By Karen Billing
Over the last couple of months, handwritten notes have appeared on the windows of the empty storefront next to Albertsons on Via de la Valle as a new shop took shape inside. The thoughtful bonjours and bon mots, such as “Home is the dearest spot on earth,” alluded to the French-themed store that would open on April 21, The French Nose.
“People said they loved those little updates,” said owner Andrea Morgan. “One woman said, ‘I’ve been following all your notes and I’m so glad you’re open.’ That was kind of fun.”
An official sign is still to come although a handwritten one stays up on the door and a quick glance through the windows shows a store brimming with furniture, home goods, florals and “pretty things.” Lots of fleur-di-lis, Eiffel towers, French dress forms and toile.
“Like the legendary French pig that can sniff out the secretly hidden, highly-prized truffle, we at the French Nose sniff out the very best of French-made products and French-inspired items throughout the world and bring them to you,” Morgan said.
The store ranges from the whimsical, like a flying pig statue, to the one-of-a-kind find — a Sohmer baby grand piano from the early 1900s with an intricately carved wood body and keys made of real ivory.
Morgan combs flea markets and estate sales for her vintage pieces, but also has lots of contemporary and new items from decorative pillows to roomy ceramic mugs for café au laits.
“I’ve always had a love of French items, a love of design and décor,” said Morgan, who has lived in the Rancho Santa Fe area for 26 years.
She has been a Francophile since she spent time at La Sorbonne in Paris in the 1970s, studying art history while working as an au pair and relies on her discerning nose to find the best items to fill her new store.
The French Nose has come together in a dizzying three-month time span, said Morgan.
It wasn’t until the holiday season last year, she started thinking seriously about the possibility of opening her own store.
She had been working at Lo Lo Callisto in Del Mar Highlands but also had a background in real estate, design and business, designing a makeup kit that sold on QVC in the 1990s.
A girlfriend offered to provide financial backing for The French Nose and on New Years Day 2013 she set out looking for the location.
As Morgan frequently shopped at Albertsons, she saw that the storefront next door had been vacant for about a year. With its huge 40-foot tall window spaces in front, it was a perfect showcase for a furnishings store, she said.
Since taking over the space, she painted the walls a Parisian blue and put in Venetian tile flooring and a faux fireplace. For each section of the store, she designed different patterns for the tile flooring — from herringbone tiles to hexagon — to denote a different area of the home.
Currently on display is a pair of vintage scroll metal chairs from the 1960s with black and white herringbone covers and a duo of leopard print French empire chairs that she scored at an estate sale in Beverly Hills.
Morgan was “blessed” to find a full dining set at an estate sale — a 10-foot-long Avignon double pedestal dining table that pulls out to 14 feet with nine chairs, a bench and matching console and display case from the late 1800s.
“Everything has its own little story,” Morgan said of the vintage and antique finds, giving a pair of lion statues a pat on the head.
In addition to furniture, the store will also carry soaps and candles, linens, coffee table books, coffee, teas and chocolates — items Morgan said will make perfect gifts to be picked up in her very convenient location.
Morgan hopes to hold a Grand Opening party in May. The store also does consignment items, offering 75 percent back to the consignee. For more information, call (858) 759-1761.