Tuesday, January 26, 2010

French Exposed Beams

You might think this is a departure from baskets, but it's about France so that's fair game for my blog. I've read a few design blog posts lately about the love and use of exposed beams. Sometimes the installation of exposed beams ("poutres apparentes") is decorative and has no relation to the construction of the home; sometimes the houses have always had the beams ("poutres") and they are finally liberated into view. There is a house in Emerald Bay that I pass reguarly that is country style with relatively low ceilings but huge faux beams. It looks beautiful, though the ceilings are not very high, but it's also a little out of context, to me.

Exposed beams are found all over Europe; it's not necessarily a "French thing", but it's true many fine examples are found in France. Exposed beams were also used in England, after William "Guillaume" the Conqueror came from France, won the Battle of Hastings and was later crowned King of England. That was in the 11th C, and William brought much of the French language in to English, and also certain French influences, including building styles. I wanted to post on half-timbered buildings here but I'll do that separately.

Why did these beams come into being? Originally, it was not for aesthetic reasons, it was out of necessity, innovation and availability of resources. Wood has been a readily available resource for building, before the use of any metal or even nails, or concrete. It breathes, it moves, it is a matiere noble. Even if the wood splits along the length of the beam, it is not weakened, and can carry huge weight. The use of wood also enabled the construction of multi-story buildings. Our house in Beaune has exposed beams, but they are not decorative, they hold the house up:

The house was built in the 17th century; it is made of stone walls (most of the individual stones have a monogram of the mason) and beamed ceilings. I have to look at my notebooks for the ceiling height; 13 feet? In the late '70's when the previous owner bought the house, the two middle floors were comprised of a warren of little rooms a la the 17th century: each little room had it's own fireplace and had room for little more than a small bed and a table; those interior walls were taken down and the entire space freed up so that now you can see the full length of the beams. Every room has exposed beams, and the 4th floor of the house also has heavy beams, arched to hold the roof; the beams there are constructed without any nails; the wood is specially cut and fitted together.

Most of the beams used in France are oak (chene) or sometimes chestnut (chataignier). Most people don't appreciate that the beams in France are aged for a long time before they are installed. Here are the raw beams taking their time to age:

In many commercial installations, such as for wine, the logs can be aged for 50 years or more; splits in a beam don't harm the ability to bear weight, unless the beam twists as it dries; in which case it can not be used.

The outer parts of the log are planed off, so that only the oldest, most dense part of the wood is used. Here is my nephew in the wine making outbuilding of the Clos de Vougeout, not far from Beaune; these buildings date to around 1600 though the Cistercians had been making wine on the initial parcels since the 12th C. The monks tended the 125 acre property and made wine; they had 4 of these enormous presses, each capable of processing tons of grapes. The chateau was taken from the Church during the French Revolution and sold off to private buyers.

this is the ceiling in the same building; you can see one of the four wine presses in the corner; this is a massive massive building and a real marvel to me:

If you look closely, the roof tiles are hung directly on the battens (I think that's what you call them); there is a "bump" on each tile to keep it on the batten; besides the tiles, it's all wood:

Meanwhile back in Beaune, we have the Wine Museum up the street from our house; here is the ceiling there, and another wine press. Beams of this size are aged for a long long time, up to 100 years, especially the large piece which is sculpted into a screw shape:
The outside of this same building also uses wood: it is what we call a half timbered building, and the French call "maison a colombages" or "maison a pans de bois." There is a generous overhang on most of these buildings, which keeps the facade dry:

Some of the best examples of the style are found in Normandy, and my favorite place is Pont l'Eveque. Here are a few examples from last summer, on a rare sunny day in Normandy:

They have brick or stone bases here for stability; and generally an overhang. I can't look at another pretty French street lantern and not think of Joni!

I took this shot out the car window; it's a little crooked, but I loved the geometry of the house and the door, not to mention the color of its blue:

The Chic Shopper's Tote

Thank you to everyone who has placed orders with me following the Cote de Texas giveaway! I have spent the last few days pulling merchandise and getting it all ready to go. I generally get all orders out in 24 hours, but that hasn't happened because of the volume of orders and a little extra time to find certain styles and sizes; I'm also spending a lot of time getting materials ready for the NY Gift. Unfortunately, in my huge stock of baskets (I have literally thousands of baskets) I can't locate my Dijon naturals. Found the pink and black, found the yellow and black. This drives me crazy, because it now means I have to pull just about everything out of the warehouse today and find it. I also did not find any more of the Mango Cap Ferrat totes, which have sold well thanks to my client in Palisades and her dog Laika; they are on my home page and have helped that color sell out!

Joni of Cote de Texas also used this image on the giveaway, and there were a bunch of cute comments on the photo and the dog. I was absolutely tickled last week to see that Fifi Flowers had made a great little painting of The Chic Shopper:

Image courtesy of http://www.fififlowersdesign.blogspot.com/; of course I had to buy the original! It's small but will go somewhere in my office. I am having notecards made up for the Chic Shopper herself, I wonder what she will say when I tell her she and Laika have made three appearances on the blogosphere??

I got this color in my first shipment, and it was part of an order for "orange" in the Cap Ferrat style. I named all of the styles myself, using my favorite places in France and choosing a place I thought was relevant to the style: in this case Cap Ferrat is very chic, but somewhat more understated than a place like Cannes; this tote does not have the drawstring liner, so it's not as fancy as the Cannes model.

Anyay, when I first opened the large sachet holding this color, I was surprised. It was like an acid mango color. But I soon realized it also perfectly matches the color of a bottle of Veuve Clicquot:

Well, this isn't the best image, but trust me, the color is an exact match. For Christmas that first year, I showed an empty bottle inside the small size of the basket; no one could believe it!

Anyway, I've sold them all now, even the last one which was slightly imperfect and discounted at 50% off. I will include this color in my spring order, which I'll finish when I get back from New York; then it will be a few months for production and shipping. Everything goes from Madagascar to France and then France to Los Angeles, by boat. OK now I have to get back to gluing in a few more labels and getting todays orders out. Back to work...

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Orange, Pali Style

Following yesterday's post, I set out today to find Orange in the Pacific Palisades market, home of the Chic Shoppers armed with Hermes and Chanel bags, frequented by Jennifer Garner and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, in addition to a host of producers and tv personalities...there were orange T's and orange pulls; orange scaves, orange pants and orange bags; orange orange orange! Did you doubt it was a cool hot color? Are we in Italy???

Here, first was Carmella the Ice Cream Queen's box for sample spoons:

The farmers have had to scramble to get merchandise that was not ruined by the rain. Anyone growing in a greenhouse did fine, as long as your greenhouse didn't get halfway blown down, as happened to some farmers in San Diego. But today in LA the sun was out, and we had a nice selection of winter fruits, veggies and citrus:

Meanwhile, on the hunt for Orange, I found Ronnie the Granola Guy's shoes:

Orange straps on a tote:

Orange cashmere with Vuitton and red/orange hair!:

And of course my favorite Orange Cap Ferrat tote:

Don't doubt the power of the orange!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Love Orange

Congratulations to the Cote De Texas winners of the rolling cart (Decorina blog) and the basket (Ruthie's Renewed Treasures)! I hope to hear from you soon so that I can get your merchandise mailed off before I leave for New York at the end of this week for the New York Gift Show. I am amazed that there were over 700 comments/entries, but I of all people can tell you, you are not alone, everyone covets one of these French Rolling Carts!

It is gloriously sunny today, after 5 days of constant rain, and we had a great turnout at the Corona del Mar farmers market. It's hard to believe, but it is indeed January here, "winter." I am still showing more of my Moroccan merch and winter colors like rust and blue and orange instead of the pinks and pastels; it will be Easter soon enough; my pastels and acid-pastels go quickly then.

When I first ordered the baskets, I hesitated on the orange, in all styles. Would Americans buy it? In Italy it is a color that you see more in the late fall and winter, paired with black or navy clothing; it is a warm color as it is a mix or yellow and red, and connotes the sun and warmth. Maybe that's why the Italians like it. In France I think of it more for the summer, sunny oranges and yellows come out. In New England it would remind me of the autumn leaves; I have only brown leather handles on the orange baskets now; I still have a few with black handles, and while those still sell it reminds me too much of Halloween. I showed the Cap Ferrat orange tote last year around the 4th of July paired with navy and red. It sold very well shown that way, and mostly to the 20'ish crowd who wanted "something unusual." For spring I will also bring back the raffia-handled Cassis tote, which will have a black criss-cross ribbon handle and a gardenia; Hot! Today I saw someone with orange shoe laces. Every day I notice orange; it's a great color and definitely not associated with Halloween unless it's with black.

Today on my front table, I showed an orange St. Tropez with some violet anemones and a few yellow tulips; it reminded me of all the other great orange baskets I've sold in the last year; lots of people love orange, it was even the basket the big fat Siamese cat on a leash in a stroller chose several months ago at my booth for a nice spot to sit in the sun...so here are just a few pics; the ikat liners will be for summer 2010 by the way. It's just the scarf tied on here.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Cote de Texas Giveaway

About a year ago, I had a vivid dream, that I was on Oprah talking about my baskets, alternatives to plastic bags, Fair Trade/Fair Wage and the womens' cooperatives in Africa that make my baskets. I've not been on Oprah, of course, but let me tell you that Joni of Cote de Texas is my Oprah of the Blogosphere: I am in awe of her-- well-informed, brimming with constructive information & design ideas and always perfectly illustrating her points with photos. And let's not forget a dose of her singular wit. That's the short list! I am in the basket business, but I've always loved interior design, not to mention I am still in the process of renovating our house in Beaune, so that's part of why I love Joni's blog, at http://www.cotedetexas.blogspot.com/

So, I am thrilled that this week Joni is giving away one of my rolling carts; getting a mention on Cote de Texas is, to me, like being on Oprah! The winner will have their choice of color, natural or brown. The carts are 36" tall from the floor to the top of the handle, and the top of the basket is roughly 12" deep by 15" wide. Both carts have the lovely twisted handles. Full measurements are on http://www.frenchbasketeer.com/ under the Rolling Carts tab.

These carts are made for me in Burgundy by a 3rd generation basketry and caning family. Made of what the French call osier, a type of willow, the cart comes in the traditional blonde "osier blanc" or "osier brut" ("smoke") which is naturally colored brown (not stained). The osier brut cart also has a lid, attached with two leather straps. These are true artisanal French rolling carts; less expensive carts are found on the market, but they won't be made in France. We use this same cart (in osier blanc) in Beaune for heavy-duty grocery shopping trips...it is very sturdy. We use another one here in California to hold all of the barbeque supplies on the patio; it's 10 years old and going strong.

The second place winner gets their choice of one of my baskets; I have a lot of great merchandise not shown on the website; it's at my farmers markets or on my blog, and I will help the runner up select their perfect basket.
Bonne chance a tous! Good luck everyone!

Ardenia's New Space

I went to see a designer this afternoon, who wants to hide a huge load of fabric samples in some pretty colored St. Tropez baskets. Crossing the street with two armloads of baskets, I was surprised to see my friend Leah driving down the street. "I'm going to Ardenia's," she said, "stop by, she's totally redone her place." So, a little while later I went down the street to Ardenia's shop. It used to be a very closed little space; now she's blown out all the interior walls and the space feels large and airy and gallery-like. This is great for her because her business is the conservation and restoration of paintings, and I hate to think of those solvents etc with little air flow! "Conservation and restoration" was the final, fourth year of the program at the Louvre, and I didn't have the luxury of staying to complete that section, so I am always fascinated by it; part art and part science. It's a lesson in patience and care, not to be rushed.
Secondarily, she has a nice selection of paintings for sale and Italian decor pieces; which is fitting for her because she is Italian. Think Florence, not Jersey Shore. I bought a sweet little black and white and gilt early English transferware sugar bowl which is now in the kitchen; I loved the sweet little painting of the girl and the candlesticks too; it's hard to see the scale of that gilt sconce; it's one of the largest I've seen and very pretty. Ardenia is at 430 31st St. Newport Beach; www.conservefineart.com

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Fine Diner

I swore that I wouldn't do any more dog posts for awhile, but here I go again!

Little Miss Honey went downtown to Cafe Zinc with me and Maria this morning, and had her breakfast, a poached egg and some of my oatmeal. She's a very ladylike puppy, taking food and eating it properly, as nicely as any Parisian Poodle....How I wish I could take Honey to France with me; she already knows how to behave at a cafe, how to sit in a chair, and how to sit up on her hindquarters in one controlled motion....she's already gotten in my coffee cups and wine glasses, which she likes but I won't let her have. Wouldn't it be fun?? Sorry, not much point to this post except I love to take my dog out to breakfast and I wish I were in Paris or Beaune....!

Fact: there are over 10 million dogs in France, roughly one dog for every 5 persons. There are over 150,000 dogs in Paris alone. As they say, plus je vois l'homme, plus j'aime mon chien (the more I see of man, the more I love my dog.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Cartes Postales Anciennes

If you've spent a little time with me, you know that I am a huge fan and modest collector of old French postcards. In France, these are abbreviated CPA, for Carte Postale Ancienne. One of my favorites is of Napoleon I on horseback, from 1910, which hangs in our bar. I bought it in Paris, postally used, sent with many messages to an address in Belgium. I have a collection of about a dozen postcards of Beaune, which I had enlarged and which are in the entry hall in the house there; sort of an introduction to the city and the house, all from the Golden Age of the CPA, roughly 1900-1920. Every image was hand-selected, as they show scenes of 100 years ago, but on the same streets that we walk daily. A few images show the city's past: for example, of the large statue standing in the middle of Place Carnot in the center of town, which was taken and melted down by the Germans in WWI and where a small but ornate merry-go-round now sits. Pere Noel and angel postcards (see photos here) graced my Christmas dinner table this year, as well as the dining room mirror, and were included in the shoot by Romantic Homes Magazine for the 2010 Christmas issue.

One might be amazed by the amount of CPA available in France, unless you also know that the French never ever throw anything away. Ever. Through the generations, they carefully stored all of those postcards. It's a sure bet that you will find CPA at any and all vides-grenier and brocante and sometimes at a foire des antiquaires, not to mention on Ebay. Depending on what you are after, you can find them unused (non voyage), with a cancelled postage stamp (oblitere), or with a message (ecrit). The value and the price of the cards can depend on these factors, as well as the rarity and condition of the cards. I happen to love ones that have been postally used (so I can date the card), with lovely handwriting, embossing and gold touches. I have a few that are from 1904 and earlier, and I am still fascinated by them! I have a few that are more rare, like the pair of Father Christmas' shown above; they are German, which is more rare than a French Pere Noel, but they also have a few creases, so that decreased their value. Of those two, the Green Coat is older and more rare, it is exactly 100 years old.

The global golden age of the CPA was roughly 1900-1920, beginning at a time when newspapers did not include any photographs but the Industrial Revolution had greatly advanced the capabilities for printing. It became a novel way for people to send images of their daily life or town; sometimes with realism, sometimes with humor, sometimes with gravity. The range of CPA is tremendous across the world at this time. A turning point in France was in 1904, when CPA were produced with "divided" backs: one half for the address, one half for the message. This was a novelty! Prior to that, the address alone could be written on the back: no message, though a note was often written on the front side of the card; the stamp also had to go on the front of the card, not the back. This small change, though, meant that the cards were used as inexpensive correspondance instead of just sending a photo.
I am having a hard time nailing down figures, but there are estimates of millions of CPA sent during the golden age of the media. Consider it a novelty-becoming-staple of life, such as email, 100 years ago. The decline of the CPA started around the first World War, as resources were conserved, photos and video began to appear in newspapers, and people globally spent less.
Vintage post cards can be found in English also on Ebay; in any country and in any language it is a wonderful time capsule, or snapshot of an era.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Les Eaux de Paris

I arrived in Paris (happily, to live!) in the middle of January, more than a few years ago, and what I remember about the first month is not having difficulty with French language, or the beauty of the stark winter landscape with the clipped plane trees....No, I remember that it rained for days and days....and days and days. I kept track of the number somewhere. I think it was 21.

So, it was interesting to see a piece in LeMonde online today about the great Flood of 1910. There is an exhibition now at the Galleries des Bibliotheques, 22 rue Mahler Paris 4eme, until March 22. The photos in LeMonde are fascinating, whether you know the city or not!
Because of the situation of the city of Paris and the tributaries of the Seine, as well as a phenomenal amount of rain and snow over the previous three months, the city was flooded by 5-8 metres of water between the 18th and 20th of January 1910. There was no electricity, no drinking water, no heating and no transport. It took the city a month to return to normal, and three months to restore Metro service.

Here is the link to LeMonde, with lots of great photos and commentary, including the first one of the Gare d'Orsay (current Musee d'Orsay):
I've added a few shots of some postcards of the flood; the first photo is of the Pont l'Alma (where the replica Statue of Liberty flame can be seen, above the tunnel where Diana was killed...). The arcades of the bridge are completely submerged, so this gives you an idea of how high the river was. Living in Paris, one is always watching the river and how high it is. There are various markers on the retaining walls to measure the height; and if there is a lot of rain you can count out walking down along the river (the "beaches of Paris" in the summertime). I've seen the river pretty high, but never ever like this!

Postcard Perfect

One of my to-do's this week is to get my spring postcard into production, for the NY Gift and other events I have going on. My East Coast and Midwest clients will also get one in the mail with a reminder of our booth location for NY.
So, last night and this morning I've been going through hundreds of photos that I've taken over the last year at the farmers markets; showing this one to you today; Jennifer's {French Basketeer} cart full of old roses at the Pacific Palisades market.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Galette des Rois

Where has the last week gone? Well, I guess I've been too busy shopping for perfume, hammering out PR for the new year and spring line, and packing up the Christmas stuff to get all my posts in...
In France, the Christmas season ends with l'Epiphanie, on the 6th of January, the feast of the Three Kings, celebrating the Magi's visit to the newborn Jesus.
In France, almost every bakery has the traditional Galette des Rois, which is baked with a favor or feve inside. Whoever gets the little feve in their slice of cake gets to wear the paper crown which comes with the cake. The feves are of course very collectible when they are ancien; the old ones were made of porcelaine in various shapes, such as Baby Jesus, crowns, shoes (forget the meaning), animals and other; that is worth a totally new post....
I remember well Paris in early January, seeing all the cakes in the bakeries; here in Laguna, unfortunately, Jean-Paul will make one for you, if you ask in advance. I wouldn't dare ask him now, he would tell me, trop tard!
btw I ended up buying Chanel No. 5 Eau Premiere. It's very light, it's fun; it's great pour le printemps.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Blogs Parfumés

I follow a fair number of French blogs, mostly decor and design, some of which I've started to add to my "following" list. I like the fresh persepective, different than we have in most of the blogs we have here. Usually more rustic, with use of objects found or on hand versus bought. And I laugh when I find English language items held in esteem, same as we would elevate French language items.

Lately I've found a few really great blogs based on the world of French perfumes; if I take it out of context I might imagine we are talking about wines.... the fragrance references; the reverence. Check out http://poivrebleu.com/

In any case, I've been looking for a good new perfume for myself, and also noticed several blogs recommended a possible equal to Eau Sauvage, my all time favorite men's fragrance (Dior), and which I usually give R for Valentine's day.

Tomorrow I will be at CdM then will maybe go shopping. More on perfume tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Year, New....

For whatever reason, I've suddenly felt a swoosh of new energy and new creativity in my life since the beginning of the year; all 5 days of it! The holidays are past us know; there are no more dinners to make, people to entertain, cakes to bake and decorating to do. Just a whole lot of clean up...

I am finishing off the new line sheet for the year, a new postcard, and other materials for the New York Gift Show.

I am egregiously behind on several other projects for my dear suppliers in Madagascar, and will be working to finish off a few new complimentary lines.

French classes will soon be in session at Cargo & Company one evening each month, taught by yours truly!

I am also getting ready to start a new line and produce a certain written piece for publication. Madly working on that in between everything else, though it is clear as day in my head and just needs to be put to paper and dressed up. Stay tuned. ps the photos are from just outside of Versailles.

Meilleures Voeux

There are several times a year that you'd love to live in France. That would be August, so you could have a few weeks off with pay; and let's not forget if you happen to be pregnant, so you can get 2 years off for paid maternity leave. And of course, the Holidays are great in France; you get a week or two of paid leave, and you have until the end of the first week of January (roughly, the Epiphany) to send your holiday cards and wishes (Bonne Annee and Meilleures Voeux cards). It takes a lot of the stress out of it if you can send those wishes out through the first of the year!
I made a half salmon, intact, for my family for new year's eve, which is also Mom's and Stephen's birthday. I set up some bottles of raspberries, cranberries, saskatoons and lemon rind in vodka the week before, so we all had several rounds of infused cosmo's, since the grand-girls wanted to know "how to make a mixed drink." I guess they ARE in college!