dealer, and the CEO of Colnaghi, one of the world’s oldest and most significant art galleries. In the historic Abbazia di San Gregorio, Chahan Minassian created his signature atmosphere incorporating Colnaghi master paintings with vintage and modern furniture and design showing how one lives with art and antiques. The collaboration is “the home of a 21st-century traveller” illustrating the lifestyle of a modern-day collector. And much like the Rothschild home I featured in last months blog, the Abbazia di San Gregorio encapsulates the timeless spirit of the Grand Tourist in a contemporary setting. Just as in love and in science, in interiors opposites attract. The juxtaposition of contemporary furnishings set amidst medieval architecture and art spanning the centuries is simply sexy.
While the exhibit is private, Colnaghi will take private appointments to shop the exhibit where all the art is for sale. Of the Grand Tour connection, Jorge Coll of Colnaghi explains,
“Throughout this project, we want to show that a collection is not just a pool of assets: its real value lies in its connection with the life of a collector and is built from memories, experiences, friendships and discoveries. Building a collection is a voyage of discovery and, as with every voyage, the traveler needs guides if he or she is to arrive at the right destination. The collector needs to have good people to do research, to create the right relationship with the experts and dealers to ensure that what is collected is something that he or she can feel proud of and enjoy, something that will live on into the future.”
A Private Tour of Abbazia di San Gregorio
Over the years on The Antiques Diva blog, I’ve written frequently about the Grand Tour – and last month after my visit to see Alessandro in China, I introduced the Silk Road into my dialogue. His book detailing his journey bicycling from Venice to China comes out soon and I’m anticipating its release. Silk is the thread that unravels in my mind as my mind shifts from the Colnaghi private exhibit in Venice to the Palazzo Fortuny. While you can’t visit the Fortuny factory itself – the process is still a tightly woven secret – you can visit the 15th C Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei where one of the greatest minds of the 20th Century lived and created. Mariano Fortuny was a 19th/20th C Renaissance man and perhaps one of the people from heaven I’d most like to meet. While we think of Fortuny for fabric – his stretch and influence go beyond textiles. He was a pioneer photographer, an inventor of theatre and stage lighting plus he patented a plethora of inventions, among them a machine for pleating silk which he used to create his Grecian-style “Delphos” dresses. In his will, Mariano spelled out his wishes that the factory no longer makes the Delphos gown after his wife Henriette’s death.
15th C Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei where Mariano Fortuny lived
Knowing the rarity of these gowns, my friend Nancy Heckler donated her mother’s Delphos gown to the museum. (You can find out more about Nancy’s mother’s foundation by visiting the janetcramerfund.com). When the curators opened the box and unfolded the pleated Japanese silk dress they wept. The dress now is on display in a room layered in antique and oriental fabrics alongside more exotic artifacts and patterns from Africa, Central America, and Polynesia. The room is indeed another tribute to the Grand Tour and beyond. It’s a glimpse into the objects that inspired an artist from around the world – and perhaps a glimpse into one of the greatest minds on the intellectual and artistic scene at the turn of the 19th century.
I always joke that I wish my friends could see into my own mind. While I’m far from an intellectual, my mind is nevertheless a beautiful place. I dream in colors that Pantone hasn’t classified yet. As I begin the process of writing my book I’m seeking the words to describe that cavern in my head. In the end – art is often merely about just that. Expressing ourselves. I visited the Förg in Venice exhibit at the Palazzo Contarini-Polignac – one of the official collateral events of the Biennale. The curators of the exhibition have layered Gunther’s art over the family’s own tapestries which lined the walls of the piano noble. As we were leaving the exhibit which is held in a private home a member of the Polignac family stopped my friend Steven Moore – one of the worlds leading porcelain experts – to ask his opinion. And back up the stairs we climbed, to see a collection of tiles on the palazzo balcony walls. My friend named the artist he believed who had created the tilework and as we stood on the balcony overlooking the mouth of the Grand Canal again I smiled that smile of quiet contemplation and felt that perhaps finally – nearly 20 years later – I had the words to write in that journal after my one sentence, “I want a life less ordinary.”
Until next month,
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!
Last week I went through the painful process of updating my iPhone – it wasn’t as seamless as I’d hoped! But during the process I discovered these gorgeous photos I took while we were shopping the antiques market – these l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue produce market photos are simply too stunning not to share!
Antiques Diva® tours provide design inspiration: of course we track down the best antiques and negotiate the best prices – but on our custom, 1:1 antique shopping tours our expert, local Diva Guides introduce to all that is special about the region – art, culture, terroir, and bien sur, foods! Design inspiration is all around you. Join me on my culinary souvenirs of a weekend antiquing in Provence…
L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is one of 12 antiques shopping tours The Antiques Diva offers in the north and south of France. Our Antiques Diva Guide picks you up at your hotel and takes you to the second largest antiques flea market in France (after the Paris Flea Market) where essentially the entire town center is filled with antiques! We custom plan a route based on your style and budget, maximizing your time and money. Our Guides translate and negotiate on your behalf, and help you ship your purchases home using Antiques Diva fine arts and antiques shipping partner or we will liaise you with a preferred shipper to get your items home. Additional visits outside of town in the neighboring countryside are also added in based upon your wish list. Ideal for both the trade and tourist.
Here are my photos from the l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue market that have been waiting to be rediscovered on my iPhone…
Toma, The Antiques Diva
The déballage in Montpellier is one of largest professional antique fairs in Europe
Cipolat SA, the Montpellier international professional antique fair, Journées Professionnelles, is the ultimate place to shop for decorative antiques with an incredibly diverse array of antiques, fine art, decorative arts, furniture and more. A trade only antique show, the fair attracts antique dealers, architects and international buyers from around the world who consider it one of the best hunting grounds for a wide variety of antiques and vintage pieces.
Déballages marchands antiquités wholesale antique shows require pre-planning: An educated buyer is a productive buyer. Learn more about déballages here, and how Antiques Diva Guides can help you obtain a trade card, pre-plan so that you visit the dealers most likely to have pieces that meet your buying list, translate and negotiate, and help you ship your purchases home either with The Antiques Diva shipping services or another 3rd party provider.
Hundreds of dealers from 18 different countries greet buyers when the antique fair doors open at 8am sharp. Buyers are required to show professional trade member documentation.
Montpellier 2018 Antique Fair Calendar:
- Tuesday 27th of March
- Tuesday 19th of June
- Tuesday 11th of September
- Tuesday 27th of November
South of France Antiques Diva Buying Tours
In addition to custom buying tours to wholesale antiques shows in the south of France, The Antiques Diva offers 12 unique antique buying tours to the South of France; each private, 1:1 tour is based on your specific buying needs, schedule and budget. In addition, we will design a custom tour to source exactly what you are shopping for to stock your store, design a client’s project or if you’re seeking design inspiration. Nearby cities for antique shopping include l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Aix en Provence, Marseille and Bordeaux, and of course Paris, Belgium and Italy are very close by!
DO YOU WANT TO SHOP FOR ANTIQUES IN FRANCE?
BOOK AN ANTIQUES BUYING TOUR OR DESIGN INSPIRATION TRIP
Santė and Bon Shopping,
Toma – The Antiques Diva
Top Trade Antique Fairs & Flea Markets in the South of France
Déballages marchands antiquités are international antique wholesale trade shows – and The Antiques DIva® offers ‘to the trade’ antiques buying tours and access to trade and design professionals! The primary cities where the déballages are held are Avignon, Montpellier and Béziers, although other towns in the south of France also hold wholesale antique brocantes. As you can see from the schedules below, it is often possible to attend all 3 trade antique shows on your antiques buying trip, as they are often scheduled on consecutive days. With an Antiques Diva Guide to assist you with translating, negotiation prices, finding dealers who specialize in your specific inventory needs and information on how to ship your antiques from France to the US.
Wholesale antique shows require pre-planning: An educated buyer is a productive buyer. When shopping the fair please note that you must have made arrangements with your shipper to advance funds for paying and collecting your purchases during the days of the fair. These are real-time purchases and cannot be bought on purchase order, and be paid post-tour. Buyers who show up without prearranging their shipper and having cash in their account for their shipper are disappointed because they can’t buy if arrangements are not coordinated in advance of the show. The Antiques Diva are experts in how to buy antiques and ship them home, and can help you with all the prearrangements for trade-only antique fairs.
Shopping at wholesale antiques shows in the south of France is fast and furious – the fair opens at the scheduled time and closes at noon, so buyers need to buy quickly – if you see it, love it and it’s the right price then you must buy it immediately. You are competing with top buyers from around the world – you have access to where the pros shop but you have to be prepared to shop like a pro. That’s where we come in.
Avignon 2018 Wholesale Antique Markets
The trade antiques market in Avignon is exclusively for antique dealers and design professional from across the globe. This is a unique opportunity to meet other trade professionals, spot trends in antiques and interior design, and acquire exceptional antiques and decorative art pieces. Your Antiques Diva Guide will help you get your Buyer Card that gives you access to these one-day antique markets in Avignon.
- Monday 5 February
- Thursday 29 March
- Monday 23 April
- Monday 21 May
- Monday 18 June
- Monday 10 September
- Monday 22 October
- Monday 26 November
Montpellier 2018 Wholesale Antique Markets
With 8 buildings and more than 700 exhibitors and over 60 countries represented, Montpellier is the ultimate place to shop for antiques and objets d’art. The shows provide an incredible and diverse array of antiques, fine art, decorative arts, furniture and more.
- Tuesday 27 March
- Tuesday 19 June
- Tuesday 11 September
- Tuesday 27 November
Béziers 2018 Wholesale Antique Markets
Admittance to the antique market at Béziers requires documentation to verify you are in the trade, such as K bis (business identity card), carte d’acheteur (buyer’s card) or chéquier (international funds authorization), which your Antiques Diva Guide can assist with.
- Sunday 25 March
- Sunday 22 April
- Sunday 20 May
- Saturday 16 June
- Sunday 9 September
- Sunday 21 October
- Sunday 25 November
South of France Antique Buying Tours
In addition to wholesale antiques shows in the south of France, The Antiques Diva offers 12 unique antique buying tours to the South of France, each private, 1:1 tour is based on your specific buying needs, schedule and budget. In addition, we will design a custom tour to source exactly what you are shopping for to stock your store, design a client’s project or if you’re seeking design inspiration. Nearby cities for antique shopping include l’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Aix en Provence, Marseille and Bordeaux, and of course Paris, Belgium and Italy are very close by!
Do you want to shop for antiques in France?
BOOK AN ANTIQUES BUYING TOUR OR DESIGN INSPIRATION TRIP
More Photos at Wholesale Antiques Shows in the South of France with The Antiques Diva:
Toma – The Antiques Diva
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.
If you’re in Paris December 1 and 2, don’t miss The Vintage Collector’s Fair at the fabulous Hotel Le Bristol. In its 2nd year, this curated high-end vintage fashion and accessories event for lovers of luxury and design will have amazing designer pieces from Hermès, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Balenciaga, Givenchy, Paco Rabanne, Courrèges, David Webb, Patek Philippe and designers you’ve never heard of – but want to know, presented by expert international vintage dealers and collectors. Featuring handbags, leather goods, couture and fine jewelry, watches and haute couture fashion and accessories, this event is perfectly timed at the start of the holidays to buy a gift for someone special… or for yourself. (Hmmm. My favorite presents are those I buy myself. After all, don’t we deserve to spoil ourselves?)
Fair organizer Catherine Lecomte, whom I know from from her vintage stall at The Decorative Fair in London, is well-known for her passion for style and vintage or rare fashion, having launched Katheley’s in 2010. A kindred spirit, she wants to make beautiful things accessible and launched the website and social media platforms so designs often only found in Europe are now globally available.
Our style-spotters have been able to preview the collection that will be available at The Vintage Collector’s Fair, and here are a few of my personal favorites:
Vintage Collector’s Fair Details
- FREE ENTRANCE
- Preview event on the 30th of November
- Friday 1 December 2017: 11 am – 10 pm
Saturday 2 December 2017: 11 am – 7 pm
If you’re in Paris, this special vintage fashion is not to be missed! If you’re planning a trip to Paris and want an insider’s guide to buying vintage fashion in Paris, contact me for an Antiques Diva Vintage Fashion Tour.
Toma – The Antiques Diva
Bastille Brocante –> Place Joffre Antiquité
- November 9 – 19, 2017
- Place Joffre, 75007 Paris, France
- 11am – 7pm daily
- tickets: Joel Garcia Organisation 10€
Book an Antiques Buying Tour with The Antiques Diva
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!