August 14 2011
With France virtually closed for the August holidays, Gallic charm can be found instead in London. For The French House specialises in much that endears La Douce France to design-conscious homeowners, from linens to lighting, copper pans to café furniture.
Already known for its mail-order catalogue and online store, the company’s bricks-and-mortar shop opened last December and reveals additional treats – one-off antiques and quirkier pieces of brocante, along with exclusive products from artisans and small family-run firms. “My parents, Mark and Elke, were involved in the slow-food movement and wanted to start something similar for interiors,” says Susanna Housden. “They sold their home in France to set up the company – hence the name – and are still involved with sourcing and photography, but I handle the day-to-day business.”
The Gallic appeal starts outside with the folding, metal St Rémy bench (£449), made, as it has been since the 18th century, without welding. Inside the white interior your eye is drawn to Joanna Burtenshaw’s wall-length chalk mural of a French market, leading to a series of small rooms, dedicated first to lighting then kitchenware, and beyond to the garden.
Wooden bakers’ tables and a cabinet belonging to Housden’s great-grandmother display French ceramics – handmade terracotta dishes (£44), salt-glazed vases (£72), celadon-coloured Armande tableware from Provence (dinner plate, £16) – and classic glassware (water glass, £5.50).
Tin-lined, copper pans (casserole, £81), bought by chefs including Nigella Lawson, gleam along one wall. Other walls accommodate café-style tin clocks (from £30), Austrian pure-linen tea towels (from £12.50) and antiqued brass door knockers in the shape of hands (£32) or lions’ heads (£19.50). Popular purchases include thick-rimmed, garden terracotta pots (from £8.99) and cheese domes of recycled glass (£29), Papier d’Arménie candles (£28) and fragrances for men and women by Paris-based Le Jardin Retrouvé (£45 for 125ml), which “are not generally known about in the UK”.
Francophiles also seek out hard-to-source lighting. The Mougins Verdigris lantern (£389) is made to The French House’s specifications and part-glazed terracotta pendants (£249) are designed by Housden’s brother Tom. Traditional exterior lamps in zinc verdigris (from £205) are bestsellers, but there are contemporary alternatives too, such as brass desk lights (from £75) with pink, rather than classic green, shades. A French twist indeed.