We just brought home a precious piece of furniture – a panetière provençale. I have dreamed of having one of these for so many years, and am thrilled to finally have one to call our own! Before we found this gem, we had looked at quite a few that were either in poor shape, or ridiculously expensive. This week, we finally found one, completely by accident, that was in near perfect condition, and did not break the budget.
If one had to name a single piece of furniture that would be most typical of old Provence, it would have to be a panetière. These cabinets existed only in Provence and were a part of most every provençal household from the early- to mid-1600’s right up until World War I. They would sit on top of a buffet or a pétrin (a dough-rising box) or, much more frequently, hang on the wall of a kitchen or dining room.
Our panetière, as we first saw it in an antique shop in the tiny town of Mourèze
A panetière hangs on the wall in the dining room at the Mas d’Henriette, in Senas, Provence
As the name suggests, they were places to store bread (“pan” in the old provençal language). Until World War I, families baked bread once a week, at home if they had their own bread oven, or more likely, at the village oven, which was fired up once a week for everyone’s use. Each family would bring their own dough to the oven, bake it, and then return home to store their own baked bread in their panetière for the week, taking out what they needed for each meal. The reason these bread boxes were hung up high was to keep the bread safe from mice and rats.
Panetières both siting upon and hanging above pétrins
Antique panetières are always gorgeous – carved by woodworkers of provençal fruitwood – and almost always incorporating lots of intricate details, including beautiful hardware. It is amazing that surviving antiques all look pretty similar to one another, and yet, their details are always totally individual. No two were ever exactly alike. Almost all panetières have lovely carved spindles around the sides and carved or turned bobbins adorning the tops. They all have small doors that open to put in or take out the bread. And they also always have feet, even if they were intended to hang on the wall. (The thrifty and commonsensical provençal people designed their bread boxes to be easily free-standing, if the need ever arose.) The back feet may be plain, but the front feet are usually snail-shaped.
Anatomy of a panetière (“paniero” in old provençale):
Turned spindles around the sides and front (The backs are often flat wood and the bottoms are slats.)
Decorative turned bobèches (bobbins) adorn the cornice
Carved doors with ornate hardware
Pieds en escargot (snail-shaped feet)
Carved apron and cornice
Panetières are large, and since ours feels too big and imposing for our petite kitchen, here in Montagnac, we have decided to hang it in the master bedroom.
First, we removed the fabric that was lining the inside. I have looked at hundreds of pictures of panetières and have never seen one with fabric lining, so we knew we weren’t removing something historic. Plus, the fabric was dusty and stained. I used some provençal fabric we had bought last Fall, in the Camargue, to cover the back and the floor of our panetière, before Jack and I hung it on the wall.
Jack measuring and drilling into the stone wall facing our bed
We also needed to replace one bobbin that was missing. After inquiring at all of the antique shops we knew, and finding nothing similar, we came upon a possible solution.
Benjamin Boularand and his parents own Boularand Antiquités, in Pézenas
The carved mahogany spindle, below, probably had once belonged to un berceau, a baby’s cradle. Since it was not currently a part of any furniture, our friend, Benjamin Boularand, gave it to us as a present. (It was at Boularand the we found our kitchen cabinet doors and our master bed, among other items for the house, last year.) Look what we did with the spindle – proof that all you need is a little imagination:
Our new treasure now graces our bedroom wall. We put a few plates and a candle-holder inside, but basically it is just beautiful on its own – a lovely work of artistic craftsmanship from an era gone by.
A basket of flowers graces the ornate cornice
Wheat carved on the door – a reference to the bread stored inside
A soup tureen and more flowers on the bottom apron
What a lovely and historic addition to our bedroom. I am in love with our new/old panetière provençale!!!