By Karen Parr-Moody
A pinch of glitz, a dash of shabby, and pretty soon you've got a recipe for a home decorating style I like to call "Nouvelle French." Think Restoration Hardware mixed with bona fide antiques and you've got the idea: It's a modern spin on classic French Country. And its transformative power can make any homeowner think she lives in a down-at-the-heels chateau on the Côte d'Azur (even when she is, in fact, in a 1940s bungalow in East Nashville or a 1960s ranch house in Crieve Hall). The components celebrate such details as cut crystals, cast iron hardware, industrial designs, and slightly worn linens.
Since the look simply cannot be all feed sack and rust, one key is to flow in pops of glamour, such as those created by statement-making blackamoors. Art dealer Larry Felts currently has an absolutely fabulous pair in the photo, right ($595; Booth B-222). The history of these stylized depictions of Africans and Arabians dates to the 1700s, and the look is simply decadent, even if they are not exactly anthropologically correct. Diana Vreeland, the famous "Vogue" editor from the 1930s to the 1970s, had a huge collection of blackamoor jewelry and once quipped that these figurals were "about as Arabic as I am." A blackamoor will undoubtedly add some haute-chateau flair to the Nouvelle French aesthetic.
Since the overall look typically involves an understated color palette of creams, whites, beiges, and grays, the ornamentation of a blackamoor adds a glamourous accent. Because these fellows are slathered in gilt, they add much-needed sparkle to the softer side of the linen-and-burlap look.
A hint of glitz is key to the Nouvelle French look, so a natural inclination is to reach for a chandelier, girandole or sconce. Do not resist, particularly when the sparkling object of desire has a French Empire design such as the sconces in the photo, left ($225 each or $395 for the pair; Booth B-222). The swag drape of the crystals, combined with the brass bows, fits in with the elegant side of this look. The idea is to add a few sparkling surfaces to a room so that it does not get too bogged down in the industrial and natural aspects of the style.
Another way to add sparkle is with some form of glass, as with the lamp in the photo, right ($195; Booth B-222). This lamp is made from a mercury glass bottle topped with an antique farmers market style label that says “Le Soleil Malines." While this is a reproduction of an antique, it looks like an antique Belgian style. Antique brass cording wraps the lip of the bottle. This lamp modernizes the flea market chic of mercury glass, which was originally produced in Bohemia around 1840. The original process involved sandwiching a liquid silvering solution between two layers of glass.
The vintage olive barrels in the photo, left, have been selling well lately and are also from Larry Felts' booth ($85 each; B-222). "Those are Egyptian or something like that," Felts says, giving his opinion on a creative way to transform one: "Turn it upside down make a lamp out of it." Well, let there be light! What a fabulous idea. Just envision this tableau: A tufted sofa upholstered in tatty-chic linen bookended by a couple of these barrels-as-lamps. That is the very picture of Nouvelle French heaven.
The chronically late just might appreciate a giant clock, and this is an item one will find in just about every inch-thick Restoration Hardware catalogue that hits my mailbox. The look smacks of Nouvelle French, as does the humongous wooden clock in the photo, right, available at GasLamp. This clock, in fact, conjures up an image of another timepiece featured not too long ago in the (some might say ... who, me?) overpriced Restoration Hardware catalog for a whopping $1,495 (plus tax and shipping). This particular clock was a "reproduction of an early 20th-century timepiece from the village of Bray-Sur-Seine in the Ile-de-France region that once graced a stone tower in Northern France.” Well, whoop-dee-doo! At GasLamp, this very similar clock can be had for a mere $99 at Booth B-306. Some lucky shopper will snap up this one, I have no doubt, then use the remaining $1,396 (minus tax and shipping) to actually visit the village of Bray-Sur-Seine in the Ile-de-France region (wherever that is).
I won't lie to you, dear readers: I'm a card-carrying Francophile. With a surfeit of funds, I would race to GasLamp and buy so many French finds that it would make your head spin. And there are a lot of them. Which is why I only go to GasLamp once a week (because if I spent more time there, I would need to become a French maid to pay my balance). But for those who have more restraint, I suggest heading there, post haste, to pick up some classic items with a contemporary twist in order to embrace the thoroughly hip style of Nouvelle French.