It is no secret that our hydrangeas are the show stopper of Mission Hills …but this year they are going for the world record ! The height of our bush and size of the flowers that already came out predict that in a few days it will be a spectacle ! This mild winter , we didn’t trim them back as usual and they are loving all this gray and gloomy weather we are having here . Don’t miss it and come by before the summer’s heat fry them . Photo from May 19th and June 19th
Back when we first opened our shop, we had yet to learn about So Cal life style …and adapt to it which took us years . We had no concept of couch TV dinners , buckets of fried chicken take out , drive through lunches . No matter what day of the week , it would not even cross our mind not to set up a table for dinner …we wouldn’t put up grandma antique silver and fine gold trimmed Limoges china but it would definitely be sit down , with a tablecloth and napkins . Do I have to specify cloth napkins ? Yes cloth not paper napkins …yes every day and actually lunch and dinner !
When we entertained, then we actually made an effort to coordinate the linens , the flowers and the food, all with effortless refined style : it’s what Provence is all about , this country casual elegance and we wanted to share this with our clients by importing the nicest earthenware from Uzes ( not only hand made but dipped in the glaze by hand, giving it this rich thickness and uneven subtle tones ) , exceptional cutlery by master Laguiole craftsman and hand blown glasses from Biot . The latest trend was to use a “boutis ” a thin quilt as a tablecloth for a rustic look . We were hunting flea markets to bring back antique linen napkins which I was dyeing in colors to match our bubbled glasses or tablecloths . It looked romantic , chic yet country . Of course none of these dishes and glasses were dishwasher safe, the linen napkins had to be ironed and these were 2 concepts we realized quickly did not fit SoCal lifestyle too well …
But to most people in San Diego this was way more formal than their most formal setting…until one day a client came in and just LOVED my table setting . She understood its casual elegance … and nobody had done this here before ! She asked me to style her party and I was ecstatic !
It was going to be a special dinner for special guests and Lynn wanted to give them an authentic Provencal experience . Not only we had to supply all the table setting pieces and style the table but she wanted me to consult with her team of lighting people from Hollywood , the florist and chef to make sure even the flowers and menu would be authentic . This was very intimidating and with my poor English I wasn’t sure I could communicate my ideas properly but nevertheless it happened . It was the most magical evening and I bet memorable for the lucky 12 guests .
Last briefing with master chef Andrew Spurgin , last touch up before guests arrived to the Fairbanks Ranch Country club by hot air balloons …
It was going to be a candle lit dinner; the chandelier was covered with fresh aromatic rosemary and flowers were simple lavender bundles.
It’s show time ! Lynn had asked me to welcome her guests … I guess I was part of the authenticity of the party , but mainly I realize she wanted them to understand how special this dinner was going to be without being over the top opulent in every way . While they were eating , we hung back in the outdoor kitchen tent set up for the occasion . The food was spectacular and this evening will forever be in our memories as our first big gig .
Bread baskets were pieces of art , hand woven earthenware decorated with tiny flowers ; the antique silverware was not as ornate as Lynn’s personal sterling, it just had a little motif on the back as we set them facing down in France . You would normally not display the cutlery on the plates as I did but we wanted to really showcase them , in particular the knives that were special ordered from Laguiole . The solid horn handles were a rare light color not the most common mixed marbled tones . It was more elegant and blended so well with the color palette of Celadon greys . I had hand written the menus scrolls and place cards .
The whole look was to mix : white and cream to show the scalloped edge plates, cream and celadon pieces to accent like the cicadas napkin rings and pitcher . Compared to American standard, everything was a scale down specially the glasses were true French size were you serve ice cold water without a tone of ice cubes.
The fun story behind this event is something personal I never shared before …In France we always were considered to be “Originaux ” original , uncommon, who never do what’s normal or expected, a bit odd in a weird or positive way ?! I guess we kind of are … For example when we moved to San Diego, we needed to buy a car but Pascal had left behind in France his beloved vintage car so instead of buying a regular car he spotted a 1954 Porsche 356 at a great price . He would need to restore it but that is also his passion . Next thing you know he shook hands and we owned it. Obviously the paint was so bad we could step on the roof no problem and the original 1954 interior was pretty shabby ! We nicknamed her “the tomato ” and did everything with her : transformed it into a jungle on nursery trips, bought a lawn mover and made it fit inside , groceries AND business meetings….
That’s when the 2 stories come together . I had to meet with Lynn and all those Hollywood professionals in Rancho Santa Fe . So I dressed for my business meeting and went …in my “Tomato”. Only problem was , she would never start again when it was time to leave and I had to ask the same Hollywood people to push me to jump start my funky car !
Before you knew it , it was July and we wanted to throw a Bastille day Party for all those new friends , neighbors , clients who had helped us during our first few months as San Diegans. I cooked for days : french pâtés, vegetable terrines , quiches, tarts… It was a Sunday afternoon ; we took all the chairs we had in the shop out in the front yard as well as small tables and picnic blankets.
What we had not expected was that anybody walking around that day would come inside our little back apartment , checking every room , eating all the food I had prepared thinking this was an other Sunday Open House !
I hope you enjoyed these never before told stories behind our very first year in San Diego ! If you do not follow our blog yet , please click on the follow button so you will be notified when I post a new story .
It was 1996 …The year we opened Maison en Provence …The years of Maison Cote Sud , the magazine we were selling which was the biggest influence on our concept . Of course being from Provence we could not have it any other way . Everything had to represent the beautiful craftsmanship, the warm light , bright colors , and wonderful scents that make the South of France . We wanted to bring the best from home here for people to discover, enjoy and appreciate . More than just products it was about sharing the Art de Vivre a la Francaise and be authentic ! Going down memory lane with the following photos of us and some of our favorite displays !
Pottery from the finest ceramists from all over Provence were represented …even the more basic from the Languedoc as well as the striped thick linens from the Basque region . One of my favorite display we did with the knives from Laguiole, Nontron and Opinel was with big loaves of bread from Bread and Cie . I was already doing all my tags by hand to give an old fashion style.
The other side of the concept was about all things that dress up a Bastide ( a large bourgeois Mansion in comparison to a Farm House ) less country rustic and more elegant like these slip covered chairs , Souleiado tablecloths , painted furniture and hand stitched quilts from Blanc d’Ivoire .
During our months of preparation we had met Phyllis Van Doren the Editor of San Diego Home and Garden Magazine where we were going to advertise to get the word out We have been friends ever since . She understood and appreciated everything we were doing and there were nothing like it in San Diego ! This was the first editorial she did on us when we first opened . Merci Phyllis !
But the style wasn’t stopping there …we were living it at home too ! Home then was just at the back of the shop. Some of you may have known that we were living in the back but never actually stepped in our Doll House Apartment. The access door is now actually hidden by the kitchen towel display . It was very convenient specially to work with France early morning making phone calls and faxing orders ; remember the days before this thing called the Internet !? The previous owners of The Pet Shop had also been living in the back and we had planned to do the same . Here are the non staged or styled photos of our little home .
The kitchen is still now our break room …just behind the children section which was our living room
Our bedroom was all about antique embroidered linen sheets …a very romantic look . We were also working with someone local who was making wrought iron lamps and head boards we designed and refinish ourselves to look as old as the antique day beds we were importing from Provence .
My passion for antique linens is still here but I do not have the time anymore to sew aprons using vintage lace , monogrammed linen sheets or make pillows with antique quilts …
We were selling sets of antique monogrammed napkins , sheets and pillow cases that we were scouting at flea markets all over Provence during our trips back home .
I loved dyeing some of them specially the tablecloths that everyone feared to use if white. Dark burgundy here paired with a quilt draped over an antique sheet for what was the trendiest table setting at the time !
Red and Ocre yellow were not just colors we picked out of the blue ! Not only they are the colors of the Provencal flag but the earth colors found and used everywhere from “Tomettes” tiles to house’s facades and just as a good sign to us the Old Pet Shop had always been brick red , a perfect tone that worked with our mustard yellow logo ! With this strong identity we did our first Designer Showcase , introducing San Diegans to our custom made iron pieces , antique sheets transformed in one of a kind drapes …A whole lot of French Laundry and ironing was going on and SoCal laid back life style wasn’t all that ready for it !
At the shop , I was displaying an antique quilted skirt on my 1900 sewing mannequin which I still use today .
On the antique day bed are my pillows as well as lamp shades made from monogrammed antique napkins . This corner was very cozy and what nobody knows is that Pascal’s mum slept there when she was coming to visit us . We put up an antique screen to give her privacy at night and by 10 am everything had been aired up and put together just like this ! One night though , she experienced an earthquake …the daybed being on wheels was rocking back and forth and all the pottery on the shelves were singing . Nothing broke or fall but she had got more than she bargained for that year !
An other showcase house in Coronado done all in grays way beyond the trend .
A few more Editorials helped us put Maison en Provence San Diego on the map !
If you enjoy our stories , follow the blog so you will get a notification . Next I will share our very first Bastille Day and the most amazing private event design we have been involved with .
2021 will be the Year we celebrate the 25th Anniversary of our shop ! Throughout the year we will share with you some stories and never before seen photos : Our first “Big Gig” , first “Bastille Day”, Special Events … Looking back we should have written a book called “A year in California”, maybe with French people this would have been a hit like “A year in Provence” had been !
December 1995, it’s when we sealed our future …our California dream was about to start, right here in Mission Hills. We were renting the “Old Pet Store” ! (and still use today its original key chain as a matter of fact )
Back in Provence, in our little village of Saint Roman de Malegarde, it was now February 1996. We took a few last photos with Pascal’s mom’s old bicycle. It could not fit in our container but we would still take it with us on the flight to our new life .
You have asked us why did we choose San Diego over Provence ? Yes , for the unbeatable weather, the California sunsets, beaches, laid back lifestyle… but really at that time we needed to change careers. We had been suffering from being apart as I was constantly away to work . I was done with modeling, dieting, traveling and Pascal wasn’t taking well the stress and pressure of being a fashion photographer in the sportswear and jeanswear industry. After 10 years of this life, what we wanted now was to work together, be together 24/7. The idea of having our own shop was starting to germinate .
We had come to San Diego on vacation in February 1992 and had easily fallen in love with this place. It was way bigger than where we were from ( our village of 100 people is 45 minutes from Avignon ) , San Diego had more opportunities for us but was not as scary as other big cities like NY, LA or San Francisco. It had all the conveniences of a large city without the compactness or traffic. Coming from the rolling hills of Provence, it looked like we could adapt here. We could close our shop after a day’s work and drive to Ocean Beach to catch the sunset without thinking of traffic or parking. This was the “Dream” and still is today ! What we didn’t know then was how open and kind people were going to be. We were welcomed like we could never have imagined and the friends we made that first year became our family…
March 1996…we had just emptied our warehouse in Provence and filled up a 40′ container of goods to ship to San Diego…Taking that big lip of faith that changed our life ! We had dreamed of opening up our own shop in California, prepared for a couple of years and we were actually doing it ! 2021 is a special year as we are looking back at what we have achieved during the past 25 years .
It is hard to imagine what a 40′ container load looks like ! We measured everything, made a map of our container “puzzle”, planned how to load all the palettes and boxes, but with the rest of bulk things it was still hard to figure out if it would all fit in …
Pascal closing up our boxes and with some help we got it ready to go just in time…
It’s the big day… the container is coming this morning . We’ll have only 2 hours to load !!! Pascal with his mum and childhood friend Michel who is going to give us a big hand.
Pascal and his brother looking at the last pieces being loaded. The truck driver thought it would never fit… but it did !
Once our container left and only after we had the receipt that it had actually shipped out we could apply for our visas …what a stress ! With our suitcase ready to go, we had to wait… A week later with our brand new investor visas in our passports we were buying flight tickets for San Diego leaving the next day ! Here we are in Marseille airport with Pascal’s mom and the big box containing her old bike. We have been displaying it in front of the shop everyday since !
The neighborhood as it was in 1996
Monet’s Bouquet flower shop across the street with Marty and Betty .
“A la Francaise ” , the French Bakery behind the flower shop…it was a small French corner !
We have about a month before we get the big delivery so we are not wasting time !
With Erick our painter and friend since
By the end of March we were ready
The second Big Day : April 5th…our container has made it across oceans…. same drill : 2 hours to unload everything ! Our new friends are all here to help us out 🙂
Erick our painter handling the forklift
Our neighbor Bill checking it all out . Is this the most exciting thing that happened in this corner or what !?!
The boys : Pascal , Erick , Karl , Keith and Kecho ! What an experience for all of us…
It sounded like a great idea to promote our shop at the “Spring Home and Garden Show” in Del Mar …but we had not been to the show before so we had no idea it would be more of a home improvement show than a decorating show . Nevertheless, we rented a truck and headed to Del Mar ! We set up our booth, gave some business cards and made our very first American Dollar here !
The “Grand Opening” …. What is a Grand Opening ??? We are opening yes …this week yes … so this is just the “soft opening”. That was one of the many cultural differences, concepts that were totally foreign to us a the time …That Tuesday after the Del Mar show we opened our doors !
It wasn’t a Grand Opening and we never actually did one… We got so busy !! First clients , neighbors …everybody came ! Our shop was buzzing and we were exhausted but so happy 🙂 We were struggling with our very poor English but it didn’t seam to matter to people. One thing we will never forget is the warm welcome we got from the entire community. All Mission Hills came in , the neighbors brought us some French wine, Champagne, food …we had never seen that …that’s what we liked so much about the cultural differences !
We sure are in California ! This is one of my all time favorite photo of Pascal and neighbor Bill who gave me my very first hydrangea’s clippings and taught me how to grow them …see what happened next ! Now the whole side of the shop is a giant hydrangea bush . I am sure Bill will be happy that I continued his legacy….
We were wondering why people kept calling us to make a reservation for dinner ….but at that time we were having our lunch on the front porch like true French people : sit down , tablecloth ….
We have been celebrating Bastille Day in big ways over the years and it has always been a fun time to come visit our shop !
2020 versus 2016 …what a difference ! Despite the change , we appreciate all of those who came to support us and are supporting us during these unprecedented times . Merci !
Covid days have been challenging for everyone but we have managed to help our beloved patrons to celebrate birthdays , Easter , Mother’s day … Here are a few photos of our lock down days . We are so grateful to have been able to re open !
Back to 2016 …
A real French Gourmet Market with imported delicacies
Movie Ticket Raffle to go see “Midnight in Paris ” at the Cinema under the Stars !
It’s been a fun “14 Juillet ” our ” Fete Nationale” !
We plan on having an even bigger celebration next year in Mission Hills
Lou Fanucchi playing the accordion….it felt just like being in France ! We loved his arrangement ( a mix of Edith Piaf and “Amelie Poulain” sound track ) so much we are now selling his CDs !
Alice looking very very French today !
Happy to bring a little bit of our country to California !
Taking our girls to a Bastille Day diner at Brooklyn Girl after work ! We are going to try everything on that special menu ….crispy sweet breads, roasted bone marrows, steak tartare , pissaladiere, whole Loup de Mer , canard a l’orange …
And French fries of course !
Some ideas for next year ….A parade of French cars like in NY ….
The video is on Facebook…looks so much fun !
And a waiter’s race or as we say : “course de garcons de cafe “