A Tole Tale

By Karen Parr-Moody


The exuberance of French and Italian toleware’s gilded flowers is not for the faint of heart. However, the juxtaposition of such strong, eccentric pieces can actually complement a long list of décor genres. Among these are Hollywood Regency, shabby chic, eclectic, French, and Italian.



Toleware is any object of varnished tin, thin steel, or pewter. The term derives from the French name for such objects, tôle peinte. Tole painting is a type of oil painting originally done on tin or other metal ware.



The glamorous birdcage in the photo, right, is a statement piece that will make any room ($185; Booth B-225). Such gilded works are often from Italy or France, and date anywhere from the early to mid twentieth century.  Floral motifs are so common that they are a key identifying characteristic.



Toleware chandeliers range from delicate to garish in their color schemes. Those, such as in this photo, below left, skew toward the white and light colors ($298; Booth B-113). However, they can amp up in tone to brilliant yellows and oranges. 


This chandelier is typical of the style: Each arm represents the stem of a flower that supports leaves and blooms. It is also typical of the range of toleware, as some styles can be simpler, while others, as this one, are more ornate. Like many of its kind, this chandelier looks like lush foliage.





The proper lighting is critical for that shabby chic style, and the table lamp seen in the photo at right would be perfect for such décor ($198; Booth B-113). With its dramatic style, full of vibrant color, it would stand in stark contrast against the pale palette of a shabby chic room. The base is a faux alabaster that anchors the lamp with classical styling.



Some toleware pieces have relatively simple arms ending in sultry leaves. The gorgeous candle sconce shown here, left, is one example. With added crystal detailing, it will liven up any space and add glitter to one’s décor.





Elegance and style isn’t far when one decorate with gilded toleware. This wall sconce/hanging has such a sinuous quality to it. A couple of porcelain putti sit atop the leaves to complete the look. This piece would be fabulous if complemented with a few Florentine accessories on a nearby table, such as a gilt tray and tissue box. Gilt toleware is enormously decorative, so a little goes a long way.


The charm of toleware adds an authentic touch of the baroque to any room. A few scratches and peeling paint is fine with these pieces – in fact, they are encouraged, as they add character. These pieces look right at home with a white or beige theme, or with soft colors such as pale pinks, pastel greens, muted blues, and washed-out grey.

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