Mostly French adds a bit of savoir faire to the Southside
There’s a really big metal Eiffel Tower in the window of a little shop at the corner of Central and East Main Street. That should tell you plenty about what you may find inside, but it’s really only the faintest of hints. Inside “Mostly French” at the gateway to the Southside, shoppers and browsers alike can find an eclectic collection of new and old French furniture, artwork, dishware and, dare we say, bric-a-brac.
The store has been open for only four months and is nestled next door to Griffin’s Hot Dogs (sacré bleu!) yet owner Helen Warrender says she’s been pleased with the reception in the neighborhood. It was her friends at next-door neighbor business, Mainly Antiques, who suggested she open here because she had run out of room at her booth at Southside Antiques.
Warrender has been preparing for this stage of her life...well, for her whole life. “I’ve always been into antiques,” she explains. “As a little girl I used to go ‘junk’ shopping with my mother.” It wasn’t always “junk” they found, though. “I got my first antique doll when I was, like, six and I just started collecting things.”
The San Francisco native says she initially came to Chattanooga to work for Brach’s, but after getting laid off, decided to do what she does best: shop. That shopping has taken her across the country and around the world looking for unique items to bring back and sell.
Warrender looks at this venture as something she can do for many years to come. “Really, I kind of consider this my retirement job,” she confides, “Something I can do for the next ten or 15 years before I get too old to do it...and make a little money.” She doesn’t expect to get rich. She enjoys personally shopping for her items, which means lots of travel.
Most recently, Warrender and her partner, Duffy Hudson, traveled to France for about a month. “In the countryside, you can still find some deals,” Warrender boasts. “The people were amazingly nice.” The pair spent hour upon hour wandering through little shops in places like Lyons and Nice, finding objets d’art. Often their perseverance was rewarded with an especially good deal, like the art book with a price tag of 59 francs that was given to them by the shop owner.
Spending time in Paris’s flea markets was another grand experience. Warrender marveled at the presentation of these tiny shops along their route.
“The French know how to display things,” she exclaims. “Every little stall—they wash their windows, everything’s dusted—beautifully displayed.” She has emulated that same attention to detail in Mostly French.
Great attention to detail is evident in the displays around her shop. Just like in French cuisine, presentation is extremely important. The mirror on the wall is surrounded by watercolors from the 1920s, while a table below is adorned with fine ceramics. Next to the table is a wingback chair with needlepoint upholstery. And on another wall is a tapestry.
Not everything in Mostly French is antique. But just about everything is unique, at least here in the Tennessee Valley. “We wanted to find things that you didn’t normally find in Chattanooga,” says Warrender. “We didn’t want to be like anybody else.” So in their quest to be different, they scour shop and markets in cities and towns like Huntsville, Charleston, Savannah and Atlanta. The pair are planning a trip to Denver in September and they go to the D.C. area several times a year. And, yes, they mostly search for French items.
“The French have a flair for things that are beautiful but liveable—and usable,” Warrender says. She also points out that French furnishings and décor mix well with other cultures’ decor.
Warrender plans to expand the offerings at Mostly French to include French gastronomie, bringing in French truffle oil, French olives, cookbooks, cooking utensils and other items of interest to those who prepare French cuisine.
Warrender is waiting for late September to hold Mostly French’s grand opening. She’ll be back from her buying trip to Denver by then and also hopes to have some of the gastronomie in by then as well. A real soirée is planned, including a band and hors d’oeuvres.