Privilege Blog

“My Stylish French Girlfriends,” A Post-Freudian Review

A while back, Tish Jett asked if I’d review a book she loved, My Stylish French Girlfriends, written by her friend Sharon Santoni. Sharon was kind enough to have a review copy sent to me. It’s also been reviewed around the blogosphere by Daily Plate of Crazy, Une Femme d’un Certain Age, and the Hostess of the Humble Bungalow, if you’d like additional perspectives.

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I am suspicious of Francophilia. There, I’ve said it.

I loved France in the summer of 1975, when I worked at a summer camp in the Dordogne. I loved it in 1978 when I took the train from London to Paris to celebrate New Year’s Eve at Lucas Carton. I loved it in 2002 when my family and some friends revisited the Dordogne, sleeping in dilapidated and glamorous chateaux, eating melon on a patio with a vista.

I’d love to go back. But I don’t love the “French People, Especially The Women, Do Everything Better” meme.

However, I’ve found that to learn anything, you have to expand your horizons. And to learn about design in particular, you’ve got to look at pictures. Sharon Santoni’s recent book, My Stylish French Girlfriends offers both pictures and horizons in abundance. Time to put aside bias. One is richly rewarded for the effort.

A bed in a French farmhouse

In My Stylish French Girlfriends, Santoni has interviewed and photographed 20 French women, all of whom are friends of hers. The book is divided into very short chapters, one for each girlfriend — each with photo section plus a few paragraphs of text — and a useful resource index in the back.

What did I learn about the interiors of stylish French women? These are antique dealers, collectors, artists, designers, for the most part. Women of privilege, for the most part. And all friends of Sharon’s, whose blog My French Country Home embodies a distinct and particular aesthetic.

So, with the caveat that I might be might be extrapolating from a limited sample, some patterns.

  • These French interiors show an acceptance of the cute, sentimental, and ornamented. It’s more Hello Kitty than High WASP eclecticism. But I love Hello Kitty.
    • As a supporting point, I noted the possible role of brocantes and couture in bric-à-brac and ornamentation.
  • An embrace of terroire, if that term can be used in decor as well as in wine-making. These French interiors do not try to be Scandinavian, or Moroccan.
    • Simple gardens, with an emphasis on structure, can be beautiful when old stone and plaster buildings sit amid green lands.

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But, guys, all analysis aside, I’d have ante’ed up for the book in a minute if only for the sake of Claire Basler. She paints murals on the wall of her chateau.

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That handy index in the back of the book leads us to Claire’s website. My eyes roll back in my head, as the wall paintings as a group are almost too beautiful to look at.

Claire Basler Paints The Walls Of Her Chateau

She reminds me a bit of the Kansas City blogger, Mrs. Blandings, who painted her walls. (An aside. Did you know that Mrs. Blandings has started a business creating and selling needlepoint canvases? She has.)

Back to the Girlfriends.

As I read, I also realized that for me, the book is best read (rather than looked at) as fairy tales about mythical beings. I have another bias against rose-colored representations of women’s lives. Everyone cries in the middle of the night at least once. Lacking the full story I go right to envy, which engenders in turn a defensive response. I reject, I scorn. All blame to my High WASP ancestors and their severity. All credit to growing up and understanding that one learns nothing that way.

As it turns out, I’m still learning from My Stylish French Girlfriends. I keep it on my coffee table to look through now and again. To consider the role of bric-à-brac, stone, and painting by hand, in a California setting. Or just to enjoy.

Many thanks to Tish and Sharon.

Affiliate links may generate commissions.

Photo credits: 1,2,3,4 Sharon Santoni, 5, Claire Basler

43 Responses

  1. I haven’t looked at this book yet, but think I would like it. You are right that everyone has cried in the middle of the night–probably many more times than once–not even the privileged are immune. We know that. No one’s life is as perfect as it may appear in photographs.

    What I love most about France was the quality of the light–especially i Provence.

  2. This book has all the benefits of a neighborhood fundraiser home tour with none of the disadvantages. You get to peek at someone else’s house without having to stand in line to do it.

  3. Yes, toured her full site. Surreally real. Some of her backgrounds have an element of what? sadness? not sure how to describe but the flowers and foliage are beyond. I love her works on gold leaf.

  4. The photos are very beautiful! Those murals! Fascinating.
    And gardens. Light. Lavender.
    It must be beautiful to read and browse and it must be beautiful book. I always like to see and admire other people houses and gardens if I feel something true and original and selfadjusted around it. I’m sure that Ms Santoni felt it around houses of her stylish friends
    You are right,are tears less sorely in the middle of the night in perfect house? It is different and very difficult question
    And I simply don’t like to have coffee table books

    1. @dottoressa, I don’t have books on display on my coffee table, per se. But there is always a book there I’m either reading or want to be reading or think I should be reading or was reading;).

  5. She lives in a castle. I live in a tract house in the San Fernando Valley. As an artist, I love what she’s done to her castle but there’s nothing there I can even aspire to.


  6. here’s the thing: Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING looks better with 10′ high ceilings. And that sums it all. You can hang a couple of nothing-curtains and they’ll look majestic. Or leave those high windows naked and the room empty – no problem. So there, sigh.

  7. here’s the thing: Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING looks better with 10′ high ceilings. And that sums it all. You can hang a couple of nothing-curtains and they’ll look majestic. Or leave those high windows naked and the room empty – no problem. So there, sigh….

  8. I struggle with books about French design, and with the “French Women do Everything Better” meme. Truthfully, I do appreciate old stone and buildings that embrace and embody their own sense of place. I’d love to go back to France.

    I hadn’t thought I would be interested in that book until I saw the pictures from Claire Basle. Now I must reconsider. And explore her website slowly, so slowly, as I am overwhelmed by the beauty, the beauty with its hint of something deeper and more dangerous. Oh my.

    1. @Mardel, Oh that’s exactly how I felt! It reminds me of childhood books in which one falls into a magical kingdom where both danger and glory lurk.

  9. Oh, didn’t you find just the most gorgeous thing! My mother used to have some of our walls painted with murals. Oh, but nothing like these. These are spectacular. She has a luscious touch to her brush. Reminds me of your monther in law. In lusciousness.

    PS. We did not live in a mansion. Maybe our walls were higher than normal because it was an older duplex. I’ll never forget the murals even if they were not of this caliber. Great find Lisa.

  10. Ah, to stay in a dilapidated French chateau. One day…

    I have to admit, while I think the “French women do everything better” meme is a load of bull, I kind of like the photos on Pinterest and the clothes. It boils down to STRIPES for me!

    1. @Mamavalveeta03, I just looked to see if I could find the hotel where we stayed, I don’t see it anywhere, but I’ve forgotten the name and I have no records:(. In any case, dilapidated French chateaux are pretty easy to find;), and stripes, of course, are EVERYWHERE!

  11. I adore Sharon’s book and keep it on my coffee table to peruse every so often. The women in the book all live in gorgeous homes and chateaus filled with objects of beauty. I was impressed that they were active energetic women who worked at s craft or had serious careers. I could live in France especially in the countryside out of Paris if I could afford to live like these privileged women.

  12. “Where, pray tell, is the book about Stylish American Women?”


    How will you sort and structure this, where will you start?

    Pre-ordering 10 copies herewith.

    1. @TheHuntingHouse, Ha! You are cute. I did say that. I wasn’t thinking of writing it myself. But let’s just say I did, I swear I’d want Ru Paul and Jennifer Lopez in there right along with UES ladies, Dallas doyennes and an SF Mission District tattoo artist.

    2. Knowing you, a solid definition of “style” would have to precede deconstruction. I can help: I know a Stylish American Woman who went looking for a second-wedding dress. Uninspired by bridal salon fare, she selected something from the rack, told them to add a belt, told them to shorten the skirt, told them to eliminate one layer of tulle, told them to narrow the whole thing down, came back, picked it up, put it on, showed up at city hall and commenced to break the internet. THAT’S THE DEFINITION OF STYLE.

      If that isn’t enough, don’t forget to include “Little Edie” Beale from your imaginary list of Stylish American Women! [Better Little Edie than Lynn Yaeger]

  13. You totally crack me up! I adore your honesty. I would love to peek at this book. I decorate with shabby, old and vintage French things so would love to get a closer look.

    1. @Jennifer, We’ll have to get together soon and crack each other up. And the book really is gorgeous. The gardens are amazing, the stone, and if you like the brocante look you will be in heaven.

  14. I too have blogged about that French meme, but from what I’ve seen (30+ years or regular trips to see French friends), it’s all over the map. Many French decorators do like North African and Asian pieces and fabrics (influenced by their one-time colonization of those areas), and you can visit French homes as stark as any Stockholm blogger’s. It depends a great deal on exposure and means. My friend Vicky mixes her nearly priceless Majorelle desk with a handpainted Vietnamese screen and a sofa from a Crate & Barrel type place.

  15. WOW! I was totally immersed in her website. Her art is amazing, and living with it surrounding you so different than our plain walls with hung artwork.
    Her use of color is intense and vibrant. Loved the photos of her at work.
    Thank you for sharing My Stylish French Girlfriends.
    Happiest of Happy Birthdays to YOU!

  16. My first thought was that the stone bedroom would be so chilly on a cold, rainy night! So much for my romantic side!

  17. Please ADD LOST IN ARLES to your list of REVIEWS as that is what HEATHER wrote about too today!!
    It was a beautiful book and what an extraordinary idea……so out of the NORM!!!
    I was lucky enough to meet a couple of those woman last year when I went on SHARON’s antiquing trip!!MADE IT EVEN BETTER FOR ME!

  18. The thing I love most about the outskirts of France is the anonymity. I don’t know a soul. I won’t get recognised and I speak it at a second grade level. There is no worrying about wearing WASP clothes, or posturing to assure being treated a certain way, or speaking w gravitas to show that I am intelligent and wealthy and a celebrity and all that and a bag of chips… No conversations underneath conversations… No women needing me to behave” just so” . It is just about I have money so u be nice.

    Freedom. That is what I love …. Freedom… To not,have to hide that I like music and art and pop art and business and luxury business… And that I am ambitious and hungry for it… We know how ugly that looks on a person… How completely entirely sick I am of hiding it. Huge hugs. Love love love yr blog. It reminds me of the good girl I am.

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