Friday, June 27, 2008

The Strangest Find

When I first moved to New York, back in 1988, I found myself working for a Japanese public relations firm, located on Park Avenue South - just south of 23rd Street. Other than learning all about Sushi and Kitaro, the real excitement was hitting up all of the neighborhood thrift shops on my lunch hour. There were two in particular - right off of Gramercy Park - that always had something fabulous that I would cart home after work. Furniture, paintings, dinnerware and silver - I trained my eye to see past the junk and focus in on the pieces that were overlooked because they were too dirty or maybe had a chip here or there. Eventually I was able to furnish our whole apartment on 20th Street with thrift shop finds and maybe a dumpster dive or two. 
I haven't been serious thrift shopping in a very long time - that is until this week. I decided to start checking in again - to see what I was missing - just in case. I printed off a list of thrift shops between here and Burbank and started dropping in. At first, I was taken aback by the musty old smells - and the layer of dirt that seemed to be on everything. But soon, I was right back in it - and I remembered how much fun I had when I would finally spot something that everyone else had missed.
This make-do powder puff was hidden amongst the flatware in the glass case. When I saw the puff, I asked to see it and the lady behind the counter told me that it had been there for years - nobody knew what it was. It was marked $5.00 but she would sell it to me for $2.50. Just for the sheer strangeness of it - I bought it. A make-do powder puff - who knew? Someone actually took a handle of an old spoon and glued on a piece of sheepskin, and then used it as a puff. It has a very faint smell of powder and is as soft as a baby lamb. It's not what I was looking for - but it seemed to need a home.
I'm not sure if I will take up "thrifting" again, but I think I will start collecting make-do's - pieces made when people had to make-do.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Patchwork Art

I am starting to create a wall full of these small little fabric covered boards - a scrap from every piece of fabric I use. Someday I will hang these all together on a wall in Sofia's room (if she lets me!) for a fabric memory of French General. To make your own scrap boards, start with a small piece of cardboard, I used 8x5 boards.  Cover the front of the board with your fabric scrap and tack down on the back with fabric glue.  Attach a small ribbon loop on the back, also with glue - this will allow you to hang the board on the wall.  When you have at least a dozen or so boards, hang on the wall using small nails.  Be sure to mount them close together and it will create a patchwork panel.  

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Sweet Escape

Thinking about work, the two new books we are about to start.....makes my mind wander to the old El Rancho Hotel. East of Flagstaff, Arizona, across the border of New Mexico, sits an old Indian town named Gallup - home of the infamous, El Rancho Hotel. "Formally opened December 17, 1937, The El Rancho was built by the brother of the movie magnet, D.W. Griffith. Drawn by the many films made in the area, Ronald Reagan, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn and Kirk Douglas were among the many stars listed in the guest register. Autographed photos of the stars, Navajo Rugs & mounted trophy animal heads adorn the magnificent two story open lobby with its circular staircase." It's a throwback to the good old days, when men were drinking whiskey at the bar and the horses were tied up outside. The hotel is now protected by the National Historic Preservation Society. This historic hotel is continually cared for by Mr. Ortega who has made it his personal hobby since its purchase. If you ever find yourself driving east on Route 66 towards Santa Fe, pull off the dusty road and spend a night at the El Rancho - it's authentic, early western history will win you over.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Super Peonies

What is up with the amazing peonies this year? They are everywhere and they are huge! I remember the day when I had to race down to the corner bodega in New York City in order to snatch up the few bundles they had for sale. Now, Trader Joe's has these flowers lined up in buckets outside of their shop - giving them away - for practically pennies! I love the color, the smell and the petals of the peony...if only I could grow them!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Old Inspiration

Years ago, Molly and I were walking through Soho - looking for something to inspire us, looking for anything that would take our mind off of whatever it was we were supposed to be doing. We stumbled upon a shop called J. Morgan Puett - walked inside, saw the dirt floor and immediately knew we had found what we were looking for. 
J. Morgan Puett was essentially a clothing store, but actually the woman, J. Morgan Puett was a historian of hand-made garments. "Her quirky SoHo retail space was heralded for its evocative environment–a bewildering combination of store, art installation, architectural remnant, and factory. Models rode a salvaged merry-go-round for fashion shows, the whirr of sewing machines provided a soundtrack, celebrities mingled with artists, and clothing shared shelf space with antique farm equipment." 
When she realized that the atmosphere and culture of Soho was about to change, she decided to preserve the entire contents of her shop in beeswax. Yes, beeswax. (Her father was a beekeeper in rural Georgia). She literally dipped everything - from clothing to receipts to rubber stamps.
Since her days in New York, she has become a bit of a pioneer, living on 96 acres in the hills of Northern Pennsylvania. 
A wonderful article, in the New York Times said " She is also a kind of radical homesteader, having staked a claim here on land stalked by black bears, deer, coyotes and porcupine. Along with her 8-year-old son, Grey Rabbit, and a changing cast of friends and romantic partners, she has built a home that is an ongoing experiment in art, design and aestheticized living, an artist colony conceived in the communal spirit of 20th-century institutions like Roycroft and Black Mountain College, with her own house, just now being finished, at its heart." 
And again, "The idea was to create a place for themselves and other artists to escape New York, and to “move our art practice into a more interactive arena, where things could happen in collaboration,” Ms. Puett said. “If you’re not doing it with and for your friends,” she added of that practice, “then who are you doing it for?” Amen. For more inspiration, read about J. Morgan Puett's home, Mildred Lane.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Mickey Meng

This is my niece, Mickey Meng. She's smart, beautiful and full of life. Although she's never been to Paris, she dreams of far-away places that are vintage and French!! This is for you Mickey!! Have a wonderful summer and we will see you soon - I promise!!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Old Boxes

When traveling around, hunting for old notions, I love seeing the rows and rows of old boxes, stacked up years ago - just waiting to be opened and rifled through. For years, I was only able to see these boxes from the front counter - then after much convincing and sweet-talking, I was able to finally get into the back room, the basement or the attic. These old boxes are usually covered in layers of dust, so I tend to carry around latex gloves with me - otherwise my hands are covered with ancient history within minutes. Constructed out of heavy brown cardboard, made by hand, the boxes have survived being packed in Europe, shipped to New York, unpacked and set up on shelves - where they have sat for years, maturing slowly. I am constantly amazed how well these boxes have held up - I always ask my dealers to ship the goods as is - don't take them out of the boxes. For me, the box provides a bit of history about the item - where it was made - US Occupied Germany - which in turns tells me when it was made - somewhere between 1945-1949. Sometimes the smallest treasures are found in old boxes, like these monogrammed ribbons - originally used for marking laundry. Some of the ribbon has slowly disintegrated over the past 100 or so years, but the boxes are still fully intact. One of these days I have to start unloading these boxes, recycle them and move them out of FG - but for now, they make good storage for old bits and pieces.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Enamel Spittoons

Years ago my mom and I were at a flea market somewhere in the middle of France and I spotted the most wonderful old, French blue, cast-iron "piece" - I was attracted to the color and the weight. I paid $100 for this beautiful scalloped dish - knowing full well I had no idea what it was - but knowing I had to have it. The dish sat around French General for years - with many people inquiring about it and many wanting to buy it. Somewhere around this time, someone came in and told me they thought it was a French spittoon. A spittoon is a receptacle for spit. Hmm...that sounded good - but it seemed a little shallow. Then I found a few more of these cast-iron pieces and sure enough the dealer assured me that these were, in fact, French spittoons. These beautiful, enameled dishes sat on top of the bar counter in 19th century France - even a receptacle for spit was a thing of beauty.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sunday Afternoon

Here's a short film we made - enjoy!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Pool Time

The beginning of summer is here.

Sofia is in the pool perfecting her underwater handstand. Constantly holding her breath, going under water, trying to keep her legs straighter and her toes pointier - this could take her all summer to master. I still do underwater somersaults as soon as I get into a pool - I guess it's just one of those things that makes me feel like a kid - and I'm good at it! I think Sofia will feel the same way about the handstand.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Winner, Winner Chicken Dinner!

The names were written out on a piece of paper, cut up into little strips, one was drawn, and the winner is....Please send us your shipping information and we will ship off your Vintage Fruit Jewelry Kit today! You can e-mail us at: Thank you for all of the nice comments and for playing the game!

Monday, June 09, 2008

Un, deux, trois

A couple of months ago we started a jewelry kit club at French General called Un, deux, trois. Every month I design a new set of jewelry (necklace, bracelet and earrings) to coordinate with our monthly theme. This month the theme is vintage fruit. The only way to join our club is to pay for your year subscription in advance. This eliminates the extra paperwork for me and saves you the shipping charges. Just to shake things up around here - I thought I would give away an Un, deux, trois kit. So if you are feeling kinda lucky, and want to have your name put in the hat, leave me a comment, introduce yourself and at end of the week, Sofia will randomly choose a winner. Bonne Chance!

A Common Interest in the Bizarre

I have a friend in New York, John Derian - who I met through another friend, Alexis Bittar, but that's another story. Molly and I have enjoyed John's friendship ever since he first ventured over to Crosby Street. John is a decoupage artist, although that doesn't begin to describe him. He is actually a curator of the odd and unusual. I share a strange sense of the bizarre with John. I don't know if he actually knows this, but I think we are both attracted to the decaying form of craft.
At his curated shop (or is it shoppe?) in New York City, you will find French ledger books, old slate chalkboards, porcelain body parts, make-do's and unusual sea sponges. John has such a wonderful, odd sense of direction - anything old, organic and hand-made. How about a vintage child's costume? He's opened up a second shop, just two doors east, filled with textiles. Serene, delicate and exotic cloths are strewn about the four walls and floor with an old mirror and lantern hung here and there.

I hear John has designed a line of furniture which he unveiled at Bergdorf Goodman last month - bravo John! Here's to the strange collections - the beetles, bugs butterflies, bones and now...buffets! 

Friday, June 06, 2008

Chenille Pincushions

I'm a little crazy about these chenille pincushions.Made out of old French silk chenille, they are fashioned into different fruits and topped off with a hand-painted velvet leaf. Jody, our master crafter here at French General has come up with all sorts of fun shapes and projects with our huge stock of old wired chenille. These fit in perfectly with our upcoming horticulture theme...coming soon!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The Noble Garden

The garden at French General is in full bloom. The roses are climbing up over the walls, the bougainvillea has almost covered the front door and the vegetables are starting to spring up (minus the beets!) My old gardener, Anselmo, came and helped me plant hollyhocks and lavender as well as an herb garden, heirloom tomatoes, squash and peppers. The hot days of summer are coming, along with the harvest of fresh vegetables!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Car Affair

I am slightly obsessed with cars. Not just any type of car, but old, classic models - the ones that never go out of style. Growing up we were exposed to two types of cars: the Volkswagen Bus and the Mercedes. We went through at least 5 of each.When my dad met my mom he drove the old Citroen 2CV.  My father in-law drove the Citroen DS - nothing better than the classic French car.
My dad never bought new cars, just reliable used ones. My family inherited an old Model T Ford from my mom's dad. Buehla, as she's known, has sat comfortably in our driveway for the past 20 years. Buehla was the car my sister drove to high school everyday. Classic. A couple of years ago my dad went out and bought a Toyota Minivan (?) and my mom bought a convertible BMW (?) - something is very strange. I don't understand why they wouldn't have bought a vintage Mercedes 300 S Coup. I am trying to stay brand loyal - I have driven a Saab for the past 15 years. Lately I have been thinking about switching it up, trying something new - but then today I saw a bumper sticker (another remnant of years gone by which seems to be making a comeback) that said: Gas Sucks - Ride a Bike.

Cherry Picking

A few months ago a man arrived at French General with a huge bouquet of fresh lilacs.  Beautiful, fresh home grown lilacs - I thought I had died and gone to heaven.   A few months earlier, I had contacted Big John's Cherry Orchard to see about coming up and picking cherries with my family. Tim, the owner, decided to come visit us first. With over 300 large and mature cherry trees on 2 and half acres of flat ground, Tim grows Bings, Utah Giants, Black Tartarians, Brooks, Early Burlats, and Rainers completely pesticide free. Each tree gets tender loving care from seedling to full grown tree. They have been using a expert local bee keep for years, which insures natural pollination for every tree. Not only does Tim grow cherries at the orchard, but he has a five acre farm at home where he grows all sorts of lavender varieties and lilacs - hence the delivery to French General!  This weekend, with the cherries in full bloom, we drove an hour north of Los Angeles and set to work picking cherries. After tasting all sorts of delicious cherries we each settled on our favorite tree and picked to our hearts content. Afterwards, Tim took us up to his home where he gave us a full tour of the lavender fields. We set up a picnic under the shade and had a birthday lunch for Sofia. It was a great day - made me want to throw in the towel, move out to the country, plant an organic farm and raise black chickens. Thanks Tim for a wonderful day at your orchard and home, I can't wait to return next season! For those of you nearby Los Angeles, this is the perfect day in the country. Drive up, spend a day cherry picking and meet Tim - you'll come home with baskets full of cherries and a jar or two of his lavender honey.  

Monday, June 02, 2008

Hemp Grain Sacks

Every so often at French General, we have a large amount of these great old homespun hemp grain sacks. At the turn of the last century, farmers used these bags to transport their grain and feed. Rustic with heavy texture and the color of oatmeal, these bags are great for upholstery, pillows, bath mats and even roman blinds. The bags measures approximately 20" wide by 45" long. I use these bags on the floor in the bathroom, the old course hemp absorbs water quickly and resists mildew. Right now we have over 100 bags - all rough and ready to use.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Turning 11

Today is Sofia's 11th birthday.  At 4:21pm today, eleven years ago, I gave birth to the most wonderful baby girl.  Sofia is not only beautiful and funny, she's compassionate and caring beyond her years.  I wish Sofia what she wishes all of her friends, may all of your wishes come true!