Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A World of Holiday Decorations

Around the world, the winter holidays are celebrated in a myriad of ways…

The illuminated Champs-Élysées

The Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center in New York City is perhaps the best known holiday decoration in the United States. This tradition has taken place every year since 1931 with the tree ranging from 30 to 90 feet tall!

The first Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

The current Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center

In Italy, the island of Murano is home to the world’s tallest glass tree. Made entirely of hand blown Murano glass by Simone Cenedese.


At the White House in Washington, D.C., more than 90 volunteers from 24 states help in decorating the presidential residence from top to bottom.

The official White House Christmas tree is displayed in the Blue Room.

The White House gingerbread house (covered in white chocolate), by pastry chef Bill Yosses.

In Budapest, Hungary, “light paintings” by Peter Kozma illuminate the walls of buildings in Roosevelt Square.

Budapest, Hungary

In Curitiba, Brazil, a choir of 160 children sing from the windows of the Palacio Avenida. More than 400 people are involved in the production, including electricians, firemen, producers and 160 “guardian angels” who look after the children.

Curitiba, Brazil

At the Caretta Shiodome in Tokyo, Japan, the plaza is illuminated by tens of thousands of lights with the theme of “Blue Ocean.”



The Red City Hall in Berlin, Germany illuminates its huge Christmas tree with 24,000 white light emitting diodes (LEDs), which create a beautiful effect while using 80 percent less energy than regular lights.


Elsewhere in Berlin, the Hauptbahnhof train station uses over 1,500 stars to decorate the exterior of the station and features a massive Swarovski Christmas tree inside.



Germany is not alone in its use of these dazzling crystals. The main train station in Zurich, Switzerland features a 50-foot tall Christmas tree with more than 5000 Swarovski crystal ornaments.



Holiday decorations go up the world over, from the Colosseum in Rome, Italy…


… to Cheonggyecheon Plaza in South Korea…


… the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France…


… Manila in the Philippines…


… Trafalgar Square in London, England…


… the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee…


… to Melksham, England, where Alex Goodwind has spent over ₤30,000 on his ever-growing collection of decorations.


Whether elaborate or minimalistic, these decorations do more than simply light up the darkness, they bring radiance to this special season.

Christmas Ladder Tree
Posted by Jean-Marc Fray French Antiques at 09:58:00 PM
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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Studios La Victorine

Anouk Aimée on the set of “Bad Meetings” by Alexandre Astruc (1955)

Located in Nice, France, Studios La Victorine were part of the glamorous, would be, French Hollywood begun in the late 1920’s. Founded by Serge Sandberg and Louis Nalpas, the studio had its ups and downs and certainly made its mark on French cinema.


Many silent films were filmed at the Victorine during the 1920’s. When the “talkie” came to prominence, the Victorine was one of the few French movie studios which adapted to the new technology… and profited.

The prop department of Victorine Studios

Elaborate sets at Victorine Studios

After World War II, Victorine experienced yet another boom-time as many filmmakers, screenwriters and actors flocked to Nice. During this time, the studio was responsible for such films as “Les Enfants du Paradis” (“Children of Paradise”) by Marcel Carné (1943), “To Catch a Thief” by Alfred Hitchcock (1955) and “And God Created Woman” starring Brigitte Bardot (1956).

“Les Enfants du Paradis” by Marcel Carné (1943)

Perhaps the most famous movie shot at Victorine was the classic “La Nuit Américaine” (“Day For Night”) by François Truffaut (1972). Truffaut made this film, which revolves around filmmaking itself, in direct homage to the studio.

François Truffaut on the set of “La Nuit Américaine” (1972)

François Truffaut and Jacqueline Bisset on the set of “La Nuit Américaine”

In 1999, a new company, Euro Media, took over the studios and renamed them “Riviera Studios.” Their ambitious plans may, however, be in trouble – the City of Nice owns the property and in 2018 will be able to sell it for development… a future which may limit any further investment in the property. Quel dommage

Posted by Jean-Marc Fray French Antiques at 10:36:00 PM
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Friday, December 04, 2009

The Illustrious SS Normandie

by Lauren Stewart-Ebert

The SS Normandie

The SS Normandie was built in the early 1930’s in Saint-Nazaire, France by the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique. She had a brief (yet fabulous) run…


In the early 1920’s, the United States tightened its immigration policies and the huge steamships which had been mainly devoted to transporting steerage-class passengers had to be replaced by more luxurious liners which could entice middle-class travelers instead.

The British White Star Line and the German Norddeutscher Lloyd were leading this superliner race, Compagnie Générale Transatlantique was not going to be left out. The French line was approached by a former ship architect for the Imperial Russian Navy, Vladimir Yourkevitch. His designs for the new ship were radically different from the status quo, the new ship was to feature a sharply slanted bow (more akin to a clipper than an ocean liner) and a slim hull.

Side view and cutaway view of the SS Normandie

Soon after the stock market crash of 1929, construction began on the still unnamed ship. In the following years, Compagnie Générale Transatlantique had to ask the French government for loans to continue work (as did the White Star Line and Norddeutscher Lloyd of their respective governments).


On October 29, 1932 the newly named Normandie was launched to a crowd of 200,000. However, the ship was only in a completed state on the exterior. Over the next three years, her interiors were outfitted and, finally, in May of 1935, she was ready for a test run.

The launch of the SS Normandie

Yourkevitch’s unique hull design was immediately noteworthy as barely a wave was created when the Normandie reached a top speed of nearly 60 miles per hour. In addition to the new hull shape, Normandie was filled with other new technical acheivements. She had turbo-electric engines, chosen for the their ability to allow full reverse power and an early form of radar (installed to identify other ships and icebergs).

The grand dining hall

The interiors of the Normandie were absolute marvels of Art Deco style. Perhaps the most dazzling feature of the ship was the first class dining room. Over three hundred feet long, forty six feet wide and twenty eight feet high, this was the largest room in any ocean liner. This dining room could accomodate 700 diners at a time and served the most sophisticated French cuisine of the period. Because there was no natural light, the designers illuminated the room with twelve foot tall pillars of Lalique glass and thirty-eight matching columns along the walls. This, along with the many exquisite chandeliers hung throughout the ship, earned the Normandie the nickname “Ship of Light.”

“The History of Navigation”, by Jean Dupas from the Normandie’s first class salon

A mural by Jean Dupas decorated the Normandie’s first class salon and the children’s dining room was decorated by Jean de Brunhoff (creator of Babar the Elephant). The Normandie featured indoor and outdoor swimming pools, dog kennels, a chapel and a theatre.

The theatre of the SS Normandie

The kennels of the SS Normandie

The grand salon of the SS Normandie

The maiden voyage of the Normandie took place on May 29, 1935 in Le Havre, France. 50,000 people watched as the boat steamed away. The Normandie reached New York City in only four days, three hours and fourteen minutes, setting a new record.

During her short but illustrious career, the Normandie carried a number of distinguished passengers including Ernest Hemingway, Noel Coward, Irving Berlin, Marlene Dietrich, Carey Grant, Walt Disney, Jimmy Stewart and the von Trapp family singers.

Cary Grant and Marlene Dietrich aboard the SS Normandie

At the outbreak of World War II the Normandie was docked at New York Harbor. After France fell to the Germans in 1940, the United States seized the Normandie. By 1941, the U.S. Navy began converting the Normandie into a troopship to be renamed the USS Lafayette.

On February 9, 1942, sparks from a welding torch ignited a stack of life vests and the fire rapidly spread. Although the ship had a state-of-the-art fire prevention system, it had been deactivated during the refitting and New York City fire department’s hoses did not fit the ship’s French inlets.

The SS Normandie ablaze

The SS Normandie ablaze

Firefighters on shore attempted to douse the blaze, however, as the ship filled with water it developed a severe list and at 2:45 a.m. on February 10, 1942, the USS Lafayette capsized.

The capsized SS Normandie in the winter of 1942

Due to the exorbitant costs, the ship was not restored. In 1946, the Normandie was sold as scrap for a mere $161,680.

Many rescued items from the Normandie are still regarded as masterpieces of the Art Deco period and have been sold at auction since her demise, including the massive Lalique lights which adorned the dining hall, pieces of furniture by Jules Leleu and Andre Arbus and much of the crystal and silverware made especially for the ship.

A rosewood and velvet chaise lounge by Jules Leleu, commissioned for the SS Normandie circa 1935

A pair of mahogany armchairs by Pierre Patout, commissioned for the SS Normandie circa 1934

Although the Normandie is no more, her presence is still felt. She influenced the designs of the Queen Mary 2 and Disney’s matching cruise ships the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder. The Normandie Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico was built as an homage the ship and the Miottel Museum located in Berkley, California has a large collection of Normandie memorabilia.

Posted by Jean-Marc Fray French Antiques at 07:08:00 PM
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Friday, December 04, 2009

Designer Profile: Mark Ashby Design


Introducing: Mark Ashby
A Louisiana native, Mark Ashby moved to Austin and began his design business in 1997. A year later, he co-founded Ashby Ames with design partner, Mary Ames. Over the years, his business evolved into the design collaborative Mark Ashby Design. His design team is housed in a historic building in the heart of downtown Austin where they specialize in residential design. Mark’s work has been featured in publications such as Traditional Home, Western Interiors, Tribeza, Austin Monthly Home, Better Homes and Gardens, and Southern Living.


Shop Talk: Five Minutes With Mark Ashby

How would you define your approach to interior design?
My approach is to incorporate clients’ tastes and inspirations into a design that stays timeless.

What would you say has made the greatest influence on you as a designer?
Early advice from family on the importance of antiques and imparting history and warmth to a space. Studying placement and scale from my favorite decorator, Albert Hadley.

What do you think is the key to a successful designer/client relationship?
The key to success is mutual respect and an ability to convey ideas that resonate with our clients.

Where do you go/what do you do for inspiration?
I love the sophistication of big cities tempered with the down home approachability I find in more rural areas. From Texas ranches and what they represent to the down home charm of Lousiana.

What do you do when you are not designing?
When not working, I’m tinkering with my own house and garden. Entertaining friends, although that can mean Pizza Hut and Champagne. I love to immerse myself in a pile of newspapers and a month’s worth of periodicals with dogs on my lap.

Mark Ashby’s Designer Picks from Jean-Marc Fray French Antiques:

Italian hand painted night stands, c. 1850. $6500.

French Art Deco period brass bench, c. 1920. $2500

Original oil on canvas by Meredith Pardue: “Unbound. Part Two of a Rainstorm”. $9000.


French Art Deco walnut armchairs, c. 1920. $3200.


Pair of Spanish gold leafed sunburst mirrors, c. 1920. $6400.

For more information about Mark Ashby Design:
Mark Ashby Design
607 Nueces – Austin, TX 78701
tel: 512.524.1220
fax: 512.524.0043
email: info@markashbydesign.com

Posted by Jean-Marc Fray French Antiques at 05:19:00 PM
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