Thursday, August 19, 2010

Places We Love…


It’s easy to get sucked into a tourist trap in an international vacation destination like Nice, France and during the summer months it is especially hard to find a decent restaurant – that time of year the prices are higher, the food lousier and the service, well, sometimes non-existent.

However, even in the peak of the summer season, there is one special place in the middle of the Old Town (“Le Vieux Nice”) that is consistent, delicious and cheap to boot! It’s a place we return to time and time again, all year round, never tiring of their typically niçois fare: Chez René Socca.

René Socca, as its name indicates, specializes in Socca – a delicious, giant chick-pea crepe of sorts that is baked to perfection in wood burning stoves, served piping hot with salt and pepper, wrapped in paper and eaten with your fingers (watch out – it’s hot!) and washed down preferably with ice cold rosé wine (if you’re old enough, of course). Satisfying and nutritious, it is a great little snack that you find only in Nice.

Pan full of Socca, fresh out of the oven.

Of course, René Socca serves other spécialités niçoises such as “beignets de fleurs de courgettes” (fried zucchini flowers), “farcis” (stuffed vegetables), “pissaladiere” (caramelized onion pizza), and “tourte de blettes” (Swiss chard tart, served sweet or savory), just to name a few.

Beignets de fleurs de courgettes.

Counter service at Rene Socca.

What’s great about this place is it’s open all day long, you stand in line at the counter, order your food and sit down at the little wooden tables outside and eat. Drinks are served at your table from the bar across the street. What could be simpler? It’s been there for as long as I can remember (that’s a long time) and it’s cheap! A serving of socca is about 2 euros and an ample snack for two on its own, but you won’t be able to resist all the other goods – much too tempting! Bon Appétit!

Jean-Marc queuing up for socca!

Order’s up!
Juliette patiently waiting for the first bite…

2 rue Miralhéti
06300 NICE

Posted by Jean-Marc Fray French Antiques at 08:38:00 PM
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Thursday, August 19, 2010

The French Club Chair – Legendary and Luxurious

In 1925, the Paris Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes was a defining moment in the history of furniture design and art and the birthplace of what would later become the Art Deco style and period which extended through the 1940s.  The pure lines, geometric forms and right angles were an inspiration for sleek, modern furniture design and the créateurs of the time jumped on it.

Luxury, perfection, comfort
One particularly popular chair was born around 1929; simply called the “fauteuil confortable” or “comfortable armchair”, it was a French armchair introduced to the market by way of the French and English gentlemen’s clubs that were trendy at the time – a place where men could meet and get away from their homes (and wives) for awhile. Once there, a gentleman would sink into a well-upholstered, comfortable leather chair and relax with a drink and perhaps a cigar.  Over time, people started referring to this coveted chair simply as a “Club Chair”.

French Art Deco Club Chair with original leather, c. 1930

Roundish forms and “basané” lambskin leather were typical for club chairs fabricated in France and would prove to become a sort of trademark for French club chairs (as opposed to English club chairs).  A product of both the French and English by its history, this chair was timeless in its style – a classic that would be appreciated by all for generations.

French Art Deco Club Chair, c. 1940.
English Chesterfield Club Chair, c. 1930.

A time for relaxation…
The Club Chair was an essential part of 20th century luxury furniture, and its longevity, modernism and refinement are still very much admired today. Its round form was legendary but evolved with time into new forms such as the “moustache” form with lip like curves across the back or the “chapeau de gendarme” with its elegant arch-like curve.  The leather, the supple lines, the low seat and snug fit were seductive and indicative of absolute comfort. Men (and women) could sit in them for hours and never want to get up!

“Moustache” back French club chair, c. 1930.
French Club Chair with “Chapeau de Gendarme” back, c. 1930.

Today these chairs continue to work their magic, adding that touch of class and luxury to any living or sitting area. An authentic French club chair, with striking lines, perfect proportions and beautiful patina on original, full panels of leather can’t be matched by modern knock-offs and reproductions which are often over-sized and pieced together with smaller pieces of lower quality leather.

Beautiful round curves accent the armrest of a French Art Deco club chair.
Full panel leather on the back of a French Art Deco club chair.
Original tacks line the back of a French Art Deco club chair.

Club chairs simply exude character and luxury, they offer an instant sense of history to any room they inhabit. So go ahead, indulge, kick off your heels and take a load off…

Absolute luxury…
Posted by Jean-Marc Fray French Antiques at 07:01:00 PM
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Friday, August 06, 2010

Frank Lloyd Wright’s “La Miniatura”

“I would rather have built this little house than Saint Peter’s in Rome” — Frank Lloyd Wright

The Millard House, “La Miniatura”

Frank Lloyd Wright is undoubtedly one of the most well known and respected architects of the last hundred years. Best known for his development of the Prairie style house and, his masterpiece, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City, Wright’s work includes many unique and innovative designs.

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum

In the early 1920’s Wright felt stuck as the “Prairie house architect” and sought to expand his architectural sphere. He began a series of textile-block houses in Los Angeles County.

Model for the Millard House

Architectural drawings of the Millard House

The textile-block houses were built of patterned concrete blocks. Not only did Wright want to develop a simple and inexpensive method of construction, he also wished to push himself into new territories by using concrete, “the cheapest (and ugliest) thing in the building world,” to create a place of beauty.

The concrete blocks used to build the Millard House

The first of these textile-block houses was the Millard House (also known as “La Miniatura” due to its relatively small size), commissioned by Alice Millard in 1923. Surrounded by trees and nestled against a steep ravine, Wright wanted to incorporate the house to its lush surroundings. To this end, he used sand, gravel and other minerals found on the property to make the concrete blocks.

Although the design was a departure from Wright’s prior work, it was in line with his lifelong love of natural building materials and his belief that buildings should complement their surroundings.

The interior of the house features tall, slender windows letting in soft, filtered light and high, redwood paneled ceilings, all meant to incorporate the natural elements surrounding the house.

The critical response to Wright’s textile-block houses was unfavorable at first. The New York Times wrote, “It didn’t help that he was obsessed at the time with an untested and (supposedly) low-cost method of concrete-block construction. What kind of rich person, many wondered, would want to live in such a house?”

Over the years attitudes shifted profoundly and the Millard House has come to be regarded as one of Wright’s finest works. As the Los Angeles Times wrote in 1965, “Environmentally, the place is fascinating because it still looks modern in a neighborhood that is gracious but aging. Or, maybe better, the Millard house is of no time and its own place.”

Posted by Jean-Marc Fray French Antiques at 09:36:00 PM
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