Serendipity transformed a chance sighting in a store window into a career-changing moment for Tricia Elve. She had been living in Paris for only two months when, on her way to a farmer’s market on the Rue Cler, Tricia fell in love. “It was a trumeau mirror in a little row shop near the Eiffel Tower. I could see it through the wrought-iron gates across the window, and I had to have it.”
The romance of Paris means many things to many people, but to Tricia, whose husband, Dave, was transferred there from Atlanta for a two-year overseas stint, it meant the opportunity to indulge a passion for antiques — especially French antiques — that she’d harbored since childhood.
“I used to go antiquing with my mother,” she says. “Our home — a traditional brick Southern home with white pillars — was filled with English antiques and American Colonial [pieces]. So I learned to appreciate fine things but was always drawn to the more casual look of French instead of the more formal English.”
The opportunity to live in France seemed almost too good to be true. “It was scary to just drop everything and go. And neither Dave nor I spoke a word of French. But I knew I’d have the opportunity to bring back a few pieces of furniture.”
In fact, she brought back a house and garageful. “I guess I got on a roll,” she says, sheepishly. Indeed, a big enough roll to lay the foundation for a consignment booth from which she now sells French antiques. The trumeau mirror, which occupies a prominent place in her living room, proved an early lesson in patience and trusting her antique-buying instinct. “I had just moved there, and I didn’t want to make an impulse purchase,” Tricia remembers. “In the French tradition, the owner of the shop went on vacation for the month of August, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it while he was gone. I bought it as soon as he returned.”
Tricia made friends with Americans abroad who shared her interest in antiques, and soon she was darting about hither and yon, visiting flea markets in the narrow cobblestone streets of Paris proper and the tiny shops in nearby villages. “We would get up at 5 a.m. — usually on Friday or Saturday mornings — and with our flashlights set off on the hunt!”
When it was time to return to the States, Tricia chose a beautiful Tudor-style house in Atlanta to renovate and in which to invest her French antique passion. She developed a look she calls “Southernized French” for the new home. “Our apartment in Paris had high ceilings and all these beautiful moldings, so the furniture naturally just fit there,” she says. “But back home I wanted the warm, inviting feeling of a Southern home. I had to mix the two ideas together.”
The couple remodeled the interior, expanding small rooms to accommodate Tricia’s large-scale French armoires, consoles, and desks. They refinished and stained oak floors to give them a darker, centuries-old European look and installed French doors and fireplaces for elegance and Southern warmth.
In the kitchen, rather than adding cabinets, they brought in chunky, antique furniture for storage and painted the cabinets a soft creamy butter yellow, topping them with carrara marble and maple butcher block. They paneled and painted the ceiling and installed pine beams.
Tricia painted most walls in gray-green tones and mixed bright cotton prints with chocolate plaids, dashes of toile, buttery leather, and faux-fruitwood stains. Rustic pieces that feel Southern primitive coexist with regal period-French finds. The interiors have a “collected” look, anchoring her collections against neutral walls and floors and using soft textures and rounded forms to capture a comfortable at-ease feeling.
“Even in the way they dress, the French have a flair for just throwing something together and not worrying about matching, and it always looks great,” Tricia says. “I’ve tried to follow that idea with my decorating.”