Today I have a nice surprise for you readers- a guest who will visually transport us to her small medieval village near the Roman town of Vaison-la-Romaine. She could be the most exciting French interior design resource you have come across in a while. Susannah Cameron is a devoted Francophile with a successful career in architecture and construction. Based in Provence she and her husband Hugh are uniquely positioned to offer exquisite French décor to the world with their online boutique Chez Pluie. She provides the decorative arts history to position her beautiful inventory into the rich context from which it comes. The back story makes all the difference, and can we ever learn enough? (<–The answer to that would be the one exception to the never say never quote.) Please welcome Susannah- today she will school us on armoires, french glass bottles, wine, wine tables, and the love of all things Louis. So pour yourself a great glass of wine and enjoy Susannah’s decorative arts lesson:
Fall in love with Louis
The French are serious appreciators. When it comes to furniture, it is not uncommon to pass a good hour debating the heritage and symbolism of a spectacular coffre, enfilade or armoire over an apero in the square of our rambling Provençal village. The French delight in the history and reputable context of each object. Experts of style, they create superb maisons skilfully mixing old with new bringing a fresh dynamic to both eclectic antiques and their modern counterparts. Furnishing a home is one of life’s greatest pleasures, an extension and expression of personal taste. We are fortunate to be rewarded with insight into the rich history of each piece we introduce to the Chez Pluie collection.
There is an urban myth that in eighteenth-century France there was a tax on closets. Yes closets! A built-in closet could be perceived to be a room and would incur additional taxes! In an attempt to avoid this superfluous tax, the armoire was devised. At the time Louis XV was king, crowned at an age when he should have been learning to play chess with a board, not with the nation. Despite his abysmal reign peppered with quarrels, defeats and scandal there was an unexpected windfall. He commissioned some of the most celebrated architectural landmarks in Paris including Place de la Concorde and the Ecole Militaire. His decorative taste was enormously influential throughout France and across Europe. Louis XV armoires can be found today, and are a wonderful legacy to the period. I wonder if it would come as a surprise to the French artisans who masterfully created these armoires that centuries later they would be at home in a New York penthouse or a Midwestern farmhouse. In contrast to today’s mass produced furniture; these precious pieces stand proud, and as beautifully as the day they were made and are deeply appreciated by those who live with them.
So then, what is the story with the armoire, if you don’t believe in closet tax? The alternative and more believable account is that the armoire was a wedding gift. Traditionally a tree is planted on the family estate; commonly a walnut tree in Provence, and is nurtured through the generations. When the engagement of a daughter is announced, the tree is felled and laboriously transformed into an armoire. Flowers and ribbons interlaced with olive branches and pearls were lovingly carved representing fertility and fortune. Once the shelves have been filled with buttery linens and precious glassware the armoire is presented to the couple for their new life together. Embracing this beautiful custom, Chez Pluie offers antique armoires filled with modern and vintage French wares which can be delivered to newlyweds across the Atlantic.
Another anecdote about the French aesthetic that has enchanted me while living in southern France concerns enormous glass bottles. Rewind the clock four hundred years and imagine a rainy night in Provence, and possibly the Mistral blowing its regular gale. It is 1347 and Queen Jane, Queen of Naples, Countess of Provence (La Reine Jeanne), is expelled from her homeland and finds herself seeking refuge in the village of Grasse, which, incidentally, four hundred years later will become Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s birthplace and later still the home of perfumer Fragonard. As the queen was passing through the village she asked a local man for lodging. He was a glass blower. Curious, the queen asked him for a demonstration. Nervous in her royal company, he overdid the blowing and created an enormous bottle! Happily they both marvelled at its bulbous shape, and in a moment of clarity, agreed that this was no mistake. They named the new style Lady Jane bottles. Dame Jeannes (Demi-Johns) remain a favourite decor of interior designers and decorators and like the vin rouge they once held, they too improve with age.
In France, wine appreciation is obligatoire. Beyond the aroma of strong and spicy Gigondas swirling in your glass, are an array of ingeniously crafted objects and furniture to savour. They all add to France’s world-renowned viticulture heritage. French winemakers host degustations at their cellar door using a table du vigneron. Its other usual setting is amongst the vines, around which harvesters enjoy long restful lunches. Practical and beautiful, some of my favourite tables des vignerons are in the Louis Philippe style crafted from locally grown oak. Stopping work for lunch in France also is obligatoire. Bringing a trace of the vines, lavender fields and fruit orchards that once surrounded them, these tables now grace entryways and living rooms of homes both in France and abroad.
Compelled to take advantage of our location, a great distance from anything even close to the scent of eucalyptus or – dare I say – Vegemite, Chez Pluie sources chic and eclectic home and garden wares. We work to provide our clients with an avenue to express their personal style and an opportunity to participate in the changing characteristics of generations that are found in this particular and beautiful country.
Many thanks to Susannah for this lovely dose of decorative arts, and more importantly, for being our Provence resource. Be sure to follow her- everywhere- online, that is. It’s probably safe to say that Hugh might not take a shine to you stalking her in real life… so here are the links to their website and social media accounts. The photography is stunning.