IN THE 18th century, French style becamethe yardstick by which the Western world measured all magnificence. In the 20th century, the style is too often imitated with fake French furniture -- the Gilded Pretenders ,a la Louis the Unlikely.
Andree Putman, a Paris designer, in the preface to this charming book, writes of traditional French style as "a teddy bear worn out by affection." She rails against the "re-creation of styles that were already tiresome in their time," exemplified by "sinister domed bronze clocks" and unlighted candles. She herself re-creates furniture of the 1920s and 1930s architects which she presumably finds less tiresome out of their time.
The book shows a remarkable number of French who feel the same way. Their designs are often in imitation not of the past glories of 18th- century France but of the more geometric and stern designs of the fin de siMecle. They use Thonet from Austria-Hungary, Charles Rennie Mackintosh from Scotland and Bauhaus furniture from Germany, ornamented with the more frivolous French art nouveau.
You would expect Slesin, co-author of High Tech, the first in Potter's beautifully-designed, photographed and printed interior design series, to go looking for industrial style. She found it, most often in French kitchens.
Even so, the French manage to take the international elements and put them together in an unmistakably French way. So it is that some of the rooms shown look as though they happened by accident rather than by design.
One glorious living room, full of late-19th-century oriental-influenced furniture and stained glass, has two squishy soft 1980s Italian sofas. But not to worry, the sofas are bedecked with needlepoint and scalloped throws used as antimacassars.
Au contraire, in the ateliers, the elements are often stiffly arranged as though posing for a still life. In the living room of Jacques Grange, a French interior designer (whose work is described by Slesin as "understated") a canopied bed is shaped like a large, rather fierce bird with a brass bill and claw feet. The dreamer might feel as if he were being stolen from his cradle by an eagle. A Grange bedroom is made of theater flats from an Egyptian play -- everything for Cleopatra but a pyramid.
In the apartment of Olivier GagnMere, a lighting and furniture designer, the television is on a skate board, and a painting is displayed on the floor.
An artists' loft belonging to Putman is all black and white, like a Louise Nevelson sculpture, full of drama and foreboding.
In the fabled land of sun and honey, the south of France, Jean Lafont rejoices in a tent-shaped conservatory furnished with an amazing art nouveau porcelain table and chairs. An art nouveau china fireplace is in the bedroom. Gothic chairs stand like worshippers on a rug with a cathedral design, like a Persian mosque rug.
The most disappointing category is the chateaus, only an 18th-century castle with an enormous X-shaped ceiling-hung fireplace is very interesting.
In many residences, the baths and bedrooms are combined without apology. A bathroom has brilliantly colored tiles and a washbasin like a ceremonial font, by Jules Leleu, the 1932 designer.
Some of the photographs have a pleasant misty quality that recalls late 19th-century pictures of France. The book includes a dossier of sources for the French touch. What we'd rather have is a pied-Ma-terre in Paris.