Saturday, 10 December 2011

French Furniture - A Guide to French Furniture Styles

As an online boutique specialising in authentic French furniture we stock a wide range of genuine, original pieces. Since beginning to import French lighting and antique furniture in 2011 we have learnt a great deal about these beautiful items, and what makes them special. We are passionate ambassadors for real French furniture (over cheaply made reproductions) and here we hope to share some of this passion and knowledge.

Below is a very brief guide to the wonderful world of French furniture, covering some of the the various items and styles a buyer is most likely to encounter:

 French Buffet et Deux Corps

French Buffet et Deux Corps

Common Items of French Furniture

Buffet - a sideboard or dresser. French buffets are often extremely large. Single buffets tend to be very long with numerous drawers and cupboards. Two part bufets resemble dressers and are called Buffet et Deux Corps. Often the upper cupboard will have glazed doors.

Armoire - often used as a sweeping term for a wardrobe, it actually denotes a two door cupboard. Authentic French armoires were made to house shelves and were found in just about every room of the house. They served as larder cupboards, linen presses and as storage for china and cutlery.

Commode - a French chest of drawers. The term commode means "comfortable" or "convenient". Introduced in the 17th century, these pieces are often very elaborate, with marble tops, gilding and painted decoration.

Bonnetiere - a narrow, tall single door French cupboard originally made to store bonnets.

Table de Chevet - a French bedside cabinet/table. Unlike British bedside cabinets which usually come in pairs, authentic antique chevets are singular items. Often with a marble top, small drawer and an inner cupboard.
French Painted Marble Top Table de Chevet

French Furniture Styles

As in British furniture each era generated a wealth of styles. Confusingly, unlike Victorian and Edwardian furniture, styles named after royalty don't necessarily date to individual reigns. Many overlap and have sub-divisions of styles, being sometimes more of a subtle evolution, than a revolution.

Louis - Probably the most recognisable, influencing modern British reproduction 'French style furniture'. Original Louis XV pieces date from around 1730 onwards, evolving into the Louis XVI style, beginning around 1760. These two styles of furniture often get grouped together under the simple umbrella of 'Louis'. Notable features include curved lines, cabriole feet and decorative motifs dominated by shell designs, birds and floral carvings.
Painted Louis Style Vintage Armoire

Henri II (1860-1900) - Also known as French Renaissance, Henri II furniture is notable for its size and solidity. Pieces tend to be huge and rectangular in composition, with heavy carving, dark wood and large bun feet. Armoires are notable for their often elaborate cornices with large finials and crests, and show a strong Italian influence in their carving and design. Mirrors and beds tend to be very ornate, with carved pillars and finials. Armoires have either solid wooden doors or glass mirror doors.
  Henri II Style Armoire
 Painted Henri II Style Mirror

Provincial/Country - Provincial furniture was made in the provinces, as opposed to the furniture made for the King and court in Paris. Court fashions often took a while to filter to the provinces, and as result French provincial furniture displays an array of overlapping styles. Most notable are pieces showing the influence of the countryside - woven rush chairs and simplified carving representing wheatsheaves and foliage. Pieces tend to be highly rustic in finish and style but beautifully made. Most notable are the huge armoires which are fully knockdown and held together with chunky, hand made wooden pegs.
Original Chestnut Provincial French Armoire

Breton - Breton furniture is highly distinctive. Often made of heavy, dark oak and highly carved, with fretwork a notable feature. Squares and rectangles predominate, with intensely carved human figures and faces, animals, plants and ships wheels. Maritime motifs also predominate, reflecting Brittany's close association with the sea. Armoires are often shorter than other styles and many come as bedroom sets with matching beds and pot cupboards. 

Detail from Painted Breton Bed

Louis Philippe - Louis Philippe style French furniture emulates the furniture popular during the reign of Louis Philippe I (1830-1848). Known as the 'Citizen King', he was popular leading a less than lavish lifestyle and similarly the furniture named after him is beautiful for it's simplicity. These pieces epitomise elegance and tend to be less ornate and more refined than other styles. Armoires are recognisable by their wide cornice, tall body and raised feet. Like the Louis style, these are much imitated, but originals tend to be beautifully constructed and cleverly fully knockdown.
Louis Philippe Style Armoire

Art Deco (1920s - 1940s) - The Art Deco movement first appeared in France during the 1920s. Reflecting a new modern era, Deco embraced geometric forms such as rectangles and zig zags. French Deco furniture is often quite chunky, with chunky feet, geometric lines but also stroing floral motifs that are far bolder and heavier than previously

Who are we?

Dazzle Vintage Furniture is an online boutique specialising in authentic French furniture, lighting and accessories. We stock vintage armoires, French buffets, French vintage beds, antique mirrors and chandeliers. All our French furniture is original, vintage and imported directly from France.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Antiquing In France: Searching the brocantes

France is a great place to pick up bargain antiques, something just small enough to squeeze into your suitcase. The French have antique shops as we do, but they also have brocantes - street markets that are rather like highbrow car boot sales or flea markets. Traders spread their wares across pavements and sell everything from vintage buttons to French furniture.

In recent years brocantes have become very fashionable and antique sellers have wisened up to the fact that tourists flock to them looking for bargains. Items don't tend to be priced, so you have to ask and you'll find that the price offered will often be much higher to a visitor than to a native French speaker. Many brocantes now have more dealers selling than members of the public, and they will be harder to bargain with. You should always haggle though, as most dealers expect it and will rarely only accept the first price offered.

If you only learn one French phrase make it "C'est trop cher!" - "It's too expensive!" My experience is that the first price offered (to a non-French speaker, i.e. a suspected tourist) will be outrageously high. If your French, like mine, isn't great, the best starting point is to offer a price slightly lower than you really want to pay. If for instance I want to buy a candlestick priced at 25 Euros, but I think it's only worth 15, I would start the bargaining at "dix euros" - 10 euros. Expect to receive much head shaking followed by an eventual counter offer closer to your goal of 15. It may take several offers, but as long as your desired price isn't ridiculous, you're likely to get there.


As well as brocantes you will also come across vide-greniers, which literally means "empty attic". These days vide-greniers are where the best bargains are to be found. Like car boot sales, the idea is that members of the public sell items they no longer want. Vide-greniers are still popular as France has never really caught on to internet auction sites like Ebay. These markets are much less frequent though, with most towns hosting one once or maybe twice a year, usually in the Spring or Summer.

Where to go

Brocantes are popular throughout France and most towns will host ones of varying sizes. Probably one of the largest is in Lille, in Nord Pas de Calais, Northern France. The 'Braderie' as it is known, takes place in the first week of September and has 10,000+ stalls. 

For something less overwhelming towns such as Arles, in Provence, host a brocante once a month. If you are planning to visit France and want to find a brocante or vide-greniers, the website is a great place to start. 

If you just want to be submerged in all things "French-antique" visit L'Isle Sur La Sorge in Provence. It is an exceptionally beautiful place known for it's many antique shops. It also hosts a large brocante every Sunday. It's well worth a visit, even if you can't afford the prices, it's lovely just to sip wine in one of the restaurants by the river!


The Author

Ali Stokes is the owner of the UK based online boutique Dazzle Vintage Furniture. The website specialises in selling authentic French furniture and accessories which have been imported from France.