Raison d'etre

I am enthusiastic about home design and love French antique and vintage treasures.

This blog is about the things I find and use.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Van Gogh's Hat

Some time ago I bought three 19th century French straw hats

and they reminded me of the images of peasants in many Impressionist and Post Impressionist paintings.

In Van Gogh’s self portrait he is wearing a similar hat - the crown is high but the brim not as floppy as the ones I have:
But this painting by Julien Dupré is nearer the mark

as is this:

I love this painting of a gardener by Pissaro, suffused as it is with afternoon sun and the colours of a French summer

Straw hats such as these were cheaply produced for farm workers and just as necessary today as in the 19th century, especially as much of France is still agricultural.  My neighbour M.Vialle always wore a hat like this even through he was a town dweller - he said there was nothing better to guard against the sun and his had come from his father who had had several when he worked on a vineyard near Bordeaux - he was wearing them out for him .  

He was right - I use one as a gardening hat - on the few days in the UK when the sun is strong enough to warrant it.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

An Eclectic Mix...

Having spent last weekend sorting through fresh finds from France I thought I would show some here
There is a delicious child’s work bag on a faux bamboo frame dating from the 1930s-50s,
A printed wall hanging from the same period

Gorgeous old ticking which I will have to spend some time de-feathering and laundering

Seven cotton bonnets

 Bridesmaids' headdresses, 19th century pricket sticks, a fabulous tall hat stand, gilt bronze picture hook covers ... and more

Intriguingly there are two packs of fine linen handkerchieves.  There are twelve in a pack in one continuous piece.  With selvedges on the long sides they would be cut and hemmed in the home on the others.  Described as ‘lin superior’  and Hygiene Sante’ by ;Docteur Brindeau’ they were obviously intended to appeal to the ever health-conscious French buyer!

Some of these will be for sale this week on ebay uk where I can be found under the name decant-2.

Friday, 11 March 2011


It isn’t vanity to use as many mirrors as I do - I rarely look in them but love them because it is so easy to create light and space with mirrors - and the the bigger the mirror the better!  
I bought this one many years ago from an English auction.  My son was a small boy at the time and he remembers kneeling in the back of the Volvo supporting it to stop it flexing on the short journey home.  I added the antique carved and painted wood winged cherub to the top when I was desperate to find a home for it in my English cottage.  In France it had been hung over a door but no chance of that here - there was no space large enough.  Anyway I like flamboyant!
A plant placed in front of a mirror is suddenly two plants and the illusion gives depth in reflection.

At the end of a corridor or hall a long mirror gives the illusion of lengthening the space and the reflection of objects fools the eye into seeing a bigger and grander room.
This is a French trumeau mirror with a picture of cherubs in the top and it certainly adds space to a rather cramped area at the top of the stairs.
A friend I remember collected sunburst mirrors a little like this one which is French antique gilded wood,  but instead of hanging them on walls she placed them en masse on the ceiling.  Weird maybe but the effect at night with lamps reflecting in them was like a ceiling full of stars!

This carved and painted French mirror is not reflecting much of interest at the moment but I do enjoy the design of the crest and side columns.

Towards the end of the 17th century technology allowed for the creation of large mirror plates for the first time  It became de rigueur for the wealthy and powerful to use as many mirrors as possible, reflecting as they did their social position.
Louis XlV understood the value of ‘les glaces;  when he had created the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.     
This has 17 mirror clad arches reflecting 17 windows overlooking the garden.  In the 17th century mirrors were among the most expensive items to possess and Venice had the monopoly in their manufacture. Venetian glass makers were brought to France to create the mirror plates and their expertise resulted in the manufacture of the largest available at the time.  Even so 21 mirrors were needed for each alcove resulting in the use of 357 overall.  Unlike me, though, Louis used these mirrors to reflect his glory, parading through the ‘galerie des glaces’ where his sumptuous clothes and diamonds could be reflected to an astonishing degree.
But you don’t have to be the Sun King to employ mirrors to great effect.  A large mirror plate in a garden or courtyard can have dramatic results and I have noticed recently that many garden designers are including them.

Nor do they have to be antique mirrors - although in my opinion the colour of older glass has a subtler, softer effect.  Even so a large mirror from a decorating ‘shed’ can be personalised with paint and ornament to make it individual.

This old painted French mirror is placed with a lamp in front.

And, finally, why shouldn't the smallest room in the house have a splendid mirror?  This, I believe, is Italian taken out to Alexandria at the turn of the 20th century.  It has a painted metal frame and the silvering of the glass is marked and blemished.  There is a marble topped console table which goes beneath but, at the moment, that is in another room.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

New Uses for Old Finds

 Some years ago I came across a gorgeous cast iron stove - probably Belgian rather than French - and, despite having no use for it as a stove I just had to buy it!  I loved the  intricate tracery of the body with roundels of cherubic angels on the doors and top.   The interior (the stove part to hold the fire) was missing - which was fine with me.

Now, I really dislike seeing a blank television in my sitting room so I housed it inside the stove with DVD player underneath.  The front has two opening doors and there is another each side in the rounded ends.  It has served me well for many years and moved houses several times including two crossings of the Channel.

I have now given up television - is it me or are there more repeats than anything else these days?   I watch what I choose using iPlayer on my Mac.  So - it is time to fine a new use for the stove.  Any ideas would be welcome!

This is part of an old cupboard - it is deeply carved and gilded and must have been either the bottom or the top.  Adding a board to create a ‘ceiling” covered in pleated silk fabric I hung blue silk curtains and it is now a ciel de lit - bed canopy. I have used it in various bedrooms for years.  I am now thinking of changing the colour scheme of the bedroom so am currently searching through antique textiles for drapes and will probably also recover the bed.  English light requires warmer tones I think! (it was perfect for the brighter light of France giving a coolness to the bedroom there).

 Those like the 19th century ciel de lit beneath are always on my shopping list although they are harder to find these days.  They do occasionally appear on ebay though.

I once bought two wallpaper panels from a Paris auction.  I had them mounted on board and they are now on the stairs of my cottage.  In France I had them either side the fireplace in alcoves and they did look better there.  However, it is hard to find things to decorate those long walls on a staircase so I am quite pleased with them in their new surroundings.