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French wine coolers that marry form and function 

click to enlarge These french wine coolers, available at williamson designs, are $329 for a two-bottle cooler and $449 for a four-bottle version.
  • These french wine coolers, available at williamson designs, are $329 for a two-bottle cooler and $449 for a four-bottle version.

More chic and efficient than a regular wine bucket but less clunky than a high-tech contraption, the wine coolers at Williamson Designs (3646 Magazine St., 899-4945; www.williamsondesigns.net) marry functionality with form. Bottles of white wine or bubbly maintain their chill in thick, shapely coolers striking enough to double as dining table centerpieces. Hal Williamson, owner of the interior design company and retail store, found the coolers in France more than seven years ago, and they've had a presence in his store ever since.

  "I love them because they're very substantial. They're handmade; they have a very nice weight to them," he says of the coolers, which come in nickel and copper with brass accents. "I bought the copper ones first because I just loved the combination of the copper with the brass accents. Eventually they made the same style ... in nickel. I thought, 'Gee, that's great for a more contemporary looking home.'"

  The attractive, portable coolers have an added bonus: Ice is stored in a center compartment, so the bottles stay cool, but they won't drip with melted ice when it's time to pour a drink.

  "So it's just kind of a really functional idea, but they're beautiful, too," Williamson says.

  For an Old World approach to serving wine, Williamson keeps French rafraîchissoir tables — or colloquially, wine tables — in his shop. Mainstays of French furniture design from all periods, each table features a marble surface, recessed wine buckets and a small wooden shelf that can be used for stacking cheese and dessert plates.

  Williamson's store reflects both his penchant for globetrotting and his love of tradition. He travels across the country and to places like France and Italy seeking new merchandise.

  "My shop enables me to showcase things that I like, and that I think my clientele will also like," he says. "Sometimes I buy things not with anybody specific in mind, but (that) I think someone's going to fall in love with and maybe we'll be on the same page, tastewise. I think a lot of times your shop is kind of representative of you."

  After working for years under the tutelage of high-end interior designers, Williamson opened his own business in 2000. It began by providing interior design services only but eventually grew into a retail outlet. Now the store is a mix of furniture, antiques, pewter tabletop pieces and accessories like rugs and mirrors.

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  "My shop does lean more to the traditional, but I mix antiques and new things, and I also like to make it a lot more edgy by throwing in some modern touches," Williamson says. "It's ... just an elegant combination of things."

  Antique furniture isn't always practical in a modern home, because its smaller scale and aesthetic might not match current needs or homeowners' tastes. In these instances, Williamson can contextualize antiques to fit in with homes that, like his store, have a mix of old and new.

  "A lot of people in New Orleans grow up with or inherit beautiful antiques, but there's a special scale and all to that. So it's very hard to find things that work in the mix that look right. I deal with a lot of people who do wonderful antique reproductions, and I'm pretty sensitive to scale, finishes, quality and technique," he says. "I look for things that have patina and age and warmth to them. That's one of my real strengths — helping get the scale right, knowing how to cull that mix and make everything look right and make it work, but have it be practical for today."

  Williamson also takes pride in his store's custom services, which include upholstery, paint finishes and bedding.

  "I'm very comfortable in all styles. I started out doing contemporary work, then moved into traditional. It's ... interesting, because I've always had a foot in both places," Williamson says. "I ... can do pretty much whatever the client likes. I have a very good knack for understanding people, communicating with them and getting them where they want to go."

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