I became mesmerized and absorbed with the photos and stories of women who had followed their bliss and of places in France and other parts of Europe where people lived according to a different time clock. While the rest of the world was/is on the Internet, most of these people were busy planting their herb gardens, captivated by the progress of a creeping turtle, spending six hours slow-roasting a leg of lamb and just plain living. I thought to myself, "how amazing would it be to have all the time in the world. To dedicate oneself to an earlier, simpler, more provincial way of life?" Of course, in all practicality, it is difficult to make a living doing just that when one has a family to raise, but the thought of perhaps achieving some balance between that and my own life, was something I became obsessed with.
In one of my readings (and by then, I had obtained several copies of back issues of Victoria since the Magazine had sadly ceased to publish at that time), I ran across a feature that completely inspired me to my present day venture and passion. It was a story about Dominique
and Pierre Bernard-Depalle. The couple live in the heart of Paris just as if they were living in the heart of the French countryside. The time is not the present but some unhurried, uncomplicated moment in the unspecified past.
Not wanting a conventional storefront that gives directly onto the street, the Bernard-Depalles installed their antiques shop in the first building on the right. Vivement Jeudi ("Only on Thursday," as the shop is aptly named) is filled with mostly eighteenth and nineteenth century French, Italian and Swedish objects and furniture (gently worn upholstered pieces are good, but threadbare is better). As its name suggests, the boutique is open only on Thursdays (and by appointment).
The line between the shop and their home is blurred. The contents and furnishings of one could live happily in the other. And in both places, the couple espouse the kind of spontaneous, emotion-driven decoration that defies most laws of order or symmetry. Dominique likes to, as she calls it, "seeding the rooms with the past. A Louis Seize chest of drawers speaks of the silks and perfumes it once held."
And to me, back in New Orleans, faced with a backdrop of sheer destruction, lost, worn or broken pieces, Dominique and Pierre's world could not have been more fitting. Worn and faded silks and velvets became beautiful pieces of fabric to me. A chipped and worn dresser with its original green patinaed hardware inspired creativity. And aged mirrors with gilded, broken frames became an obsession.
I had found my passion and it lied in discovering and embracing the beauty of all that which, just a few years before (pre-Katrina as I usually refer to it), I did not notice. We were all torn and broken. We were all damaged in some way. Katrina had left its scars in each and every one of us and it was up to us to find the beauty in all that.
And so it was with Dominique and Pierre's story and images of their home and shop that the seed of change was planted in me. You will find traces in my style of their world. Humble, primitive stools and tables are placed next to a beautiful, nineteenth century french gold gilded settee. Worn velvet (like those on my blue velvet Louis XVI chairs) are left in their original glory -- to speak of the dinners and celebrations they once partook of. To me, they speak of a time gone by. They are treasures that cannot be replaced or even measured by any mass produced, modern day furnishing. I feel priviledged to be the guardian of such gorgeous pieces of history, even if for a fleeting moment in time. And they can only get more beautiful as they travel through time and through the lives of those who will take them home to share their history, dinners, laughter and experiences.
So if you happen to be in Paris on a Thursday, look up Dominique and Pierre Bernard-Depalle. Chances are, you will find them in their garden, pinching back a plant or greeting the turtle as it makes its day-long travel across the courtyard. And maybe, just maybe, you'll find me there too.
Vivement Jeudi, 52 Rue Mouffetard, Paris; 011-33-1-43-31-44-52.
Their dining room. The 19-foot custom made cabinet is filled with the couple's collection of French faience.
Mixing things up, "the salon de soir" has a fanciful and ornamental feel, with a rococo armchair, and a voluptuous 18th-century chest of drawers and venetian lanterns.
Pierre's office is furnished with an Empire bd and an 18th century Italian table and chairs. Dominique finds the chairs' tattered old undercoverings too beautiful to mask with new fabric.
The entrance hall's Directoire amoire, filled with shells and other mementos from Dominique's native Brittany.
The salon de musique is casually arranged with an 18th-century Provencial open-arm chair, a pair of primitive stools, and an 18th-century English settee in its original velvet.
Photographs courtesy of Victoria Magazine. Photographer: Gilles de Chabaneix