French Country Design

Since our Paris trip, Sally and I have had opportunities to use what we learned and and absorbed in a number of our projects. (Posts can be seen here and here.) We have designed a paneled living room, and a chinoiserie style mud room, a Hall of Mirrors powder room, several hidden doors and pieces of furniture. Today, I will stick with a china cabinet. It was designed for a project in Chestnut Hill. Sadly, the two pieces that were commissioned were not built. So…, if you know any one…

For inspiration, we drew from a hutch we had seen while visiting Petit Trianon. Particularly it’s cabinet doors, fiches hinges and hardware.

Petit Trianon; photographer, John Kelsey

Petit Trianon; photographer, John Kelsey

 And the stepped corners from this display case in the Louvre.

Louvre, display case; photographer John Kelsey

I drew two different sketches. One showing the cabinet in the context of the room setting. The cabinets show the stepped corners. One aspect of the design I was looking at were the esthetics of two doors (left) vs one door (right). The one door solution was selected.

french style cabinet a & b; Wilson Kelsey Design

I then drew larger partial elevations to prove to myself that the stepped corner worked visually and to check it’s proportion.

french style cabinet a & b; Wilson Kelsey Design

The base cabinet door was a raised panel door. The door panel trim on the left wold have been exquisite, but a custom knife needed to be made in order to mill the shape of the trim profile. The cost proved to be too much, so we settled for the style on the right, using a slightly modified panel trim profile I was able to find thru a local cabinet making shop.

With an approved design, I prepared a set of construction drawings, which the cabinet maker used to price the project. If the commission had gone forward, shop drawings would have been produced by the cabinet maker. Shop drawings are important because they provide an opportunity for demonstration of the cabinet maker’s understanding of the designer’s intent. Questions can be asked back and forth, details worked through, etc., such that there is  a clear understanding by all parties as to what the final piece will look like and how it will be built.

You can see that the upper cabinet door was tweaked, giving the piece an updated feel. Yet the idea came from the circle at the top of the Petit Trianon hutch above.

french cabinet construction drawing; Wilson Kelsey Design

This is an example of one of the horizontal detail sections I drew at full scale in order to sort thru the finer points of trim profiles, hinge clearances, etc.

fiche hinge detail, Wilson Kelsey Design

At any rate, since the cabinets were never built, I found myself wondering what if the finish were jazzed up a bit, a la Grange. Not sure exactly how, maybe inside the upper cabinet interior with it’s glass doors? Pop the trim between the base and upper cabinet?

One inspiration idea from a Grange piece Sally and I saw in the Paris Grange showroom window. Liking the high gloss black paint as a finish, too.

Grange Sideboard: photographer John Kelsey

Or possibly a wallpaper theme…

Wall paper and screen; photographer John Kelsey

Any thoughts?



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Our work pace has slowed sufficiently that I’ve taken a few hours each of the past two days to sort and organize images for an update to the Work in Progress section of our website. At one point the realization came to me, “So, this is why there’s been no time to blog these past 5 months!” The sorting and organizing should make it easier to write more blog posts as well.

I thought I’d start with a kitchen/bath and “Oh by the way, I’ve never liked the way the fireplace and closet doors by the fireplace looked.” project that is just ramping up in Charlestown. The kitchen and bathrooms are relatively simple, while the fireplace/closet door problem is more challenging. (And more fun…) Right now, the fireplace elevation looks like two doors in a wall with the fireplace in-between. Overall, the room lacks focus and has no organizing/interesting architectural detail to speak of. The client’s taste leans toward Late 1700’s French Neoclassical and English Georgian (with a little New England sea captain thrown in for good measure…). “Casual elegance” were the descriptive adjectives written in their programming form.

The obvious solution is to build a mantel surround that ties together and conceals the two doors, thus bringing coherence to the elevation and creating a focal point for the room.

With that in mind, I began to cast about for ideas and inspiration. One source I always turn to when paneling is involved is the work of my Belgian friend Greet Lefevre and Lefeve Interiors. What I’m seeing here is how the paneling frames and bridges over the mantel as well as the finish, which is saying casual elegance to me.

Lefevre Interiors, living room paneling details

Here, Greet steps the formality down even further.

Lefevre Interiors, mantel surround paneling

We can’t forget the Georgian, New England sea captain. What a contrast in styles!!! This is an example of the work of American architect Phillip Trammell Shutze.  I can see a connection is aspects of the paneling between this and the image above.

Swan House, Phillip Trammell Shutze

Winterthur never disappoints. Typical of many early colonial homes, one wall would receive paneling while the rest of the walls in the room would be plaster. Both this image and the Swan House image give clues as to proportion and detail when dealing with a lower ceiling height. (My favorite reference book on Winterthur is Winterthur Style Source Book, Traditional American Rooms, by Brent Hull and Christine Franck.)

accent paneled wall, Winterthur

While not necessarily using specific details from any of these images, I created the first of two “cartoons”. The doors by the existing stone fireplace are concealed as full height “wall panels”set within flat stock door jambs. the existing stone mantel is deep enough that I can pad the wall around and above it such that this paneling sit slightly in front of the plane of the door jambs. The full height doors and the long shadow lines created by the trimmed fireplace give vertical lift to the room and create a focal point for the room.

French Neoclassical fireplace surround A, Wilson Kelsey Design

Adjacent to the surround is the kitchen, which will be opened up so it is visually connected to the living/dining room. I have designed the living/dining side of the counter to feel/look like a kitchen island to which one can pull up chairs.

Cartoon 2 illustrates my premise that sometimes you need to draw an idea simply to prove to yourself that it isn’t as good an idea or is an inappropriate solution. The idea was to study the effect of further panelizing the doors and to see what would happen if the counter were to be de-emphasized. Too busy and too weak…

French influence fireplace surround B, Wilson Kelsey Design

The contractor LOVES cartoon 1. The client feels #1 is the best choice, too, but is concerned that it may be too formal. My feeling is with the proper trim profiles (simple and not fussy) and the right paint color (a warm griege with a glaze) the room will snap together fulfilling the goal of casual elegance.

What say you?


John Kelsey, Wilson Kelsey Design

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Sally and I would like to invite you to attend our presentation on “Creating French Style in your Home” on March 22, during Boston Design Week. See the Eventbrite link HERE.

Creating French Style in your Home; Wilson Kelsey Design

We saw/absorbed/learned so much during our two recent trips to Paris, much of which confirmed our latent suspicion that French Style is, in fact, very different than English/American Style.

Perhaps if the French had won the 7 Years War (French and Indian War) I would be writing this post in French. Or more than likely an entirely different post… Yes, history has played it’s part. The upshot for me is French Style – it’s interior architecture, decor, etc. regardless of the period or station is sexier and more emotional. It expresses itself with more freedom.

We all know, admire, even love French Style’s past – Versailles, with it’s tall ceilings, ornamentation, parquet floors are benchmarks. We hold in high esteem.

Versailles; Photo by John Kelsey, Wilson Kelsey Design

Then there’s the classic simplicity found through much of Petit Trianon. Mmmm!

Petit Trinon window seat; Wilson Kelsey Design

But what’s more exciting is where French Style is today. How has it evolved and adapted and how can we bring it’s elements into our own homes today. There are so many ways that can satisfy – those with classical inclinations…

(Wilson Kelsey Design)

Dining room; Wilson Kelsey Design; Photo by Laura Moss

Or with the desire for today’s relaxed country manor…

(Natalie Haegeman Interiors)

Design by Natalie Haegeman

Or modern design blending seamlessly with 200 year old architecture…

(Gilles & Boissier)

Gilles et Boissier; photo © Sisters Agency : Birgitta Wolfgang Drejer

And those who desire that striking balance between yesterday and today.

(Lefevre Interiors)

foyer design by Lefevre Interiors

Looking forward to seeing you on March 22.

Be sure to check out Boston Design Week’s other events!


sally and John

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If you would like our assistance on your design project, contact us here.