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INTERIORS STYLE: French polish; French dressing is the last word in decorating chic this summer. Mix antique pieces with luxurious linens to create a look that is effortlessly stylish.

Byline: Gabrielle Fagan explains how

Cover, Laura Ashley Belfort chair (pounds 900), footstool (pounds 350) in antiqued cream finish, with hopsack plum upholstery; Clockwise from top left, Beaudesert Fritillaria on silk taffeta (pounds 59 a metre), French Percale (pounds 75 a metre) on silk taffeta. Slippers (from pounds 100); Dibor French wall clock (pounds 46.95); Dibor mixed striped tablecloth (pounds 65), checked medium tablecloth (pounds 63), large tablecloth (pounds 93), two toned tablecloth (pounds 85)We may have a love/hate relationship with the French, but there is no doubt that we are passionate about their style -particularly for our homes.

It could be because the French seem to have the ability to combine influences from different sources and periods, old and new, traditional and contemporary, into a harmonious whole. Not only that, there's also a refreshing originality about their look.

Whatever the reason, that chic style is encapsulated in two of the most popular interior trends of the moment -vintage chic and French boudoir.

For the first, think of rooms in light colours such as off-white, duck egg blue and pale grey, filled with a collection of elegant, pale-painted, ornate Louis XV-style chairs with sofas loosely covered in linen or white cotton.

Bistro tables and chairs or a farmhouse table covered with a linen cloth have a typically French feel. Add collections, either of antique art objects or an assortment of china plates, but remember to be disciplined and avoid clutter.

Boudoir takes the look a step further into more indulgent and flamboyant luxury. Beds with elaborately carved bedheads and sofas piled with throws in sensual fabrics such as silk or velvet or cashmere and further embellished with fringed, beaded cushions are fundamental to the style. Venetian mirrors and gilded candelabra add final touches of decadence and create focal points.

With either of these interpretations -Parisian flat or French country farmhouse -or even a blend of the two, remember nothing should be too regulated or co-ordinating.

Interior designer, Paula Robinson who specialises in French style, says: 'The key to success is not to fill your home with all things French. That would turn it into a museum. The aim is to get the essence of the style, so a few key pieces of furniture and carefully chosen accessories could be just enough.

'The attraction is that it is decorative and eclectic, and not at all rigid which makes it totally comfortable and easy to live with.'

She sources furniture and architectural salvage in the famous French flea markets.

'You can get bargains in the markets but make the most of a trip by researching a little first, so you have an idea what you are looking for otherwise it is easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer size of the markets and the variety of stock.

'Take measurements of your rooms with you. French furniture is often much bigger, because in general they have larger rooms. Their pieces could look unsightly if they overwhelm or, worse, totally dominate small rooms. Also, we have smaller, lower doorways and you don't want to get your beautiful armoire home and find it is impossible to get it through the door.'

She also advises that those who aren't bilingual to invest in the services of the guides, who work at the markets and will assist foreign buyers by interpreting and carrying out negotiations.

If you haven't the time or don't feel brave enough for a shopping expedition abroad, there are lots of companies here catering for French passions.

Laura Ashley has embraced the look with a stunning range of painted furniture. Its range includes a Louis chair, pounds 500, and a Lille two--door armoire with glass doors, pounds 1,100. For a dash of Parisian elegance it has a Ventian mirrored console table, pounds 350.

Conjure a truly chic boudoir with its Lille bedstead, pounds 950, wardrobe, pounds 1,350, and a Venetian side table, pounds 300.

Alternatively, there is an authentic range available from Grange. This long-established French company makes reproduction furniture in a range of styles.

It has formal, polished wood pieces as well as more country style painted dressers. Cherrywood beds start at around pounds 2,030, dressers from pounds 3,585 and cafe tables, pounds 250.

If your dream is a Rococo bed or even a Louis XVI bed that could be equally at home in a chateau, there is an inspirational selection of continental beds at La Maison in London.

It has mainly 18th and 19th century antiques, and also hand-made reproductions. Prices start at pounds 700 for an antique double, or pounds 2,700 for a reproduction. Headboards start from pounds 200.

Grand Illusions is a shop which was one of the pioneers of French style in this country. It has a range of water--based paints in those characteristic pale colours as well as a wide-range of furniture including painted armoires, starting at pounds 970. Accessorise with candlesticks and sconces, pounds 9.95, and planters from pounds 3.95.

Damask's new furniture collection is inspired by the romance of old Parisian grandeur. Pieces are in hand-carved teak with a light paint finish in either putty, cream or limed white.

Some of the furniture is scaled to fit smaller rooms, and there are folding console tables, compact writing desks and bedside tables. Its selection of linens, bedding and towels are ideal for recreating a faded, feminine boudoir.

If you yearn for antique textiles from France, Jane Sacchi Linens has an impressive stock. Linen sheets start at pounds 120, and napkins, pounds 18, but she also has new linen sold by the metre such as blue Vichy checks, pounds 48. Items can be monogrammed.

For a beautiful selection of fabrics, inspired by antique original French designs, you need look no further than Beaudesert. Predominantly in florals, with a gracious, vintage feel, they would easily conjure a French setting.

Fritillaria has scattered pink blooms on a white background, and is in French percale, pounds 59 a metre or silk taffetta pounds 75 a metre. Amours et Medaillons, in a toile de juoy pattern, is in silk taffeta and voile. It costs from pounds 29 a metre.

You don't even have to leave the house to transform your kitchen into one that could be set in Provence. Dibor is just one of the excellent mail order companies with a brilliant selection of china, table linen and other accessories.

A French striped tablecloth costs pounds 69 or pounds 90 for a large, and you could count the hours on a Blue Cheese clock, inspired by an original from Montpelier. It is in two sizes and costs pounds 34.95 or pounds 46.95.

Its bistro table, with hand finished scrolls and slender legs, is pounds 189 for a four seater, and pounds 169 for a two seater. A chair is pounds 95 or pounds 125.

While you're surfing the net this side of the Channel, check out Couverture which has an interesting range of furniture and accessories, and The French House who sell hand--crafted items brought from rural France. For instance, a Saint-Joanis cutlery set, 24 pieces, costs around pounds 599. Bleu, another mail order company, has a small but attractive range of table accessories including glazed tableware.

Of course, you could also have fun seeking out French finds in antique shops, many of which specialise in original and reproduction French styles, or visiting auctions.

If you are not already in love with this look, you could find it is the beginning of a romance with one of the most elegant, romantic styles around.Where to find French stylePaula Robinson. Call 020 7221 9469 or visit www.paula--robinson.com Laura Ashley. Call 0871 230 2301 or visit www.laurashley.com Grange. Call 020 7935 7000 or visit www.grangelondon.co.uk La Maison, 107/8 Shoreditch High Street, London E1. Call 020 7729 9646. Grand Illusions, 41, Crown Road, St Margarets, Twickenham, Middlesex. Call 020 8607 9446.

Damask. Call 020 7731 3470 or visit www.damask.co.uk Jane Sacchi Linens. Call 020 7349 7020 or visit www.janesacchi.com Beaudesert. Call 020 7720 4977 or visit www.beaudesert.co.uk Dibor. Call 0870 0133 666 or visit www.dibor.co.uk Couverture. Visit www.couverturedirect.co.uk Bleu. Call 0870 163 0088 or visit www.bleu.ltd.uk

CAPTION(S):

Top, Laura Ashley Venetian mirrored console table (pounds 350), lamp with Battersby mirrored column base (pounds 50), Aitken shade (pounds 22); bottom, Dibor metal garden table two seater (pounds 169), metal garden chair without arms (pounds 95), with arms (pounds 125)
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 30, 2003
Words:1431
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