In Pursuit of the Provençal

The colorful styles of Provence have made their mark on the world of design. Here we uncover the shops, ateliers, and markets where it all began.

There is Provence, of course, and then there is "Provençal." While Provence has been content to stay put over the last few millennia, luring romantics and sensualists to its colorful landscape, "Provençal"—the once-humble region's evocative, inimitable style, found everywhere from the chic-rustique homes and lifestyle to the sunny, savory, herb-fragrant cuisine—has gone out and conquered the world. Twenty-one years ago, when I began working on a book about French Country style with Pierre Moulin and Pierre Le Vec, the founders of the Pierre Deux French Country empire, that craze for all things Provençal was still in its infancy. Today, a generation later, the craze is a well-entrenched global phenomenon.

Over the last year I've had the opportunity to spend several months in Provence producing a new book. In the course of seeking out the best of all things authentically Provençal, I visited dozens of regional shops, ateliers, and markets. From fabrics to faience to furniture, I was thoroughly impressed by the high quality and diversity of many of the items offered. (This is not to suggest that everything is great; the vast seasonal tourist markets are flooded with poor facsimiles.)

I returned home with notebooks full of sources for authentic elements that together compose une ambiance provençale. Even better, my quest for the best of Provençal style—carved armoires in honey-hued walnut, 19th-century limestone mantels, embroidered linen tablecloths in subtle hues of wheat—took me through some of Provence's most beautiful countryside, from the heady reaches of Moustiers-Ste.-Marie—a hilltop village in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence famous for its faience—to the sun-washed splendor of the Rhône delta. Provence is a cornucopia of regional treasures—if only you know where to look.


Furniture

During the 18th-century glory years of French furniture design, much of the best Provençal furniture came from the wealthy Bouches-du-Rhône—the environs of Arles, Avignon, Beaucaire and Tarascon—which is still home to some of the best antiques dealers. Here and elsewhere you'll discover that many of today's top dealers also create their own reproductions, using old techniques and aged woods. The attics of everyone's dear old tantes and grand-mères are pretty much picked clean, and authentic 18th- and early-19th-century Provençal furniture is getting evermore difficult to find. Nowadays even the region's most glamorous houses proudly display handsome reproductions among the antiques.

F. Dervieux For more than a century, the name F. Dervieux has been synonymous with quality and authenticity in Provençal furniture, both 18th- and 19th-century antiques and fine reproductions. In a spacious 18th-century townhouse in Arles, Frédéric Dervieux offers richly patinated examples of classic antique Provençal pieces, such as the panetière, an elaborately sculpted cage for storing bread; voluminous armoires, once part of a young bride's dowry, traditionally carved with hearts, doves, flowers and wheat; and the buffet à glissant, an elegant, and now rare, two-tiered cabinet with a traditional buffet bottom and a recessed tier on top with two ornately carved sliding panels.

There are also smaller pieces. "Here is a splendid early-nineteenth-century verrier, an étagère for glasses," says Dervieux, taking me on a short tour of his shop's highlights, "very charming, quite rare, with escargot feet and two little drawers." It was indeed a little beauty, but at $5,435 just un peu cher. Instead I bought, for $62, an unusual 1950s Vallauris ceramic cheese plate with a trompe l'oeil bamboo design and a palm-frond base with a delicate handle of wrought iron. Dervieux also sells a terrific line of Provençal reproductions, which are created on-site in his ground-floor atelier. At 5 Rue Vernon, Arles; 33-4-90-96-02-39; www.dervieux.com.

Antiquités Maurin On the bank of the Rhône, a short walk from Dervieux, you'll find Antiquités Maurin, another old family business with an eclectic assortment of regional antiques and objets d'art. Two generations run the shop, Raymond and Elisabeth Maurin and their daughter, Caroline. Three almost-contiguous shops hold a large, somewhat unedited collection of antiques and vintage collectibles, along with some fine 17th- through 19th-century Provençal furniture—armoires, credenzas, tables, commodes—in glowing fruitwood, as well as the occasional reproduction. There are also small bibelots such as bistro glassware, Gallé crystal, and large santons, Nativity figures of glazed clay, by the famous turn-of-the-century santonnière Simone Jouclas. In their newest and smallest shop I was mesmerized by a beautiful 18th-century mirror that had a lavishly sculpted and gilded wooden frame and its original mercury glass. It was $6,000 and came with an expert's certificate of authenticity, as do all of Maurin's best pieces.

The Maurins also still find some extremely collectible paintings by Provençal masters, the best-known and the most important of whom is Auguste Chabaud, a Provençal Expressionist who had an early Fauve period in Paris. "We have very good relations with Chabaud's great-grandson, and with the Chabaud Museum in Graveson," notes Caroline. "When there is a Chabaud that an estate wants to sell, the painting often comes to us." A rare Chabaud of a shepherd and his flock, moody, dark, and haunting, hung on a wall above a collection of pottery, awaiting a buyer with $20,000. I knew it wouldn't have to wait for long. At 4 Rue de Grille, Arles; 33-4-90-96-51-57; www.antiquites-maurin.com.

Bruno Carles While not exactly in Provence, Bruno Carles' shop in Lunel, a short drive southwest of Nîmes, should be on your itinerary if you're in the market for beautiful specimens of huge antique Anduze garden pots, 18th-century rush-bottomed banquettes called radassiers, or some extraordinary reproduction painted furniture. Authentic 18th- and early-19th-century vases or pots d'Anduze, with their wonderful mottled green glazes and long, graceful lines, are difficult to find; a good one, such as the pots you'll see here, runs about $2,500. "It's rare to come upon a true antique Anduze pot these days, even for a dealer," says the genial Carles. "They're expensive, but they were beautifully made, entirely by hand in three separate pieces—the border on top, the body, and the base. And the glaze was lead-based, which gave the pots their distinctive green tones." Carles is also well known for his "ré-éditions"—reproductions that range from highly detailed figurative armoires painted in the unique style of Uzès (I particularly loved the small yellow-and-gray armoire decorated with period découpage engravings for $4,575), to a modest rush-seated Louis XVI-style stool. $ At 209-235 Avenue de Lattre de Tassigny, Lunel; 33-4-67-71-36-10; www.brunocarles.fr. Bruno Carles While not exactly in Provence, Bruno Carles' shop in Lunel, a short drive southwest of Nîmes, should be on your itinerary if you're in the market for beautiful specimens of huge antique Anduze garden pots, 18th-century rush-bottomed banquettes called radassiers, or some extraordinary reproduction painted furniture. Authentic 18th- and early-19th-century vases or pots d'Anduze, with their wonderful mottled green glazes and long, graceful lines, are difficult to find; a good one, such as the pots you'll see here, runs about $2,500. "It's rare to come upon a true antique Anduze pot these days, even for a dealer," says the genial Carles. "They're expensive, but they were beautifully made, entirely by hand in three separate pieces—the border on top, the body, and the base. And the glaze was lead-based, which gave the pots their distinctive green tones." Carles is also well known for his "ré-éditions"—reproductions that range from highly detailed figurative armoires painted in the unique style of Uzès (I particularly loved the small yellow-and-gray armoire decorated with period découpage engravings for $4,575), to a modest rush-seated Louis XVI-style stool. $ At 209-235 Avenue de Lattre de Tassigny, Lunel; 33-4-67-71-36-10; www.brunocarles.fr.

Robert Reyre In his tiny shop in the heart of old Aix, the personable Mr. Reyre carries a select collection of primarily 18th-century furniture (refined rather than rustic), paintings, and objets from Provence and other regions as well. When I visited recently, I found Reyre perched on a rush-seated banquette, his arm casually draped over a large 19th-century carved wooden putti, or cupid, with a bronze-like patina. Other treasures included a superb 18th-century folding screen painted with a soft-focus pastoral scene ($9,200) and a lavishly carved 19th-century walnut copy of a Louis XV commode from Arles. $ At 7 Rue Granet, Aix-en-Provence; 33-4-42-23-31-44. Robert Reyre In his tiny shop in the heart of old Aix, the personable Mr. Reyre carries a select collection of primarily 18th-century furniture (refined rather than rustic), paintings, and objets from Provence and other regions as well. When I visited recently, I found Reyre perched on a rush-seated banquette, his arm casually draped over a large 19th-century carved wooden putti, or cupid, with a bronze-like patina. Other treasures included a superb 18th-century folding screen painted with a soft-focus pastoral scene ($9,200) and a lavishly carved 19th-century walnut copy of a Louis XV commode from Arles. $ At 7 Rue Granet, Aix-en-Provence; 33-4-42-23-31-44.

Vincent Mit L'Ane/Jean-Jacques Bourgeois Jean-Jacques Bourgeois' antiques shop has for many years been a top address in this celebrated antiques town, known internationally as a collector's Mecca. Bourgeois, who lives primarily by candlelight in his nearby hillside home, is an unapologetic romantic. "I can't bear modern things!" he declares, somewhat unnecessarily. His shop, which overlooks the Sorgue River, is a charming and welcoming pastiche of several small rooms, chock-a-block with period furniture, such as an original Louis XV litoche (a sculpted Provençal bedstead), a rare Directoire panetière, and a recent ensemble that included an early-19th-century painted buffet à deux corps, or chest-on-chest, painted blue with a red interior, a 19th-century chandelier, and new dining chairs in the Louis XVI-style with rush seats.

I have a weakness for vintage china, and Bourgeois' table had been laid with a Limoges table service from the 1930s. White with discreet bands of blue and gold around the border, it was attractively priced at $600 for 58 pieces, and I eyed it with longing. Bourgeois additionally produces a line of handcrafted reproductions available under the sobriquet Vincent Mît L'Âne. All the elements in his cozy world harmonize with the sort of natural effortlessness you'll find in a French country house that has been passed down through the generations. At 5 Avenue des Quatre Otages, L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue; 33-4-90-20-63-15.

Nathalie Légier Just across the narrow river Sorgue from Jean-Jacques Bourgeois, behind a gurgling moss-covered fountain, you'll find the vivacious Nathalie Légier, the fourth-generation owner of her family's antiques business, which was founded in 1890. Her inviting shop is a trove of period Provençal furniture, including elaborately sculpted panetières and other classic Provençal pieces such as the pétrin, a trough-shaped chest with a hinged top set on sturdy carved legs, which was designed for the preparation of bread. "I grew up with all this," Légier notes, gesturing at the gleaming Provençal pieces, "and I developed a real passion and respect for the furniture of my region. I am still dazzled by the richness of the wood and the work, the beautiful symbols—wheat, hearts, doves—used as decor, and especially the history, the provenance, of each piece." I was taken with a superb, rare 18th-century walnut panetière in the elegantly restrained style of Fourques—no decorative motifs, just sensuous panels and molding—which was $6,100. There are also smaller "impulse items" chez Nathalie, among them a stack of Napoleon III dinner plates aswarm with bees and a swan-necked pitcher of green ceramic called a Demoiselle d'Avignon. On Avenue des Quatre Otages, L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue; 33-4-90-38-03-30; www.antic-shop.com.

Catherine Ligeard In addition to high-end antiques dealers, Provence abounds with charming brocantes—modest emporiums that are roughly a cross between an antiques shop and a good secondhand store. The typical brocante carries an eclectic mix of furniture, bibelots, kitchenware, paintings, and old photos, usually from the late-19th- to mid-20th centuries. Even the smallest villages usually have one or two brocantes, some of which are very good, with carefully selected merchandise at reasonable prices.

One excellent brocante is Catherine Ligeard's tiny shop in the captivating Luberon village of Goult. "I've always loved antiques . . . all these little objets with former lives. My mother would have liked to be an antiques dealer, so in a way I am fulfilling her dream," says the sympathetic Ligeard. "When I buy things for the shop, I buy things that I love, and sometimes it breaks my heart to sell them."

Ligeard always has something I want. A recent visit yielded turn-of-the-century painted brass sconces ($150) and embroidered linen towels ($20 each); on a previous visit, I left with a rustic 19th-century lantern ($80) and an early-1900s beveled-glass frame holding a photo of a wistful young World War I recruit in the French army ($50). They all now reside in my living room, and when I look at them I think of Ligeard's shop and the little village of Goult, where I have spent many delightful weeks. $ On Rue de la République, Goult; 33-4-90-72-21-81. Ligeard always has something I want. A recent visit yielded turn-of-the-century painted brass sconces ($150) and embroidered linen towels ($20 each); on a previous visit, I left with a rustic 19th-century lantern ($80) and an early-1900s beveled-glass frame holding a photo of a wistful young World War I recruit in the French army ($50). They all now reside in my living room, and when I look at them I think of Ligeard's shop and the little village of Goult, where I have spent many delightful weeks. $ On Rue de la République, Goult; 33-4-90-72-21-81.

Monleau Artisans have been crafting traditional rush-seated chairs in the village of Vallabrègues—about a 25-minute drive southwest of Avignon—for centuries; many of the ateliers date back to the 1800s. One of the oldest, founded in 1872, is Monleau, a fifth-generation company with a large catalogue of chairs and a worldwide clientele. Here you'll find 18th-century-style radassiers (wooden settees with armrests), broad Louis XV-style bergère armchairs, stools, and children's chairs. "In spite of some modern improvements like electricity and good tools," says Eric Monleau, the current director, "we still work the old-fashioned way, with men turning and finishing the wood and women weaving the straw seats." I have always loved the most famous of Monleau's chairs—the Chaise Camarguaise, better known as the "Van Gogh chair," a small, simple, rush-seated side chair immortalized by Van Gogh in a 1888 painting. It sells for $116. Monleau offers any number of finishes for his chairs, and you can even choose the exact shade of straw you want for the seats. At 44 Rue Nationale, Vallabrègues; 33-4-66-59-20-17; www.monleau.com.


Fabrics

What would Provence—or Provençal, for that matter—be without its signature brilliantly colored floral-sprigged and paisley-patterned cottons? Today these fabrics, which were made famous by the Deméry family's Souleiado company, still saturate the region, but not all of it is high-quality merchandise. Cheap industrial imitations are ubiquitous in outdoor markets and tourist shops from Nice to St.-Rémy-de-Provence. The best quality and selection are still produced by a handful of companies, including Souleiado and its competitors: Les Olivades, Indiennes Valdrôme, and Mistral.

Florals and paisleys are hardly démodé, but new fabrics, motifs and colorations have recently attracted trendsetters and decorators in Provence. The new palette is softer, muted, restrained. There are lovely two-tone toile fabrics in shades of mauve, hay, olive, or blue, as well as sumptuous linen fabrics in the soft neutral tones sand, beige, and taupe. In addition to fabrics and fabric accessories for the home, many shops also offer clothes with which to carry le style provençal into your wardrobe.

Souleiado It may be under new ownership, but Souleiado is still printing kilometers of the fabrics that brought them fame under the helm of Charles Deméry. The design for those early fabrics was based on hand-blocked 18th- and 19th-century Provençal cottons that themselves had been inspired by 17th-century Indiennes—the brightly hued and exotic cottons brought into Marseille from India on the great ships of the Compagnie des Indes Orientales. "Souleiado has represented the tradition, art, spirit, and the style of Provence for more than sixty years," says Colette Nicollin, Souleiado's new owner and director. "We intend to keep the best of the old tradition while steering Souleiado into the twenty-first century with new fabric designs that continue the company's image and spirit."

Within the walled Tarascon compound you will find a boutique of fabrics, tableware and ready-to-wear items. I have always loved Souleiado's table linens—their brilliant colors last for years, through many washings—and was lured by a vivid round tablecloth in a sunny new combination of ocher-yellow-and-blue prints that had been arrayed in wide concentric bands ($105 for the 72-inch round). Across the way is a fascinating in-house museum of Provençal style, with regional fabrics, faience, and furniture from Deméry's collections. At 39 Rue Proudhon, Tarascon (company headquarters with boutiques throughout France); 33-4-90-91-08-80; www.soleiado.com.

Les Olivades Founded by a Deméry cousin following a family dispute, Les Olivades is today under the ownership of Françoise and Jean-Francois Boudin. You will find all of the traditional Provençal florals and paisleys here, as well as handsome jacquard weaves done in rich colorations. There's an abundance of lovely deep-reds and ocher-yellows, which are colors the Boudins particularly like. "Red and yellow are the traditional colors of Provence, especially of the Luberon," notes Françoise. "These warm colors symbolize welcome and are perfect for use in the entry hall of your home, as we do in Avignon." Les Olivades recently launched a beautiful collection of toiles patterned after the fabrics that were produced in 18th-century Aix-en-Provence, replete with lovely maidens, garlands, and cupidons, or capricious little cupids. I found these toiles (priced at $38 a yard) completely charming, as well as more original than the toile de Jouy patterns that are reproduced everywhere these days. The shop additionally carries tablecloths, placemats, jeans and shirts, cosmetic cases, all adorned with the signature Les Olivades patterns. On Chemin des Indienneurs, St.-Etienne-du-Grès (company headquarters, with boutiques found throughout France); 33-4-90-49-19-19; www.les-olivades.com.

Edith Mézard Hand-stitched in the luminous atelier above the shop, the exquisite household linens of Edith Mézard adorn some of the world's most exclusive tables. These linens are romantic, ephemeral, incomparable. Sought-after items include translucent cotton voile napkins embroidered with the names and blossoms of thyme, lavender, and other herbs ($28 each), fagotted linen placemats, and pillows stitched with the word ange—angel—a reference to Mézard's adjoining home, the Château de l'Ange.

For the most part, a soft, natural palette dominates. "I consider whites, grays, and beiges as colors, not the absence of color, and really love them," says the blond, soft-spoken Mézard. "But in my new collection, I use a soft, subtle green on natural linen, so you see, I'm expanding my horizons." Mézard can also produce sheer voile curtains that are stitched with quotes from Provençal writers and philosophers, such as Jean Giono and René Char, or anyone else whose words you love. $ Château de l'Ange, Lumières, Goult; 33-4-90-72-36-41. For the most part, a soft, natural palette dominates. "I consider whites, grays, and beiges as colors, not the absence of color, and really love them," says the blond, soft-spoken Mézard. "But in my new collection, I use a soft, subtle green on natural linen, so you see, I'm expanding my horizons." Mézard can also produce sheer voile curtains that are stitched with quotes from Provençal writers and philosophers, such as Jean Giono and René Char, or anyone else whose words you love. $ Château de l'Ange, Lumières, Goult; 33-4-90-72-36-41.

La Maison Biehn Michel Biehn is the doyen of antique Provençal fabrics and the traditional, recherché Provençal quilts that are known either as boutis (pure white bridal quilts where each motif on the quilt is individually stitched, then stuffed) or piqués (a traditional quilt of vivid Provençal cottons). Biehn carries primarily the color-saturated piqués. "Here is a very good quality piqué," he says, pointing out an 18th-century king-size quilt featuring tiny red and blue flowers on a white ground on one side, and deep indigo-blue fabric on the other—it sells for $2,300. "It's quite exceptional because you can also see bits of yellow and green still evident; yellow and green were not colorfast colors in the eighteenth century, and usually fade away over time." Biehn also offers vibrant, exotic women's ready-to-wear, some from India and China, and a variety of rustic-contemporary linens and household accessories, some made from antique fabrics. I was dazzled by a group of dramatic oversized pillows made from richly textured indigo and white 18th-century cotton from Avignon, which were $200 to $300 each. At 7 Avenue des Quatre Otages, Isle-sur-la-Sorgue; 33-4-90-20-89-04.

Camille en Provence Luxe and lavish fabrications are the order of the day in this elegant house-cum-shop run by decorator Aline Steinbach and her husband, Erwin, whose antiques business dominates the lower level of the house. (He specializes in rare, often massive 15th- to 18th-century high-end furniture from across Europe.) Aline creates extravagantly beautiful lined tablecloths, table runners, pillows, and curtains that combine several fabrics—elegant toiles bordered by simple beige linen, for example, or taffetas partnered with cotton and trimmed with silk.

"I love subtle natural tones on cottons and linens for a simple, relaxed elegant look," says Aline. "For a different mood and look I prefer rich, jewel-toned taffetas, silk tassels, and bold Italian prints. I feature collections for both moods in my shop"—soothing Naturals and the luxe Baroque.

I could not resist two items from the Naturals collection—a wonderful beige-and-white linen tablecloth embroidered with bees ($275) and a gauzy beige linen table runner ($75) adorned with tiny silk embroidered roses so fine that I have actually worn it as a scarf. Creations by Camille en Provence adorn houses not only in Provence (particularly the Luberon) but also in Paris and chic enclaves of the United States such as Amelia Island, Florida, where Aline, who is fluent in English, has decorated several homes. $ Lumières, Goult; 33-4-90-72-35-45. I could not resist two items from the Naturals collection—a wonderful beige-and-white linen tablecloth embroidered with bees ($275) and a gauzy beige linen table runner ($75) adorned with tiny silk embroidered roses so fine that I have actually worn it as a scarf. Creations by Camille en Provence adorn houses not only in Provence (particularly the Luberon) but also in Paris and chic enclaves of the United States such as Amelia Island, Florida, where Aline, who is fluent in English, has decorated several homes. $ Lumières, Goult; 33-4-90-72-35-45.

L'Atelier du Presbytère Ensconced in a small stone village house and adjoining stable in the heart of Vallabrègues, the village known for its basket making and its rush-seated chairs, is Françoise and Thierry Méchin-Pellet's cozy shop. The Méchin-Pellets offer unique lampshades, placemats, aprons, pillows, curtains, tablecloths, and romantic blouses, dresses and skirts, all made from vintage fabrics. On a recent visit I found a particularly lovely set of placemats, each composed of an antique monogrammed white napkin in the center and a border of soft gray linen, for $48 apiece. "We love the idea of giving new life to old textiles," says Françoise, who with her husband ferrets out vintage "grandmother" nightgowns, embroidered sheets and pillowcases, towels of heavy cotton or linen, and remnants of printed cottons at flea markets and estate sales throughout France. The shop also sells the couple's appealing brocante discoveries, which include unmatched porcelain dinner plates, turn-of-the-century crystal, and gracefully scalloped bronze candlesticks dating to the 1920s, a pair of which I purchased for $40. $ At 10 Rue du Presbytère, Vallabrègues; 33-4-66-59-37-37. L'Atelier du Presbytère Ensconced in a small stone village house and adjoining stable in the heart of Vallabrègues, the village known for its basket making and its rush-seated chairs, is Françoise and Thierry Méchin-Pellet's cozy shop. The Méchin-Pellets offer unique lampshades, placemats, aprons, pillows, curtains, tablecloths, and romantic blouses, dresses and skirts, all made from vintage fabrics. On a recent visit I found a particularly lovely set of placemats, each composed of an antique monogrammed white napkin in the center and a border of soft gray linen, for $48 apiece. "We love the idea of giving new life to old textiles," says Françoise, who with her husband ferrets out vintage "grandmother" nightgowns, embroidered sheets and pillowcases, towels of heavy cotton or linen, and remnants of printed cottons at flea markets and estate sales throughout France. The shop also sells the couple's appealing brocante discoveries, which include unmatched porcelain dinner plates, turn-of-the-century crystal, and gracefully scalloped bronze candlesticks dating to the 1920s, a pair of which I purchased for $40. $ At 10 Rue du Presbytère, Vallabrègues; 33-4-66-59-37-37.

Camille Those captivated by the rough-riding cowboys of Provence, known as gardiens, should head to Camille, which specializes in the gardiens' colorful outfits: brightly printed shirts, snug black or gray pants, and black velour jackets. The store has been "Gardien Central" since 1932, says the owner, Christian Bessou, who pulls out a client list that includes the names of such decidedly non-cowboy clients as the Rothschilds, French film stars, local photographers, and Paris television personalities. The store is as simple and utilitarian as its location, on a broad commercial street leading out of town, but the clothes are distinctive. I had to have three of their long-sleeved cotton shirts in vibrant Provençal prints, which were $39 apiece. Camille also offers heavy padded-corduroy jackets for cold-weather riding; sexy, (very) form-fitting gray or black riding pants, chaps, belts, bolos, and more. $ At 5 Boulevard Georges Clémenceau, Arles; 33-4-90-96-04-94. Camille Those captivated by the rough-riding cowboys of Provence, known as gardiens, should head to Camille, which specializes in the gardiens' colorful outfits: brightly printed shirts, snug black or gray pants, and black velour jackets. The store has been "Gardien Central" since 1932, says the owner, Christian Bessou, who pulls out a client list that includes the names of such decidedly non-cowboy clients as the Rothschilds, French film stars, local photographers, and Paris television personalities. The store is as simple and utilitarian as its location, on a broad commercial street leading out of town, but the clothes are distinctive. I had to have three of their long-sleeved cotton shirts in vibrant Provençal prints, which were $39 apiece. Camille also offers heavy padded-corduroy jackets for cold-weather riding; sexy, (very) form-fitting gray or black riding pants, chaps, belts, bolos, and more. $ At 5 Boulevard Georges Clémenceau, Arles; 33-4-90-96-04-94.


Faience

Provence is a region rich in clay, and over the centuries several towns, among them Aubagne, Moustiers-Ste.-Marie, and Apt, have grown famous for their faience—earthenware pottery that is sometimes glazed and sometimes left unadorned, a bare, beautiful terra cotta. The most traditional glazes are mustard-yellow and emerald-green, or, in the case of faience from Moustiers, an opaque white glaze with blue or polychrome decorative motifs. (Most glazes are lead-free, but ask to be certain.) From tiles to tableware, tiny pitchers to enormous garden pots, Provençal faience is an integral element in French country style. There are cheap knock-offs aplenty on the market, so if you want true quality, seek out the best.

Atelier Soleil Clinging to the cliffs in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, the dramatic village of Moustiers has been renowned for its potters since the 17th century. The distinctive faience is fashioned from red clay, then glazed white with blue or polychrome decoration—flowers, impish medieval grotesques—little half-man half-beast creatures—or revolutionary slogans. The red clay under the opaque white glaze gives the faience its characteristic glow. Many shops and ateliers line the little streets of Moustiers. One of the best is the Atelier Soleil, which is run by Franck Scherer, son of decorator Tonia Peyrot, the former owner of the renowned Atelier de Ségriès. Scherer perpetuates the tradition and quality of Ségriès, as well as Moustiers, by producing beautiful faience in a wide range of traditional designs. But he has also designed contemporary styles and motifs; some of these grace his new collection of elegant plates, which are stippled with a border of pin-dot holes and accented with gold or platinum glaze. "We respect our ancestors and learn from them," says Scherer. "But it is for us to mark the twentieth and the twenty-first centuries with designs of our own, as our ancestors marked the eighteenth century."

Years ago I had received a set of Moustiers dishes decorated with 18th-century grotesques as a wedding present, and here I was able to augment my service with some dinner plates ($63 apiece) and a beautiful custom-made oval platter ($158). Along with its boutique in the center of the village, Atelier Soleil has an atelier-cum-boutique on the Chemin Quinson. Chemin Marcel Provence and Chemin Quinson, Moustiers-Ste.-Marie; 33-4-92-74-63-05; www.soleil-deux.fr.

Jean Faucon Faience d'Apt This celebrated atelier soldiers on after the sudden death two years ago of its brilliant faiencier, Jean Faucon. Directed now by Jean's brother, Pierre, and Jean's fiancée, Nathalie Savalli, Faience d'Apt continues to produce its signature pieces of terre mélée faience—pottery in which the colored clays are marbleized using a secret 18th-century technique that was resurrected by Faucon's grandfather, Joseph Bernard, in the early 1900s.

The atelier produces plates, bowls, tureens, pitchers, platters, and coffee services in predominantly blue or brown clays, often trimmed in white. The pieces are finished with a clear glaze that reveals the clay's intricately swirled patterns. The technique is time-consuming and the production limited, but for the many faience aficionados who consider Faucon's faience d'Apt among the world's most desirable and distinctive, it's worth the wait. An incomparable oval soup tureen, for example, in marbled brown or blue clays adorned with a lavish grape cluster decor requires ten stages of production, 50 man-hours, and can take three months to finish. It sells for $1,300. "This work is absolutely a labor of love," says Pierre, who crafts each order. "Passion is essential. It is difficult and painstaking—especially the tureens—and if you don't love what you do, it shows." At 286 Avenue de la Libération, Apt; 33-4-90-74-15-31; www.faiencedapt.com.

Vernin Carreaux d'Apt Some of the most beautiful tiles in France come from Brigitte Benoit-Vernin's Carreaux d'Apt, a large showroom and factory founded in 1870 in the heart of the Luberon, a short drive west of Apt. "We are one of the few ateliers to still make tiles in the old artisanal way," explains Vernin. "Each one is hand-molded, then hand-cut, fired, and finally hand-glazed or painted." The tiles—about two dollars each at the factory—are offered in a choice of 170 gorgeous jewellike colors. Vernin also offers an array of old-fashioned painted tiles, and the atelier can reproduce antique tiles, among other custom jobs. On Route Nationale100, Bonnieux; 33-4-90-04-63-04; www.carreaux-d-apt.com.

Antony Pitot In the adjoining grange of his 18th-century farmhouse, Antony Pitot works in the venerable tradition of the region's 18th-century potters, producing a dazzling line of mustard-yellow and emerald-green faience with lead-free glazes. "I see my work as contemporary," says Pitot, who produces his faience with awesome finesse and care, "but inspired by eighteenth-century styles." You'll find large, graceful pitchers in green, yellow, or a marbleized combination ($44, and a great gift), as well as elegant tureens and a wide variety of plates, some round, some leaf-shaped, others octagonal. A set of glowing yellow octagonal dessert plates, at $12 each, would make a fine wedding present. $ Quartier de Ponty, Route Nationale 100, Goult; 33-4-90-72-22-79. Antony Pitot In the adjoining grange of his 18th-century farmhouse, Antony Pitot works in the venerable tradition of the region's 18th-century potters, producing a dazzling line of mustard-yellow and emerald-green faience with lead-free glazes. "I see my work as contemporary," says Pitot, who produces his faience with awesome finesse and care, "but inspired by eighteenth-century styles." You'll find large, graceful pitchers in green, yellow, or a marbleized combination ($44, and a great gift), as well as elegant tureens and a wide variety of plates, some round, some leaf-shaped, others octagonal. A set of glowing yellow octagonal dessert plates, at $12 each, would make a fine wedding present. $ Quartier de Ponty, Route Nationale 100, Goult; 33-4-90-72-22-79.

Poterie Ravel Ravel has been hand-producing big, handsome terra-cotta garden pots since 1837. Owner Marian Ravel Dalgier maintains the quality and tradition of the family business while adding contemporary designs to the collection of garden urns and floral-embossed pots. I especially liked the dramatic new Cycas terra-cotta pots, designed by her father, Jacques, in both striated and smooth styles ($30-$211).

Ravel is famous for the color and quality of its clay. "We produce our own clay inside the factory, from raw material extracted from our own quarries fifteen kilometers from the factory," relates Marian. "The color is so beautiful because we tint it with ocher from Roussillon to a deep, lovely pink—the color, I always think, of a good Provençal rosé." Ravel also creates mustard- or green-glazed dinnerware, platters, vases, pitchers and pots, and the shop has an interesting "seconds" section where imperfect pots and plates are sold for a pittance, many of them perfectly lovely in their imperfections. I discovered a winsome little ceramic coffeepot for $14 whose faulty bubbled glaze gave it a distinctive 19th-century allure. On the Avenue des Goums, Aubagne; 33-4-42-18-79-79.


Architectural Elements

Nothing endows character and charm to a house, both within and without, like period architectural elements. A carved stone mantel dated 1743; terra-cotta canal tiles from the 19th-century; a stone fountain chiseled during Napoleon's reign. These unrestored architectural elements are in high demand, not only in Provence but throughout France, and several architectural salvage places in the region do a brisk business recycling the castoffs.

Jean Chabaud Les Materiaux Anciens You won't find many items here that you could stash in your luggage and carry home (well, perhaps the Paris street sign would fit in the duffel), but then this is a different kind of shopping. Chabaud is one of the first stops made by architects renovating a property in Provence, or homeowners searching for one great centerpiece for a room or garden. "People come to us for elements that are unique and beautifully crafted," says Sébastien Chabaud, Jean's son and the manager. "In these old objects is a quality of work you never see these days—crafted by hand long before there was electricity, a true patina that gives a wonderful color, and something that can only be called 'soul.' "

Fortunately, Chabaud can ship all over the world, so you need not worry should you fall in love, as I did, with the Louis XV limestone mantel leaning against the plane tree. It could have been mine for $5,500, not including shipping. Wandering through the grounds, in which are stacked and scattered beautiful remnants of other times, other lives, it's hard not to think of Chabaud as an extraordinary cemetery of style. But then remember that Chabaud is not the end, just a way station. These are elements in transition, awaiting a new lease on life in a new house. Maybe even yours. $ At 20 Route de Gargas, Apt; 33-4-90-74-07-61. Fortunately, Chabaud can ship all over the world, so you need not worry should you fall in love, as I did, with the Louis XV limestone mantel leaning against the plane tree. It could have been mine for $5,500, not including shipping. Wandering through the grounds, in which are stacked and scattered beautiful remnants of other times, other lives, it's hard not to think of Chabaud as an extraordinary cemetery of style. But then remember that Chabaud is not the end, just a way station. These are elements in transition, awaiting a new lease on life in a new house. Maybe even yours. $ At 20 Route de Gargas, Apt; 33-4-90-74-07-61.


Essential Accents

From wood-beaded curtains to the chunky hand-milled blocks of savon de Marseille—olive oil soaps—there's a wide assortment of locally-crafted Provençal style elements that together provide the grace notes of authentic French Country style. Beautiful and extremely adaptable, these decorations lend distinction to almost every decor. The majestic candles from Ciergerie des Prémontrés would look as striking in a SoHo loft or on a New Mexico ranch as they do in a Provençal farmhouse, and a hand-forged wrought-iron balcony would embellish a Paris townhouse as tastefully as it would a grande bastide in Aix-en-Provence.

Wood-beaded curtains
MARIE-CLAUDE BROCHET One of the last artisans in France to create all hand-made, wood-beaded curtains in a wide variety of designs to measure for your doors and windows. About $200-$300 per curtain for a standard-size doorway. $ 1043 Avenue des Vertes Rives, Montfavet; 33-4-90-23-58-37. MARIE-CLAUDE BROCHET One of the last artisans in France to create all hand-made, wood-beaded curtains in a wide variety of designs to measure for your doors and windows. About $200-$300 per curtain for a standard-size doorway. $ 1043 Avenue des Vertes Rives, Montfavet; 33-4-90-23-58-37.

Olive oil soaps
SAVONNERIE MARIUS FABRE A century-old company producing blocks of traditional all-purpose soaps the old-fashioned way, by hand. There is also a shop and a museum on the premises. 148 Avenue Paul-Bourret, Salon-de-Provence; 33-4-90-53-24-77.

Candles
CIERGERIE DES PREMONTRES This company has been producing the highest-quality dripless candles of beeswax and paraffin for churches, hotels, and homes since the early 1900s, from three-foot-tall ecclesiastical tapers to colored votives. While in Graveson, pay a visit to the little-known museum devoted to the Provençal Expressionist Auguste Chabaud. $ 2 Avenue du François Atger, Graveson; 33-4-90-95-71-14. CIERGERIE DES PREMONTRES This company has been producing the highest-quality dripless candles of beeswax and paraffin for churches, hotels, and homes since the early 1900s, from three-foot-tall ecclesiastical tapers to colored votives. While in Graveson, pay a visit to the little-known museum devoted to the Provençal Expressionist Auguste Chabaud. $ 2 Avenue du François Atger, Graveson; 33-4-90-95-71-14.

Wrought Iron
JEAN FERAUD, FERRONNIER Hand-forged banisters, balcony grills, garden gates, tables, and much more—every piece is made entirely to order. Expect a wait of at least two months. $ Boulevard Roumanille, Sarrians; 33-4-90-65-41-37. JEAN FERAUD, FERRONNIER Hand-forged banisters, balcony grills, garden gates, tables, and much more—every piece is made entirely to order. Expect a wait of at least two months. $ Boulevard Roumanille, Sarrians; 33-4-90-65-41-37.

GERARD AUDE, FERRONNERIE D'ART In a tiny hamlet south of Gordes, Aude produces custom chandeliers and mirrors. $ Saint Pantaléon (Gordes); 33-4-90-72-22-67. GERARD AUDE, FERRONNERIE D'ART In a tiny hamlet south of Gordes, Aude produces custom chandeliers and mirrors. $ Saint Pantaléon (Gordes); 33-4-90-72-22-67.


Staying in Style

In between ferreting out the best of Provençal style, it can be both a pleasure and an inspiration to stay in a hotel, inn, or B&B where those elements are used to their best advantage. Five stylish choices beckon:

LA MIRANDE Arguably the most beautiful hotel in Provence, La Mirande, which faces the Palace of the Popes, has been restored and decorated with great care and admirable taste by Achim and Hannelore Stein and their son, Martin. This sublime 18th-century mansion offers 19 rooms and two suites, all different, decorated in antiques, period tiles, and designer fabrics (Braquenié, Frey, Canovas). Rooms, $370-$1,070. At 4 Place de la Mirande, Avignon; 33-4-90-85-93-93; www.la-mirande.fr.

HOTEL DU CASTELLET Provence's newest luxury hotel sits high in the hills of the Var, a 15-minute drive north from Bandol and the Mediterranean. The jewel in a complex developed by Philippe Gurdjian, a former race-car driver, Hôtel du Castellet lies directly across the road from a state-of-the-art private airport and was lavishly appointed by the noted Provençal decorator Nono Girard. Rooms boast terraces and sumptuous toiles by Pierre Frey in lavender, honey, or grape. There are red-clay tennis courts, indoor and outdoor pools, a jogging path, and at the far end of the garden, four green, groomed golf holes. Rooms, $335-$535. At 3001 Route des Hauts du Camp, Le Castellet; 33-4-94-98-37-77; www.hotelducastellet.com.

LA PAULINE A graceful allée of plane trees leads to this serene Directoire mansion built for Napoleon's sister, Pauline Borghese, known for her romantic escapades. Today a luxurious B&B launched by Ita and Régis Macquet, La Pauline offers four comfortable double rooms and a two-bedroom suite, all with terraces, set into a new guesthouse and a small pavilion in the gardens above the main house. Rooms, $150-$330. Les Pinchinats, Chemin de la Fontaine des Tuiles, Aix-en-Provence, 33-4-42-17-02-60; www.la-pauline.com.

GRAND HOTEL NORD-PINUS Jean Cocteau, a regular, described the Nord-Pinus as "a hotel with a soul," and he was far from alone in his affection for the place. Since the 1950s, the Nord Pinus has been the nexus of three worlds: society, fashion, and bullfighting. Renovated several years ago by owner Anne Igou, it commands the historic Place du Forum in the center of town. An atmospheric bullfighting bar with photos of Cocteau, Picasso and Dominguin (all regulars), and 25 modern, stylish rooms with terra-cotta floors, Provençal piqué quilts and wrought-iron detailing make the Nord-Pinus an attractive base for visiting the Camargue and most of the Bouches-du-Rhône. Rooms, $135-$300. On Place du Forum, Arles; 33-4-90-93-44-44; www.nord-pinus.com.

BASTIDE DE MOUSTIERS This lovely country inn, nestled in a ten-acre park down the road from the Atelier du Soleil, makes the perfect resting place while in Moustiers, a long drive from anywhere else you'll visit. A meticulously restored 17th-century farmhouse, the Bastide has 12 uniquely appointed rooms, including the Olive Suite. Its restaurant boasts a Michelin star (fitting, given that the Bastide is owned by renowned chef Alain Ducasse). Meals are served on the sun-dappled terrace, which has gorgeous views. Rooms, $200-$325. Chemin de Quinson, Moustiers-Ste.-Marie; 33-4-92-70-47-47; www.bastide-moustiers.com.

Linda Dannenberg's latest book, New French Country, will be published in April 2004 by Clarkson Potter.

Hotel prices show high-season rates from the least expensive double to the most expensive suite.

$ Establishment accepts no charge/credit cards or accepts cards other than the American Express Card.