Jan de Luz travels France to ferret out the unusual and useful. His passion for the wonders of the French past surrounds him with items of stately elegance and simple country craftsmanship. These resurrected and restored treasures touch our memories and bring back warm and precious encounters with rural France.
Years ago on a trip through Provence, a dusty village clinging to a scrubby hillside olive orchard beckoned. It was hot and I was thirsty. I parked at the edge of the village square under the canopy of an ancient London plane tree. The shade brought relief, and I paused to study the worn textural patina of the shops circling the square. Before me was a visual buffet and my architectural mind digested each vignette with ravishing pleasure. A boulangerie tempted with a window full of lovingly displayed breads and pastries. I studied the façade; there was a faded gold-leaf sign above the poured glass windows. The window s had puttied glazing and the wood was coated layer upon layer with a peeling glossy black paint. Below the window s, a pair of stain-oxidized pewter planters flanking a wood -and-iron bench overflowed with red geraniums. The Dutch door, matching the window s, was a crinkled black and half open. The smell of fermenting yeast and warm brioche threatened to draw me out from the shade.
Across the square, the laughter of children saved me from the temptation of the bakery. Children were playing at the village fountain. They looked properly French in their striped T- shirts, dark shorts, sandals and handkerchief caps knotted at each corner. They were drawn to the fountain’s cool, clear water. I knew that years ago women would have gathered to fill buckets or wash clothes and share daily gossip. Plumbing has changed that tradition, but the children still needed the fountain as they con- fronted the heat of the afternoon sun by splashing water on each other.
As the game of splashing continued, I marveled at the patina and textures that aging had painted across the fountain’s stone surface.
What had the fountain witnessed?
There were clues. The water poured from four spigots that jutted out like rusted goose- necks from a carved and beveled limestone column. The stone column positioned itself like a monolith in the center of the fountain’s octagonal basin. The column was capped with a chipped stone pedestal supporting a limestone sphere. The basin was at least ten feet across and high enough and wide enough to sit on. I noticed the spigots didn’t exactly match and one looked much newer than the rest. Had one been stolen or just broken beyond repair?
The basin, too, had been patched. Were the chips and missing chunk s from collisions with old carts or the clumsy machinery of war? The war had come through the village. Pockmark s from shrapnel and gunfire punctuated the complex- ion of the stone, memorializing the events of history and lending it character.
I had all but forgotten that day in that small French village until clients discovered an old limestone fountain at the Carmel Valley store of Jan de Luz. The sight of it brought them instant joy and they decided yes. Jan had it boxed and trucked to their home in Los Gatos. There it was unpacked and assembled in its new position as the central element in their circular drive and the cobblestone entry to their Provence-inspired house.
The octagonal basin was waterproofed and then filled with water; around it a flower bed was planted with lavender. We flipped a switch and water began to flow out of the rusty gooseneck spigots. The moment was magic. This old resurrected fountain that once served a village and its people was now central in the life of another family. It may even have been the same fountain from that little village. The pockmark s were there, as were the chips and patches.
Whatever the history of this fountain, its presence evokes warmth and respect. It tells its story to a newer generation and lives on as link to the past. This, I feel, is the understated value of Jan de Luz’s found relics, whether they are grand fountains and massive fireplaces or subtle, like old, worn chestnut flooring, or practical, like a marble-topped pastry table. Their vitality arises from the substance of the stories they hold. The French sensibility includes a subtle, harmonious marriage of quaint antiquity and the demanding present—the combining of distant generations, the new and the old, hand in hand , contemplation of the future and reminiscence of the past, a child sitting on a great- grandparent’s lap listening to an old family tale. Jan de Luz brings to life these images and ignites an appreciation for the quality and craftsmanship of an earlier time. He provides the design world a broad spectrum of precious elements, which allows us to craft warm and welcoming homes. These elements give substance and validation to our designs, and the visions they fire touch the soul.