French Tips for Decorating Success

This breakfast room design by Penny proudly displays stylish collectibles.

Irwin Weiner ASID -- Top international interior designer Penny Drue Baird hosted a lovely dinner party for clients, admirers, and honored guests this fall at Le Cirque to celebrate the release of her new book Bringing Paris Home. Penny’s work ranges from Park Avenue to Palm Beach and skips across the ocean to Paris. A common tie in most of the projects undertaken by this Architectural Digest “AD 100” award-winning designer is her love of all things French.

Penny’s new book was feted by top AD writer and NY Times antiques columnist Wendy Moonan, who claims that “Penny is the only designer who can ferret out flea market finds to make rooms look like Versailles.” And that is particularly why I recommend Penny’s Bringing Paris Home book for everyone who wants to get a great look for their house or apartment. In these economic times, who wouldn’t want to get great tips and inspiration from one of the tops in the interior design field?

Here are a few tips, paraphrased from her new book, on the subject of Collecting:

1. “Collecting is a human instinct,” writes Penny. She then describes how home décor can feature collections ranging from an informal collection of mugs to an elaborate presentation of valuables that are grouped together by a common theme, e.g. coffee grinders and copper pots.

2. Many European homes proudly display china, crystal, and silver collections. Why hide them away in drawers and cabinets? Utilitarian pieces, like your everyday set of dishes, can be quite decorative, so find a good way to display them. The photo at the start of this piece shows Penny's advice in action, proudly displaying collections in a sideboard.

3. The fun of collecting is the hunt, the haggling around the purchase, and the overall process of acquiring a new addition. If you want an “instant collection,” fair enough; go online to eBay, type in your key words (e.g. nut dish), and start bidding. But Penny clearly savors the “pleasure of acquiring” and “the tale of the conquest.”

4. Penny’s love of the Paris flea markets is obvious in her book. I encourage you to visit Paris if you have a chance, and make the Marche aux Puces, the Louvre des Antiquaires, and the rue St. Paul area in the Marais in Paris part of your visit. If you’re in Paris, Penny recommends that you pick up the magazine Gazette de l’Hotel Drouot; it lists all the auctions that are taking place in any given week. Reality Check: If your budget isn’t permitting you to jet off to France this weekend, take heart; Manhattan still features some great flea markets (see below), and there are flea markets within reach of everyone, no matter where you live.

5. Use size to guide your display of any collection. You can group small items, like ink wells or paperweights, on an end table or coffee table where they can be easily admired, handled, and talked about (“To the collector, each item in the collection has a meaning, a story,” observes Penny). Large collectible pieces can be displayed on a large table, étagère, or bookcase. Cluster or frame flat objects together, like a collection of antique fans. Finally, use larger art collectibles like sculpture as centerpieces for your rooms. They can become great focal points.

If jetting to Paris this weekend is not in your budget, try these closer-to-home New York City flea market venues:

The Antiques Garage at 112 West 25th Street (between 6th and 7th Avenues) houses 100+ vendors on two floors of a parking garage. Look for paintings and prints, vintage jewelry and fashion, furniture, rugs, fabrics, fine silver, and a real eclectic mix of antiques and decorative arts. Hours: Saturday and Sunday, 6:30 am to 5 pm.

The Hell's Kitchen Market on 39th Street between 9th and 10th Avenues hosts 170+ vendors in a street fair setting, with a $1 shuttle bus to the Antiques Garage venue. Come here for vintage clothing, home decor and furniture, mid-century and retro antique finds, jewelry, collectibles, and more. Hours: Saturday and Sunday, 6:30 am to 5 pm.

The West 25th Street Market on the uptown side of West 25th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues has about 125 vendors selling antiques, collectibles, and vintage and retro decorative arts. It's right by the Antiques Garage, so catch both of these together and take the shuttle service to the Hell's Kitchen site. Hours: Saturday and Sunday, 6:30 am to 5 pm


Photo credits: Here Be Old Things, Architectural Digest