Antiques and Curiosities
Galerie Réfractaire offers the same shopping experience as many well-bred stores on the east end of Boulevard St.-Germain--up to a point. You enter through a conventional storefront, and it's clear that whoever runs this place has amazing taste: there's nothing you don't want. A re-edition of a late-19th-century magnifying glass on an adjustable iron pedestal here, a pile of African toiles embroidered with seashells there. It's all perfection.
But as you penetrate the shop, it stops being one, or at least it stops being a traditional one. A wrong turn up a spiral staircase lands you in the off-limits bedroom, oops, of Réfractaire's owner, Francis Dorléans. Hoping to avoid a second blunder, you pause on the ground floor at the threshold of a paneled room lined with books, layered with objects, and furnished with the most inviting buttoned and fringed upholstery. Reading your mind, Dorléans--a reedy aesthete swaddled in pashmina--appears from the adjoining kitchen with the gentil offer of a drink and assurances that his library is part of the shop.
The thickly atmospheric downstairs salon serves both private and commercial purposes as well. Everything in it is part of Dorléans's quotidian life but also for sale, including 18th-century painted Venetian chairs covered in muslin, a petit-point carpet scattered with fleurs-de-lis, and an Aubusson tapestry the price of a lifetime of summer rentals in St.-Tropez. Blessedly, Dorléans is one merchant who is temperamentally incapable of the hard sell. "If a customer seems sympa I'd rather take tea with him than sell him something," he says. "I'm a lousy salesman." 26 Blvd. St. Germain, Fifth Arr.; 33-1/43-54-39-90; open after 2:30 Tuesday-Sunday, or by appointment.
If Claire de Lavallée were English instead of French, and had lived in the 1920's instead of the present, it would be easy to imagine her as part of the Bloomsbury group. Her apartment is what used to be known as bohemian, a late-19th-century atelier in which every piece of (lumpy) furniture seems to have a wool throw tossed over it. If you've spent any time on the Left Bank, you've probably walked admiringly past de Lavallée's building a million times, never dreaming you'd be welcomed in.
De Lavallée is a generous and spontaneous host, encouraging customers to take their ease on her studio sofa and offering tea in one of the winsome, naturalistic faïence services that made her reputation. Gilded handleless cups are individually molded directly on apples to capture the fruits' every bump and dimple. Accompanying saucers are fashioned by hurling a pancake of clay against a rock, a technique that results in creeping fissures. Other pieces--platters, dishes, bowls, pitchers, candlesticks--borrow their forms from water lilies, pumpkins, gourds, sea urchins, philodendron leaves, and orange halves.
Sold in museum shops throughout France, de Lavallée's pottery has a naïve, childlike quality cynics find easy to resist. Which leaves more of it for the rest of us. 11 Rue de St.-Simon, Seventh Arr.; 33-1/45-49-36-30; by appointment.