- 'So, let's recap: a table, chairs, a lamp, and maybe a lithograph... Or maybe two...? Is that right?'
- 'Why not... We'll see...'
What can I say? Clara has decided to redecorate the sitting room. Why not, indeed?
And since we are in Rouen, let's go to Retro Design, Rue Beauvoisine, the 1960s and 70s interior design specialist. Indeed, the owner, Jean-Michel Homo, is the author and publisher of Price Guide of Design (La Cote du design in French), a price guide directory dedicated to interior design from the 1950s to today containing more than 3000 objects. A tremendous, even Sisyphean, task he undertakes every two years. The result can be seen from the shop window: a 600-page book weighing more than two pounds, lying imposingly on a table in the shop.
- 'Is this really a phone?' Julie asked looking at an orange rotary telephone.
- 'The ancestor of today's smartphones, yes!' Clara answered. 'There used to be one at home when I was a kid, at your grandparents' house. Look, there are even numbers saved, just like a smartphone!'
Indeed, on the dial, you can see the numbers for the Police and the telegraph operator!
The elegance and style of the 60s and 70s permeate the shop, minimalist shapes, eccentric colours, often with very bright tones. Simple objects of daily life are displayed next to the most emblematic pieces of furniture of that time, like egg chairs, in this case an orange and brown Ball chair, Tulip chairs or Kundalini lamps...
Clara immediately noticed a white Saarinen table, and started to rub her hand over the surface looking for imperfections.
- 'What do you think?' she said smiling. 'With these chairs? It would look good, won't it?'
- 'The plastic ones?'
- 'Oh, this is not plastic', Jean-Michel Homo corrected, 'it is glass fibre. All the Eames Lounge Chairs by Herman Miller are made of glass fibre. And for a good reason: it is far more resistant and it withstands the effect of time. Look! These chairs are more than 40 years old and are still in mint condition. It doesn't bend like plastic and doesn't break either!'
There is no need to talk about it; I know she had already made the decision. The negotiation would start in a minute. Clara is a fierce negotiator, contrary to me: I'd better let her do the job. And since Julie, who did not dare touch anything, started to get bored, I took her to a shop next door where I knew she would be free to rummage: at Joseph and Marie Trottas', second-hand book sellers and antique dealers located only a few metres away.
To say that the atmosphere is different is an understatement. At Retro Design, everything is tidy, clean and clear lines, minimal volumes and streamlined figures. Even the owner, Jean-Michel Homo, embodies the aesthetic and design of the 1960s.
At the Trottas' on the other hand, there is a cheerful mess that mixes together many different styles and periods. Piles of books from floor to ceiling and twisted stepladders. And the bearded owner, wearing a hat in his shop and a pencil behind his ear, embodies, for his part, the eccentric and hedonist collector and owner of a cabinet of curiosities.
The Trotta couple has divided the shop between them: She is in charge of the antiques, He is in charge of the old books.
Maybe they have some objects from the 1970s, which could go with our new home accessories - who knows?
- 'Let's see...' Joseph Trotta considered. 'This is a 19th century Norman trunk chest. It used to be for the bride's trousseau... It was typically made in Rouen!'
- 'Yes, it's nice but I am actually looking for something from the...'
- 'I've also got this beautiful lithograph from the beginning of the century, here', he went on undisturbed... 'Or the portrait of a middle-class man from Rouen, here, with the gilding.'
- 'And from the 1970s?'
- 'On this shelf, very nice Baccarat glasses, in mint condition. Look, it's extremely rare, the set is complete: 60 pieces...'
- 'And from the 1970s?'
- 'A bust of Lenin, here! Made in USSR! And this dates back to the 1970s!'
I was not entirely convinced... Julie, shy at first, had, then, gone on a treasure hunt in the middle of this Aladdin's cave!And there she was opening one by one small boxes, under the friendly eye of Mme Trotta.
- 'Oh! What is this?' Julie called out after looking at what is inside the little boxes.
- '... Julie! What are you doing? Be a good girl!'
- 'Don't worry', Mme Trotta said reassuringly. 'Just be careful not to knock them over', she said to Julie. 'Look, sweetie: all these boxes belonged to milliner from Rouen during the Belle Époque. They are full of beads, glitter, trinkets and charms, and these are sequins... They are used to decorate dresses, bags, hats... And here, you have seashells! They are drilled so that they can be sewn on a dress or turned into a bracelet. You could make hundreds of necklaces with these.'
Julie never got tired of looking at these tiny treasures, small natural jewels, all different, with an iridescent shine.
There was no use talking my daughter out of it, she is exactly like her mother...
- 'We will be back in a few minutes', I said to the Trotta's while going out.
Apparently Clara and Jean-Michel Homo had reached an agreement.
- 'So one Saarinen table, with the Eames chairs, those. And the matching coffee table, of course, a Saarinen table too. And the two floor lamps designed by Pehrson for Ateljé Lyktan, because we can't separate them. And the lithograph, here. And... I think that's it...'
- 'I see... And how is all this supposed to fit in the car?'
- 'Everything will be delivered at home next week!' she said enthusiastically. 'What about you, have you found anything?'
- Yes, and actually, there is more negotiation for you to do, right opposite the street, isn't there, Julie?'