French Toast

Paris-born Interior Designer Janine Ducoin-Arnold infuses her Larchmont home with understated French elegance.

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The homeowner points out that this gracious room, while formal in appearance, is very much lived in and not a “museum exhibit.” The family’s sheepdog, Nelson, has free reign, as does the cat, Pamina, who often can be found napping on an occasional chair. “Many Americans have a contradictory view of their formal and livable rooms,” explains Ducoin-Arnold, who readily admits that she has reupholstered the furniture quite a few times. “If it’s one, it can’t be the other. Europeans tend to live more casually in a formal setting.”

The Arnolds love to entertain and often host family and friends visiting from France. A small wine cellar in the basement provides the excuse for occasional wine-tasting parties, and the family treats almost every French holiday as a reason to celebrate. “It’s so much fun to introduce people to French traditions and cuisine,” says Ducoin-Arnold, whose daughter and son are attending university. One year, the Arnolds had a gathering to celebrate France’s Labor Day (May 1) during which guests exchanged little bouquets of Lily of the Valley for good luck, and every July 14th the Arnolds mark Bastille Day with a dinner featuring traditional blue, white, and red table settings and a très French menu. The circular flow of the house is conducive to entertaining, particularly in the milder seasons, as most rooms open to the terrace and surrounding gardens.

As is so often the case, many guests end up congregating in the kitchen and its adjoining family room, which is also where the family can be found most of the time. Once again, Ducoin-Arnold opted for a yellow and blue palette, but in this case, she used the colors in a classic Provençal way, incorporating bright sunny fabrics from Pierre Deux and seasoning the French country mix with treasures from her own Mediterranean collections.

These include a grouping of ceramic bénitiers (or holy water vessels from France and Southern Europe) that decorate the wall behind the kitchen’s large island and hand-painted plates from Italy, Spain, Greece, France, Morocco, Mexico, and Turkey that hang throughout the room. A shelf in the seating area displays the homeowner’s collection of Santons, traditional terracotta dolls from Provence representing occupations such as lavender vender and lacemaker that are unique to the region.

On the pale-blue papered wall of the dining room hangs another artifact from the South of France. Resembling a birdcage, this walnut antique with open slats on all sides is actually a panetiere, a hanging breadbox that was a must-have item in 18th-century Provence. “Traditionally the panetiere was hung above a buffet or a petrin on which dough would be rolled out and left to rise,” explains Ducoin-Arnold. “Since Provence has such an arid climate, flour was precious and bread expensive, so the panetiere would always have a lock on it. It was hung on the wall to keep pests away.”

Another piece that vies for attention is a turn-of-the-century English cheese scale, which Ducoin-Arnold found in London. Overlooking the oval dining table (English, circa 1750) is a large sideboard from Wales, whose shelves hold decorative porcelain plates including ones depicting different birds. (The designer adores birds, evidenced by the many birdhouses, feeders, and baths to be found in her garden.)

One of Ducoin-Arnold’s favorite rooms is a large airy sunroom, which is painted a soft yellow and features two sets of French doors—one leading to a screened gazebo on the terrace and the other to the gardens—and floor-to-ceiling windows on threesides. A family portrait, which includes the pets, hangs over the fireplace. A spiral staircase in the corner leads to her husband’s second-floor office, which also has windows on three sides as well as access to a small balcony overlooking the garden.

In one corner of the office is a little fireplace imported from Paris called a pompadour, which was a fixture in most turn-of-the-century Parisian living rooms.

As a designer, Ducoin-Arnold is always careful to fashion an interior that reflects her client’s taste. And she has done the same for herself. “It’s important to create a sanctuary that everyone in the family is comfortable living in,” she says. “After all, there’s nothing better than being able to enjoy and appreciate the beauty and tranquility of your own home.”

Elizabeth Cunningham Herring, a freelance writer and editor, is a former senior editor for Avenue Magazine. She lives in Maplewood, New Jersey, with her husband and two daughters.


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