Friday, April 13, 2012

Full Circle

Oh it has been a very busy Spring so far.
Between emptying out our house in the country, and making plans to come back to New York, college applications, financial aid forms, taxes, posting on Basic French's Facebook ( plus the everyday stuff of everyday life, I cannot even find a moment to write about what I am doing.

I think we are all so busy. Too busy somehow. And while life sure is interesting, not having time to reflect on what you have done, what you are doing and what you dream of doing is not interesting.

I took a few days off from the computer and Basic French and went to the south of France with my very good friend Yves, fabulous creative person and very fun partner in crime. We went on a road trip to check out the professional flea markets of Beziers, Avignon and Montpellier. My head was spinning I learned so much and while we were crazy busy trying to see all that there was to see, I was completely captivated. On the car ride between the different shows, we talked all about what we had seen, what we could transform into something else  (glass bottles and jelly jars into lamps, vintage fabric into pillows,) I realize that I am a life long flea marketer, a born buyer and seller. I am not a collector, really, because I am a minimalist and objects easily flow into my life and out adding their visual impression to the collage of my mind.

I have been having and going to yard sales since I was a child and I have always had the "goût de l'insolite" (taste for the unusual.) I realized, as we listened to the random stories of "la provenance" of an object, as told by its enthusiastic seller, that I am most fascinated by the stories and by each object's place and function in history. So I have been studying; studying furniture, pottery and the art of upholstery and in so doing, studying French history. I absorb this knowledge so easily because it interests me. It is like information recycling, repurposing small details to pass history along.

Coming full circle with Basic French, which started as a tiny little antique space in the bathroom of a cooperative Rhinebeck antiques store, we will be introducing a line of vintage furniture this fall: overstuffed chairs, newly upholstered in vintage fabric, vintage lamps rewired and re-shaded, + + 

Happily, we will never forget our simple past as long as we guard our objects dear.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Contre le Blues Hivernal

Henri Rousseau, The Dream, 1910
I guess I have mentioned that I am not a Winter person. And we did have a reallllllllly cold Winter here in Lyon. But 4 days in Paris, walking around and breathing in culture, absorbing colors, laughing and window shopping really changed my perspective. I am ready to take on the crazy challenges I have ahead of me this Spring: selling a house then packing up said house and an apartment, getting the girls through some major end-of-year exams, keeping track of 2 dogs and two jobs (at least,) figuring out the shipping of a container of personal effects and antiques for Basic French, developing Basic French wholesale, finding an apartment (closet;-) to rent in Manhattan—the list goes on.

It has been years, perhaps since 2007, that we could not give away antiques or vintage pieces. The Ikea, Domino-style has reigned supreme, spattered with a bit of DIY ingenuity. I predict that old things will re-find their place in the decorative world. The trend is reversing and we will all realize that disposable furniture is just that, disposable. My focus now is on beautiful old things, 18th and 19th century pieces, that were made with loving care, to last a lifetime, or six. Those are the things that we want to pass onto our children, n'est-ce pas?

I noticed in Paris a few trends. Oddly enough, colors that seem to be huge for Spring are kelly green and peach. The red, white and blue, striped marinière theme is still looming large here, which is comforting since I love that look and it is so very basic French. Fabrics that are exotic in a far eastern way, like a printed paisley in poppy, crimson, indigo and celadon. Leather goods in simple, classic forms, made of stiff cowhide that will weather perfectly, last for decades and that carries the de-bossed logo of it's artisan manufacturer. Curtains and pillows with hand-made embellishments, like embroidery, comfy things, things hand-knit, things that are organic or bio, things made of paper. A most noticeable trend is animalia. There are animals and flora and fauna on everything. My friends at Objet de Curiosité and Hollister Hovey have loved this forever, but it seems everyone has now caught on and as our world becomes more and more computer-oriented we escape to the decorative forest, the inside of our home, where we surround ourselves with images of wild beasts, pillows with embroidered owls, decorative wallpaper recreated from Victorian originals, collections of insects. It is romanticism as it's best, pure escapism. Comforting, nurturing, a segue back to our natural selves.

Paris is an incredible antidote to the Winter blues—but if you can't go to Paris or escape into a world of French movies, go to a concert or go to an auction, hop in the car and just go. Drive 100 miles in any direction and do something you have never done before. I swear it will work, and then it will be Spring. Woo Hoo! Yippee! Yahoo! Hooray!

Out with the new and in with the old!

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Being French Means Never Having to Say You're

So, so, sorry!

The French language is so complicated, so complicated that after four years of living here, I learn at least one new thing every day. And while my relationship with France is a true "love story," the more French I learn, the less fluent I feel.

I actually speak quite well, but that's only one aspect of knowing French. I suddenly realized that, before I move back to New York in July, I need to make some progress in my French...writing wise. So I signed up for a business writing course which starts next week. YIKES, I am going to get my derrière kicked!

At my gym, Lady Fitness (a circuit-style Curvesesque kind of gym, because nothing else exists here in the land of les skinny femmes,) I was chatting with one of the coaches and she told me that I should never say "Je suis désolée..." to express  "I am sorry..."  Now, I have probably said that one million times, thinking I was correct. She explained that, in France, you may never excuse yourself, you must ask forgiveness of the person you have wronged, and it is for them to pardon you...or not! You never admit wrongdoing.

So here's what you can say when you don't respond to someone's email quickly enough next time:

Je vous prie de bien vouloir m'excuser du retard de ma réponse. (I pray of you to really want to excuse me for the lateness of my response.) Who knew?    or 

Veuillez m'excuser de ne pas avoir répondu plus tôt à votre courriel (Would you excuse me for not having responded earlier to your email?) I beg of you, please please, I procrastinated ;-(

When you think about it, c'est logique (it's logical.) You can't pardon yourself. You have to accept the fact that some will pardon you, and some will not. And besides that, the French do not like to take responsibility for anything, and I do not say that lightly. They might be sorry, and they might not be, but you are never going to get them to admit it, not on your life. No siree. Sorry buster.

Je suis navrée! Non, vachement navrée!

Monday, February 06, 2012

Super Stalker

My girls were absolutely mortified when they saw this video I took of my new favorite bistro in Lyon, Bistrot de la Passerelle. I really did not mean to be a stalker, but from the looks of the faces of a few of those girls at the table, my flip video was just not subtle enough to capture the moment without freaking out the guests. Anyway, the Bistrot de la Passerelle has the best burgers in all of Lyon and the ambiance is the perfect mixture of causal, typically French, busy and lively. Franck and his wife, who used to live in Brooklyn and plan to move back and open a restaurant somewhere in Brooklyn (Red Hook?) in two years are funky and welcoming and just French enough to pull it off, though Franck really has the Brooklyn look down. He does not look typically French, that is for sure. So, this is my segue restaurant, with my one foot in Lyon and my other foot crossing the New York state line.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Bedroom Makeover!

I am a bedroom person and I have always been a bedroom person. When I was 10 years old, my two favorite things were to clean my closet and rearrange my bedroom. I did both of these things frequently, unsolicited by my parents.

Now, many moons later and a few homes removed, I remain faithful to my bedroom. I love to redecorate it, but not in a big way, just in a quiet little way, moving around my vignettes of books, mirrors and vintage "vieux Paris" virgins, changing sheets, throws, pillows, to create a new perspective.

So today, I was completely inspired by the sunshine (it has been brutally cold here but at least the sun brightly shines;-) I was most inspired by an embroidered sheet I found and a Louis VIII fauteuil with fabulous fabric. I remade my bed, I moved some furniture around et voila. A bedroom with a cheery view.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

An Apple a Day

Last night, Halliday and I went to our local health food store, L'eau Vive, to stock up on organic produce—a new year's resolution. I stooped down to fill a brown bag with crisp, sweet apples and turned my squinty, need-to-have-my-prescription-changed gaze towards a tall man a few yards away. Perhaps I hesitated, perhaps I frowned, perhaps my blank gaze lingered too long in his remote direction because... suddenly this stranger was in my face, pointing a finger and asking, "il y a un probleme madame, tu as un probleme avec moi?" Flustered, bewildered, I just said "Non, non, pas de probleme." Hallie and I had one of those what-was-that-all-about moments and escaped unscathed to our next destination.

Lady Fitness is one of those female-only circuit gyms, like Curves, and I belonged a few years ago and got into really great shape. Two knee problems later, I have resolved to renew my membership and you would think that would be a simple thing. A week ago, I stopped by to get a ballpark price and the manager (who might just as well be a mattress or used car salesman) offered to renew my membership for 29.95 euros per month, subject to confirmation by his boss. He subsequently told me his entire life story, details of his love life and stellar career, while avowing to his "correct" and honest business nature. He said he'd call me that afternoon. He never called me back.

The entry of Lady Fitness is filled with non-sportive-looking, heavily-made-up young girls, who seem to be employed there but who rapidly disappear if you attempt to engage them. I am left once again with the "manager" (ahem, mattress salesman) who seems to have no recollection of our previous conversation. He can't find the form he filled out for me, nor remember the price he proposed, and suddenly, his best price for me and only for me, only today, is 53 euros...and only if Halliday joins too, for the next 6 months. He puts his sweaty hand on mine, while reflecting on what special deal he can make for us, but when I suggest we think things over and come back the next morning, he raises and eyebrow and looks at me like I am some kind of sketchie character, refuses to give me a copy of the offer he has written down on paper and moves on.

People are edgy these days, it seems to me. I retreat to "ma cuisine" to prepare sauteed apples—just sliced apples, water and a bit of salt. My friend Ashleigh says to eat them at night instead of a heavy meal, as a diet starter. I vow to lift weights and follow vintage Jane Fonda videos on Youtube. Lady Fitness another fine day, when the stars align.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

A Most Wonderful New Year

2011 has been a wonderful gift, a year that breathed new life into Basic French. I am so thrilled to have such amazing clients and friends that follow our French adventures, that write us cheery and encouraging words and that share their own favorites French anecdotes each day. Cheers to all of you and to an exciting 2012. Meilleurs Vœux!

Saturday, December 31, 2011


by Robert & Kathleen Photographers, NYC

 I am looking for inspiration. Normally, I find that the best way to get inspired is to wander around antique stores or listen to music and pour through design magazines. But these days, I am looking for inner inspiration. I am never at a loss for ideas, but I think for me, 2011 has been a year where I have not had enough time to myself and have been oriented towards others and their voices. My own voice has been but a soft murmur and my inspiration, fleeting.

I want to go back and start over, weed through what I perceive in the design world as a lot of noise. I want to go back and simplify and refind/refine my roots, my basic style. Real dreamy wanderlust.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas in Lyon

Wishing you all a Very Merry.

Friday, December 09, 2011

The Real Thing + Organic Karma!

Raglan Sleeve Pullover, Organic by John Patrick 

For as long as I can remember, John Patrick has been a loyal fan of Basic French, back when we were just a blossoming little boutique in the Hudson Valley. And not just loyal, he's been my cheerleader. He sends me words of encouragement from out in cyberspace, that keep me going for months. When someone validates your point of view, it makes it all worthwhile.

Jane Webb's interview in really encapsulates JP's style, process and raison d'être—his artistry. And this video from Lexus, that he very modestly sent me just for fun, his recognition as a leader in the "sustainable/green fashion industry."

 John Patrick has been doing "organic" long before organic, DIY and handmade were trendy, and his new collection at ORGANIC, is beautiful, wearable, perfect.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Mood Boards in My Head

 It's Pinteresting that people now create collages, virtual mood boards, online rather than in their actual physical space and with active intent, rather than by accident. I don't know, I guess I am getting old but all of the real artsy people that I know (like my pal Wanda,) live a mood board. Their world and their imagination is their canvas. So again, I find I am out of sync with this new effort to render everyone an artist with something fabulous to share with the world. We are so public these days. Seeking approval?

To me this is the sign of things about to go in reverse. Technology has rendered things too accessible and taken the special out of collage, genericized it, just the way the advent of the non-professional desk top publishing software made every computer user think they were actually a graphic designer. Seriously. That's when I stopped wanting to be a graphic designer. It was too discouraging to see a field that I had so revered become so burdened with crappy typography and clip art. We always do this to ourselves. We want everyone to be able to do everything. We are trying to keep ourselves busy I think.

I like the idea of specializing, of people being different, which does not mean you have to do the same thing all your life or be pigeon-holed. Careers cross over, life leads you in many different directions. We meander. I apologize, I really am ranting a bit these days,  first about people trying to be too perfect, and now about this. But I am getting annoyed. Instead of joining in (I am very social but I have never been a joiner,) I am just going to continue to do what I have always done and create little periodic transient vignettes in my head and around, and then move on.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Round and round

Here are some things that I am collecting these days: vintage arm chairs that need to be reupholstered, vintage linen or hemp sheets with monograms, anything having to do with quinces (love the color) or animals, and sets of 19th and 20th century French china, especially black transfer ware. I have come full circle.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Today I am Grateful

for all the wonderful friends that I have, for my girls and my dogs, for my parents and sister, for all the amazing experiences I have had in my life, for our time in France, for all the folks who help out with Basic French (Debi, Ka, Barb + Bob and Jenn + Preston ) for finding clarity in life, for my adventuresome spirit which never goes away, for cozy hand-knit socks, for discovering beautiful talents and products like these notary candlesticks, for my health and the health of all those I love. I am so lucky and today, Thanksgiving, I give thanks for all of it!

Wishing you all the a wonderful day filled with love and good food!

Notary candlesticks by Jeff Patterson for lovely Sarah Van Raden

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bon Point = You are Good!

I found this pencil case at the marché aux puces and I thought to myself, "I would've been happy to go to school and open this up every day, sweet olive case with little plaid interior, a bon point (for good behavior) and the little cut out of the boy and his sheepy."

We all deserve a bon point these days just for being good people. Times have been pretty tough in the states and things are looking pretty grim here in France, sadly for the French. We are all good people and we need to remember that everyday. That is enough.

Monday, November 21, 2011

O My Halliday

I am so proud of my girls and not bashful to show it. Halliday, who is a senior in an international public lycée is an amazing, diligent student with a sweet heart, creative talent and a great fashion sense (amongst other things.) Her outfit this morning...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Comfort Food

I am not a Winter person, so the moment the sun begins to set earlier and rise later, and we fall back clockwise, I am nostalgic for summer and seek comfort anywhere I can find it. These days, based on my waistline, that seems to be in the way of food.

At the shore this summer, I cooked almost every meal and while I am not a fancy chef, I do like to think that I can make something tasty out of whatever is left in the frig. In any case, I am very poor at following recipes and have even given up on myself in this department. Yet, when I stumbled upon SweetFineDay the blog of Brooklyn-based designer Jenna and her pastry chef partner Mark of Whimsy and Spice, I found instant comfort and inspiration.

Well among other things, I was compelled to cook chicken pot pie for the girls which basically took me all day on Saturday because I had to shop for the ingredients (frig empty) and try to make do with what I had (no cream cheese, no chicken stock, turkey instead of chicken, no celery because it's the one food I hate and must be allergic to.) I managed to cobble together what resembled turkey pot pie and a mache salad with, of course, Henry's vinaigrette (I am the salad dressing protegée of my friend Pamela's husband, fabulous painter Henry Finkelstein, since we spent two recent weeks kibitzing and cooking together in Brooklyn.)

In Jenna's personal blog The Mixed Race Project I was touched by something she said. In essence, she said that she wanted to show in her photographs how people really live and not show a fantasy of how people pretend to live. I echo this thought. I have been feeling really exasperated and rebellious recently, as I tacitly though erratically follow blogs with tasteful feminine Pinterest mood boards and perfectly art directed and lit photos of carefully culled "objets." I am a bit sick of all the DIY makeovers and everyone being so damn crafty. I know I sound jaded, but really let's face it, not everyone has something interesting to say, something the world needs to hear. Even what I have have to say, is maybe not that interesting, really. My rebellious side wants to go in the opposite direction and like Jenna, I want to show people as they are with unmade beds and messy hair and imperfections. I wish we could all embrace our imperfections more and love real life instead of always trying to make real life look perfect. I think real life is far more interesting, far more touching. But that's me, and I have messy hair and an apartment that's crammed with packing supplies, a desk piled high with papers I dread filing, books I'll never read despite my good intentions, a "to do" list that makes me panic and a dog named Clementine that ate the remaining half of my carefully crafted turkey pot pie off the counter.

Isn't it more comforting to us all to know that we are in the same boat?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Oh Donna, a Retrospective

We spent the summer on Long Beach Island, my preferred summer destination since September of 1960 when, as the story goes, my cousin Douglas and I were passed out the bedroom window during a fierce hurricane named Donna. We were 2 months old. The girls and I had all missed the Jersey shore and all it's indigenous treasures over the last few years because we have spent our summers in France or somewhere straddled between charitable relatives and friends.

With not a cloud in the sky all summer long, we hung out our laundry on the blowy clothesline each morning, took meandering bike rides to our favorite island cafe, ate fresh, juicy tomatoes, herbs and lettuce from Bowdie's garden, husked and gobbled sweet Jersey corn, relished soft-shelled crabs and lobster and savored slices of home-made chocolate cake from the Holiday Snack Bar. It was a perfect summer, in retrospect.

Monday, November 07, 2011

My Darling Clementine

 I know, I know, dog stories are boring, but my little Clementine is the cutest thing on the planet and strolling around Lyon with her on a Fall day is the best thing in the world. And, can you believe that even the leaf bags are basic French chic. Oh la la those crazy French.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Les Ados

Hallie has some wonderful friends, all multi-lingual, smart-as-whip teens who love to have fun and be silly. It is amazing what my girls have created for themselves in the last four years...very full lives. Lyon has been an incredible place to raise young girls—safe and sure, comforting and culturally rich. How were we so blessed to touch down, however briefly, in this beautiful city?

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Depots Vente

Being the ardent, avid, yardsaler, antiquer, picker that I am and have always been, I have managed to track down many of best the consignment stores (depots vente) in Lyon. But the one that I like the best, that I have bought the most memorable things in is actually on my street, rue de Remparts D'ainay. Drawing from my rather conservative, hidden wealthy catholic neighborhood, the merchandise can be just amazing (18th century portraits for 80 euros) or not so interesting.

Like all good second-hand or antique stores, you just have to go on a regular basis, which is what I try to do. I have always found great solace and inspiration in looking at old stuff and even when I was a graphic designer, I used browsing second-hand stores and antique stores as a way of making aesthetic connections and coming up with fresh and vital concepts. That and cleaning have always been really good ways for me to spend my time and conceptually work things through. Quirky, I know.

These days however, I am not buying much because I have a house and apartment full of stuff and the prospect of emptying them both and moving back to New York ahead of me. Yes, the decision has been made. We are officially moving back in July. So very excited to be back in the city after this incredible one year adventure that turned into 5. Wow, time flies.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Thursday, September 29, 2011

It's the Fig's Fault

It all started with a fig. And a recipe I saw on design*sponge. It sounded so yummy, and cozy and it's Indian Summer and it's going to be cold soon.

Anyone that really knows me can testify to the fact that I can not for the life of me follow a recipe. Maybe it's the early influence of chef Andy Schloss, who took me under his wing in the kitchen at Philadelphia's renaissance restaurant In Season and taught my naive recently-graduated-from-Miss-Porter's-School-lily-white-ass a few things about life and how to get my hands dirty. Lessons having nothing to do with following a recipe. Maybe I am a rebel that does not like to comply with anything.

Plus, I am getting really sick of seeing everything so perfectly styled and unreal. I mean when I cook I make a mess and it involves dishes and the licking of spoons and drips on the silk dress I should've taken off. I mean, cooking is messy, like life is messy. Houses get messy too and I am sick of seeing perfectly styled houses too, and then the ones that are supposed to be imperfectly messy, but are over- styled as well. It's all too Perfect Home Perfect Life for me.

I am the figs and design*sponge and my quest to follow a recipe all coalesced in my tiny little very messy kitchen and then Hallie got home, tired and ravenously hungry, so I thought, hmm, steak would be good. At the end of the day here is what I served for dinner. It didn't look chic after I cooked it, but it sure tasted good. And best of all, I got props from my peeps!

courge soup with shallots and creme fraîche

figs roasted with rosemary in honey and maple syrup


Nairns mini oatcakes

steak, medium rare with salt and pepper

Rhone tap water

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Usual Haul

No seriously, this is just the usual haul from our favorite country grocery store.

flax bread
duck paté
pork and herb sausage
mini vache aperitif cheeses
yogurt drinks
local rosé
hand pressed juice
honey yogurt
plain yogurt
sheep's yogurt
homemade raspberry preserve

I realize that we eat very simple clean food, and I am now so used to it, I practically have a heart attack when I go into an American grocery store. So many options, so little un-packaged truly fresh food. It doesn't make sense. In France, even those of modest means can eat well (if they choose to) as there is a market in almost every village or city. I love the states, but I sure would be happier there if I could easily and affordably continue to eat like this. I know you can eat well in New York, but easily and affordably? I am not sure.

Support your local farmer today!!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sirop du Liege

The most delicious fruit spread to put on your tartines!

I am so tempted to start Basic Belgium because I have fallen madly in love with this very basic product that is like a jam or rather a delicious fruit paste. Oh my god, it is amazing. A combination of pears, apples and dates, it is absolutely awe-inspiring on fresh flax (lin) bread from our local boulangerie with chèvre of any kind. Not a jam, not a jelly, but rather a hearty, not-too-sweet fruit spread. Very Basic Belgium. Sirop du liege + hearty bread + chevre = absolute heaven

Monday, September 26, 2011

Thanks Joann!

I knew this would come in handy some day. I have carried this yardage chart from Joann Fabrics in Kingston, NY to Red Hook where it sat on my desk for 15 years, overseas to Balmont where it aged like a fine wine in a folder to Lyon where it almost got tossed out like an old t-shirt. Now, since I have decided to become Madamoiselle Expert Upholsterer in my mature years, it has a prominent place in my...shoot it's on my desk again.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bakker made with love

The first time I saw one of these "cartable" an updated French book bag by Bakker made with love, a St. Etienne-based design duo who are smitten with Bali, I almost flipped. I was so happy to discover them at Maison et Objets shortly thereafter and immediately placed an order. That was last year sometime. Well, I never heard from them for months, and then more months, and most recently they contacted me that our shipment was ready to deliver. It was so naively charming when they informed me that my shipment would be arriving in Detroit and that I was welcome to stop by and pick it up at any time.  I guess they imagined me swinging by from New York on my lunch break. Anyhow, when I opened the package that finally cleared customs, I knew they were a vendor worth my patience. Great quality, amazing workmanship and just the funnest, happiest products.

Courtesy of Bakker made with love
And I think their name is funny. It is true, I believe, the products are seemingly made with love, but what's funny is that they have almost gone out of their way to not appear French, to anglicize themselves. What they don't know is that, Americans at least, love French products (usually.) Anyway, all this to say, yay for France and yay for new products made with love in Bali by cute French designers from the capital of passementerie.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Stuff to Remember

Assemblage, Norman Hasselriis' gallery, by Dana Gallagher

I just stumbled upon the work of New York photographer, Dana Gallagher, and I love it. Also her blog is amazing and short and sweet. I was really captivated by the post about Assemblage the Catskill's gallery and legacy of artist, Norman Hasselriis. Inspiring.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Les Puces du Canal

Going to the marché aux puces is probably my favorite thing in the world to do. Sometimes, I wonder how I got into importing new products (though I love that too!) I like to find the diamond in the rough. I love to buy along a particular theme which manifests itself at the end of the day. It's as if I have little imagistic scenarios dancing in my head and like during a good therapy session, you exorcise them and you move on (or not.) I am always working on an aesthetic theme, passing from one forming visual collage to another.

These days, I am really into upholstered furniture and fabric and I will tell you why. I am taking upholstery class (my fantasy depuis très longtemps,) and I am going to become a master upholsterer (un maître tapissier)...haha, that is before I leave this planet!

Tapissier par Teleformation-Savoirs