They lend such charm to city streets in France, but try buying those attractive and otherwise ubiquitous blue-and-white enamel plates in a French hardware store and your enquiry will probably be met with a Gallic shrug. They seldom stock them. And that’s exactly why interiors writer Celia Rufey set up her website, Franco-file.
“The French are obliged to have them so that house numbers match street signs,” she explains. “They order theirs from the town hall, but visitors can’t do that. And as the complete number is on one plate, so any outlet that did sell them would need to carry considerable stock to satisfy orders promptly.”
This set Rufey off on a quest to find an enamel-works in France to produce them for her. She initially bought a few classic plates for each number up to 99, and these proved so popular that her venture has grown into a small business. “What fascinates me is that France has maintained the tradition of vitreous enamelling on steel,” she says. This labour-intensive technique employs glass as the enamel’s main component, giving the plates an appealing sheen.
Having discovered a set of 19th-century house numbers drawn by a French signwriter at an antiques shop, Rufey tracked down another enamel-works in France that makes exact replicas exclusively for her company, using an identical font and the same, slightly domed, plates as the originals.
House names, meanwhile, can be made to order and Franco-file also offers enamelled signs, some in French, some in English, including, “Chien Méchant” or “Chat Lunatique”, “Please Shut the Gate”, “The Potting Shed” and “WC”.
Classic one- or two-digit numbers cost £18.50. Three-digit numbers are made to order at £35 (allow six weeks for delivery). Antique-style house numbers with one, two or three digits cost £35, and house names from £48 to £80. All prices include UK postage and packing.