When I think of French design I automatically think of Rococo swags and swirls. I like to say that the French took anything Italian and put a curlicue on it. But that's a style that went out with King Louis — where does that leave us after the 19th century?
For starters, modernism practically began in Paris with those forward-thinking Bohemians, the Impressionists. And think of the Eiffel Tower, which when seen in person looks like filigree, and that's something no photograph can capture. It was Le Courbusier and his Villa Savoye (in the Paris suburbs) that left us all without crown moldings or ornament in architecture, though Art Deco came along and embraced yet another new design aesthetic. But no culture is stranded in amber, and perhaps the great problem of Post-Modernism is in embracing the traditional curlicue of the past and balancing it with contemporary need for design, comfort and beauty.
In terms of contemporary architecture in Paris, we have the Pompidou, the courtyard at the Louvre, and La Défense. One must also remember that they hated the Eiffel Tower when it went up, and it was about to be torn down until World War I (and the need for radio towers) came along. I still thing the best view of it is across the Seine from the Palais Chaillot, itself a 20th century confection.
Newer still is the Musée de Quai Branly, a museum of the arts of Oceana, which opened a year ago. And alas, I missed the press opening of the new Pompidou museum in Metz by one day, which remains yet another reason to return. Of course, if one is looking for the dernier cri, it's easy to troll couture, museum show and art galleries. Possible color recommendations: anything but beige.
- Mark Chamberlain, interior and decorative painter