Posted by: frenchinspiredliving | January 15, 2009

An introduction to furniture

19th century french painted dresser.

19th century French painted dresser.

These dressers, or vaisselier, were found in French country kitchens over the last few centuries.  This one, in the original dirty brown paint, is late 19th century and has three drawers. 

Vaisselier would often just have a bottom shelf and roof-like top shelf however, if you’re really lucky you may find vaisselier with spoon racks and small cupboards within the structure. 

They look good anywhere in our more contemporary homes, bathrooms, kitchens or, as this one, a sunroom.  

Vintage French metal table and Louis XVI style painted chair

Vintage French metal table and Louis XVI style painted chair

 This wonderful cameo of a truly beautiful French gilt Louis Philippe period mirror that still has the original glittering mercury backed mirror plate, vintage painted metal table and blue painted chair brings a sparkle to the eye every time you pass by.

These metal tables are really quite difficult to fine now so when you come accross one, buy it!   Whatever the condition, with rust or without, they look great in todays interior spaces.


Louis Philippe fall front secretaire c. 1840, recently re-painted, £2250 from Jan Hicks Antiques and Interiors

Louis Philippe fall front secretaire c. 1840, recently re-painted, £2250 from Jan Hicks Antiques and Interiors

20th century original blue painted French shutters from The Old French Mirror Company £350.

20th century original blue painted French shutters from The Old French Mirror Company £350.

Shutters can be used for all sorts of design idea in the home apart from the obvious.  As an unusual headboard on the wall behind a divan; hung on the tall blank wall on a stairwell suggesting a window, with one shutter slightly ajar revealing a trompe-l’oeil scene of of sunflowers!

Posted by: frenchinspiredliving | January 15, 2009

An introduction to bathrooms

Late 19th century French Painted washstand

Late 19th century French Painted washstand

These wonderful wash stands can be used in the traditional way and plumbed in as the small hand basin in a cloakroom. On the other hand they can be used as an object placed in an odd corner, filled with indoor plants or even to a mass of silver Christmas baubles.

They are difficult to find and usually command a price of about £175.


Late 19th century French crackleglaze cupboard with a drawer and niches. These types of cupboards can be found for about £200 and look wonderful in a bathroom as they can hide all your odds and ends.

Posted by: frenchinspiredliving | January 15, 2009

An introduction to Linen


‘Pure Linen’ is 100% flax (Linium Usitatissimum) and is arguably one of the finest fabrics in the world. It has great strength but also wonderful draping qualities for use in the home or as clothing.  The French word for linen is lin.

When linen is mixed with cotton, say 85% linen to 15% cotton, it is known as metise.

When looking for antique and vintage linens the natural colour of the fabric is very important and will greatly depend on how the fibres were processed. These gold to creamy off-white shades will have been achieved when the fabric was ‘retted’. The ‘retting’ process is when the fibres are soaked to soften and separate them; this was sometimes done in open fields or in water tanks. The fibres take up the colours of the environment where this process took place.

These wonderful natural pieces of cloth are well worth collecting as they can be easily used for all sorts of interior projects. The different shades that can be found in one piece of cloth will give depth to any project. An upholstered chair with varying shades of pale gold in the rough linen fabric will take on a life of it’s own; light catching in the folds of floor length vintage linen curtains will give joy forever!


Hemp is a similar fibre to Flax but comes from Hibiscus Cannabinus.  The word canvas is derived from ‘cannabis’ used throughout history as a fibre crop for textiles, rope and paper.

It was a difficult material to use as clothing when new, because it was mostly homespun and the texture was quite rough; a monks habit was often made from hemp just to add to the hardship of monastic life! Over the centuries farmers would also give their new hemp shirts to their servants to ‘wear them in’ before putting the shirts on their own backs!

The original colour of hemp is a soft gold, the more it has been washed the paler it will be and the weaker the fibres. It, therefore, does not have the same durability as linen but used as a fabric in the home it has similar flowing and draping qualities.

19th embroidered initial
19th century embroidered initials on antique French linen from Charlotte Casadejus.

 French Monograms on linen sheets and pillow cases.

These stunning monograms were embroidered on bed linen in the 19th and early 20th centuries by women of the household for the dowry bed linen.  This labour of love was often begun early in the girl’s life so that the required amount of embroidered linen was ready at the time of her marriage.   Each letter was hand embroidered with meticulous attention to detail, the letters were often entwined with each other and embellished with a variety of flowers.

 The following images and narrative ,”The  Thread of Life’,  have been supplied by Jane Sacchi for more information. Visit  or her small showroom in Chelsea by appointment.


“The subject of fine linen is not so trifling as it might seem. People spend nearly half their lives caring for their bodies; eating, sleeping, washing; activities that are all linked to textiles and the use of sheets, towels and tablecloths.”  
                                                          From……… The Book of Fine Linen.

Linen is made from flax, ‘Linium Usitatissimum’, the fibres of which make linen a pure and strong fabric.
Known to have been woven in Egypt in 2000 BC, it symbolizes purity, and has always been associated with religious ceremonies. The cloths used for Holy Communion must be linen, as was Christ’s head-cloth found by his disciples in the empty sepolca.
Linen is with us at pivotal moments in our lives: at our birth, swaddling cloths; at our marriage, pure, white wedding sheets; and at our death, our shrouds.
It is also with us in our daily lives, towels, tea towels, sheets, napkins and tablecloths.

Since the middle ages women have taken linen to their marriages and by the Renaissan, inventories of possessions revealed the quantities. For example, the linen cupboards of La Rochefoucauld’s chateau contained 347 sheets of Paris cloth; a provincial nobleman had 103 sheets for his family and 40 for his servants and the daughter of a farmer had 112 sheets of hemp and linen.
The Wedding Dowry.
Isabelle of France in 1397 was renowned for the vastness of her dowry. The tradition continued through the centuries, even in 1910 a girl would put together a dowry of similar items, the same cloth for the same domestic uses. However, due to women’s emancipation and change in life style the tradition has now all but died.
Women scoured, bleached and embroidered their wedding linen, sometimes delaying the marriage until it was ready. Enough linen to last a lifetime, piled high in huge armoires presented by the bride’s family. This treasure, in many cases the most valuable possession the family owned, remained the property of the woman throughout the marriage.  The quality of linen varied from rough, heavy uneven weaving redolent of flax fields and a peasant loom to the fine silky smoothness of Draps de Maitres, the Master’s sheets.  These wide sheets are rare, mainly woven in two lengths and joined with a seam of impressively tiny stitches, eleven to the inch (to produce this today it would take fours hours to stitch one meter).
Then cotton sheets arrived on the scene and women found they were easier to care for; time was suddenly a more precious commodity than fine linen. And so the armoires stood still as it were, full of treasures no longer wanted for daily use. It is these long neglected cupboards that now spill forth the richness of other times, values and traditions.
As I handle this linen I think of the women who painstakingly and lovingly prepared it.  The pillowcases with scrolling letters in the corners, the embroidered edges and scallops; I wonder whether the ‘M’ was for ‘Marie’ or ‘Marianne’ and if her grandchildren now sleep ignorant of their loss between modern mixed fibre sheets!

Then there are the torchons, cloths of every possible size for general use in the home; hand towels, bath towels, tea towels, dishcloths and dough cloths. Thick hemp or linen, fine intricate weaves, soft weaves, stripes, small red lettering in the corners; what a wealth of variety?  There were tablecloths in all shapes and sizes, some rustic for everday use and others for use in grand banqueting halls with monogrammed napkins large enough to protect the most opulent belly or bosom!

All of it a pleasure, a joy to use and a satisfaction to care for.  What deep cord of emotion a linen cupboard touches I cannot explain, but there is nothing that compares with the pleasure the site of piles of freshly ironed linen stacked in a scented regiment of folds can give.





A selection of indigo dyed early 2oth century French Linen and hemp sheets together with striped tea towels.

A selection of indigo dyed early 2oth century French Linen and hemp sheets together with striped tea towels.

Early 20th century damask napkins and late 19th century Normandy cider carafe with bistrot glasses.

Early 20th century damask napkins and late 19th century Normandy cider carafe with bistrot glasses.

french linen

An early 20th century French embroidered sheet, a 19th century Toiles de Nantes, a 19th century hemp sheet and a piece of 19th century Toiles de Jouy.












Posted by: frenchinspiredliving | January 15, 2009

An introduction to Confit Jars and Stoneware Bowls


Nineteenth century French glazed earthenwear confit jars with richly coloured honey-yellow slip glaze were used for winter food storage. The type of foods stored in these jars ranged from olives, olive oil and dried fruit to confit of duck in Normandy.

These examples range in size from 33cm to 23cm in height with a width, from handle to handle, that is almost always the same as the height.

Utilitarian vessels such as these were once ubiquitous in rural France. Today they are considered to be one of the essential elements of French country style. These pieces evoke a sense of rural life and whether displayed on their own or as a group, they do make a wonderful rustic display.

Expect to pay anything from £175 for a jar.

19th century glazed confit jars

19th century glazed confit jars

Posted by: frenchinspiredliving | January 15, 2009

An introduction to Cantonniere (pelmet)

19th century French painted cantonniere and linen
19th century French painted cantonniere and wonderful linen cushions with various embroidered initials.

Cantonniere, spelt with a ‘grave’ accent over the first ‘e’ is the French word for a pelmet. This must not to be confused with a cantonnier, with no accent, which is a person who mends roads!!!

Cantonniere are pelmets that originally were placed at the top of windows or French doors and could be very decorative, as the one shown above, or quite smooth and plain. They can be found mostly with the original painted surface, gilded or parcel gilt (part painted,part gilded).

These wonderful things can look stunning placed over a bed instead of a bedhead or, as they were originally intended, at the top of a window. They are quite difficult to find but worth the hunt and would generally cost about £450.

Late 19th century parcel gilt cantonniere shown placed above a bed.
Late 19th century parcel gilt cantonniere shown placed above a bed.   

Below is another example of a French cantonnier used with the most wonderful Desgner Guild fabric; this all works very well with the painted furniture and simple French mirror.

Posted by: frenchinspiredliving | January 15, 2009

A little history


When Louis XIV ascended to the throne of France in 1661 he set out to impress the rest of Europe with France’s power and civilisation. He set up an establishment to encourage the greatest craftsmen of the period to furnish and decorate the newly built palace of Versailles.  Charles le Brun designed the magnificent architectural decoration, sculpture, tapestries and furniture; the theme was of formal baroque grandeur.  However it was Andre Charles Boule who gave French furniture a distinct national character, embellishing it with ebony veneers, tortoiseshell and wonderful gilded brass mounts.

After Louis XIV’s death in 1715 the court became less formal with more emphasis on comfort, furniture styles became more flowing and gradually developed the curved and swirling rococo form that typified the style favoured during the reign of Louis XV. Shells, flowers, fruit and waves abounded, usually in ‘C’ or ‘S’ formations were common decoration as `was the elegantly curved cabriole leg.

By the middle of the 18th century there was a move towards neo-classical design, which commenced approximately ten years before Louis XVI ascended to the throne and lasted throughout his reign. Lines were more severe, legs were often fluted to emphasise their straight tapering lines, chair backs oval or medallion shaped, often with small carvings of floral wreaths and ribbons; uprights were often surmounted by finials carved in the shape of pine cones or feathers.

After the revolution and death of the King in 1793 many of the furniture makers were persecuted because of their association with the aristocracy. All extravagance in design was frowned upon and during what is known as the Directoire period furniture styles became starkly simple. 

Conditions did not allow for fine furniture until Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself Emperor in 1804. Wishing to be compared with the emperors of ancient Rome he encouraged classical design, laurel wreaths, figures of victory, helmeted warriors and other martial emblems; design was also greatly influenced by his Egyptian campaign, motifs were copied from the temples and tombs of Egypt;  Empire furniture was decorated with sphinxes, winged and rampant lions. Bees and hives, the emblems of his own family were used in place of the Fleur de Lys and the swan motif was much favoured by Josephine.

The Restauration period commenced in 1815 when the Bourbons were temporarily re-instated, bronze mounts were no longer popular and lighter native woods` were used. Simplicity of design prevailed throughout the reigns of Louis XVIII, Charles X and Louise Philippe. However during the reign of Napoleon III from 1852 to 1870 the wealthy bourgeoisie encouraged a return to the decorative styles of previous centuries.

Further Reading:  Children of the Revolution, The French from 1799 – 1914 by Robert Gildea.

This is a fabulous insite into France during the 19th century; it’s quite a difficult read at times but it richly enjoyable nevertheless.

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