Frenchmen Can’t be Wrong About Their Favorite Furniture Style
Q: I spent my junior year in the south of France (Montpelier) and fell in love with French-style furniture (with everything French, but that’s beside the point). Now, my husband and I are furnishing our first home and I would like to create a French provincial theme. He’s not for it and says French furniture is too “effeminate.” Au secours!
A: “Help!” In any language, that’s what you need to bring your husband past his stereotypes. I bet he also thinks French poodles are “girly-girly,” when they’re actually bred as rough-and-tumble gun dogs for hunting and retrieving. Those “foo-foo” haircuts are cleverly designed to protect the dogs from brush and briars in the field.
Your hubby is judging books by their covers, which is always a mistake. When we think of “French furniture,” we usually mean one of the Louis — the 15th or 16th — whose royal courts were refined and elegant.
It wasn’t just the rest of Europe that copied the French kings — even Peter the Great made French the Russian court language and French couture as the royal dress code. Ditto for the provinces of France itself. What was in vogue back in Paris was quickly translated into the idiom of the countryside. A little crudely, perhaps — the rural furniture-makers used local woods and fabrics.
But in the process, they invented what today we call “French Provincial.” Charming, insouciant and curvaceous, but also sturdy, warm, and even masculine — with its simple carvings, checked fabrics and handcrafted accessories. Think pewter instead of silver, pottery instead of porcelain, wide-planked wood floors instead of intricate parquet, and you’ve nail the “French Provincial” look.
Here’s how Century Furniture (from the “Town and Country” collection; www.centuryfurniture.com) interprets it in a setting embraced by overhead beams, stucco and brick on the walls and, no surprise, a brace of French doors leading (one imagines!) to the fields of lavender beyond. For all their curves — on the camel-back sofa and cabriole-legged chairs — the furniture is as stalwart as it is comfortable and handsome, not “effeminate” in the least — as I’m betting even your macho hubby will have to agree.
Q: In furniture, where do the next best ideas come from?
A: For many of the nation’s most-curious interior designers and architects, the answer is the International Contemporary Furniture Fair, held in New York every May.
Unlike other design industry trade shows, you are often present at the creation of new ideas and trends, many of which come as prototypes straight from the artisans’ lofts, studios and garages. Or warehouses, in the case of Tim Byrne — an affable Irishman — who needs all the floor space he can find to store the unusual wares offered by his 10-year-old company, Get Back, Inc.
What he’s getting back to is no less than the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, especially as it was manifested in America, Byrne explains. He restores industrial objects like cast-iron machinery and turns them into startling desks, dining tables and seating pieces. Under their new glass or rosewood tops, the machines still work: wheels turn, gears engage, and table tops raise, lower and tilt.
“I feel very attracted to American-made industrial machinery … it represents the very backbone of the American dream, of which I am a part,” says the self-taught cabinetmaker.
Byrne’s clients must feel that same pull: CEOs and corporate designers love his one-of-a-kind desks and conference tables. Priced from $70,000 to $125,000 and up, we’re talking corporate art, not mere furnishings. See why at www.timbyrnedesigns.com.
Rose Bennett Gilbert is the co-author of “Manhattan Style” and six other books on interior design. To find out more about Rose Bennett Gilbert and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Website at creators.com.
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