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The Little Things: French Table Cloths and Napkins

By Sarah Van Arsdale on April 22, 2009

Designer Monthly’s Little Things column places a spotlight on those home accessories that are often overlooked, and we'll show how they can be improved to make a world of a difference. Our pursuit is to enhance the decor through economical yet aesthetically superior measures.

One of the delights for an American visiting Europe lies in realizing just how deep the history there is. Here, we think of a house built in 1900 as old; there, you could easily find yourself signing a lease for an apartment in a place constructed three hundred, four hundred, even five hundred years ago.

And yet, this doesn’t mean there has to be a musty look to everything. In fact, much European design is cutting-edge modern; a look at Alessi coffee accessories is enough to prove that.

For this month’s Little Things column, we thought we’d take a look at traditional French table linens, which can bring your table a bright note without sacrificing a modern look.

To start with, we went to Touch of France/Gallic Traditions, which provides linens mostly from France. At their website, you can learn something about the taxonomy of French linens, with their in-depth descriptions of some of the top companies. Garnier-Thiebaut, for example, is one that dates to the invention of the jacquard weaving process in the early 1800s.

This 100% cotton jacquard weave has a classic French design to it, and we like the rustic, gentle variation in the colors.

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Valdrôme, another company represented by Touch of France, has been making table linens in the Provençal style since the 1700s, after the printing technique for them was imported from India.

One of the makers represented by Touch of France is Vent du Sud (Southern Wind). We especially like their brightly-patterned cloths, such as this one, in “Rubis.”

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Another favorite among French home fashion mavens is, of course, the work of Yves Delorme, which we found at the Delorme website.

Delorme may make you think of elegant, formal patterns and styles for everything from table linens to bedding, and they are still the choice for the most elegant affairs. But they also have fun, interesting patterns that can brighten up any table, indoors or out, while still maintaining the loveliness one associates with all things French.

This table cloth in the Bassecour pattern has the very French rooster strutting his stuff along the border, perfect for dining al fresco at your Provence home.

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For a more casual look, we went to Petite Provence, an importer of linens made exclusively in Provence. We like their bright colors and their easy, summery look.

The look of the table is pulled together by using the patterned cloth and the napkins in a complementing color.

Of course, not all the patterns of French table linens are busting with floral designs. For a more sedate look, Petite Provence also offers this Trianon quilted cloth.

The styles of linens of France can, of course, be used year-round. But there is something about their playful patterns and rich textures that call us into the garden, and that make us dream of the French sunshine pouring onto the table as we dine on escargots and Sancerre.