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Fine works a mere Bagatelle

In Bagatelle’s Vignette Room, Cat Bude shows how French antiques enrich everyday life. Her husband, Alain, does most of  the buying. - Julie Busch photo
In Bagatelle’s Vignette Room, Cat Bude shows how French antiques enrich everyday life. Her husband, Alain, does most of the buying.
— image credit: Julie Busch photo

The Madrone Lane shop offers French antiques and ambience.

At Bagatelle, the language of love is seen, not heard.

It comes via fine craftsmanship, elegant lines, intricate designs and a history that dates to the kings of France.

Shop owners Cat and Alain Bude offer this signature style on Madrone Lane, in an intimate showplace for French antiques.

“This location is exactly where we want it to be,” said Cat. “The community, the feel of the island, the physical space. Everything fell together. We were welcomed even from other vendors.”

The Budes and their two young sons moved to Bainbridge from Port Townsend, where they lived among such antiques in a Victorian home and owned the retail shop Une Bagatelle on Washington Street.

“In France, families hand down furniture. It’s a way for people to invest their money,” said Alain. “They knew the value would never go down. They buy in various periods and styles…that’s what expert collectors do.”

Alain regarded the collectibles in his family’s hotel-restaurant as everyday affairs.

Although others would say “antique linens and flatware,” to his parents they were “old linens they had to use,” he recalled, shaking his head for refusing to take furnishings offered by his mother.

The Budes met at a dog park in Los Angeles. When they married, Alain took “a real job” working for an importation business to the trade for interior designers and collectors.

After untangling a problem in French, he was asked if he knew any antiques dealers. He said he was one.

“In Los Angeles you say ‘yes’ and find a way,” he laughed. “We did quite some business.”

Cat was a marketing director for a museum exhibit company that did work for the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Burke Museum in Seattle, among many others.

Traveling took its toll, so she and Alain joined forces in Bagatelle, which he had been handling solo as a to-the-trade venture and later for retail.

The Budes’ move to Washington from California “was mostly driven by the need to refocus and make a life that allowed us to be more together as a family,” Cat said. “The small-town life was appealing to us after living several years in Marin County and trying to keep up that hectic lifestyle of working hard to play hard, to work harder to play harder.”

The Budes are proud of their acquisitions and happily detail their back stories. The 1920s crystal chandelier, for example, was designed and signed by Baccarat. The larger version hangs in a Turkish palace.

The exquisite Napoleon III “cave a liqueurs,” circa 1860, with original crystal and inlay of precious woods, brass, mother of pearl and rosewood, is very rare because of its mint condition.

Alain also waxes rhapsodic about a 165-year-old secretarie; a Louis-Philippe period farm table in wild cherry, circa 1840; and an 1850 Gothic-style hall tree in walnut. Interspersed among the French finds are treasures such as a 17/18th-century terra cotta amphora used for transporting olive oil and found in Tunisia, English silver, a hand-crafted Czech piano box and a rare Austrian clock that is in working condition.

The Budes try to take buying trips together, but with young children it’s hard. Alain meets with vendors throughout France, in cities and places off the beaten trail. His French connections share his passion and philosophy for finding rare pieces and he trusts them enough to authorize some purchases sight unseen.

The items arrive in 40-foot containers some three months after they’re ordered and it’s Christmas all over again when the Budes unpack them.

“Alain has a typical French background, boarding school, military, traveling the world. He speaks several languages,” said Cat. “(He) grew up around these things. For me, it’s a coming around to it.”

That she has. Cat’s favorite style, formal Louis XIV, holds court at the front of the shop, called the Signature Room.

“It’s elegant but in a rustic way,” she said of the intricate pieces. “It’s on the edge of elegance.”

This is Cat’s personal favorite space. She plans to keep it “more lightly decorated or gallery-like to really showcase extraordinary pieces.”

Alain, she said, “goes for the grand, grand pieces. He goes for the craftsmanship of a piece.”

Alain has unbridled regard for master cabinetmakers who poured time and creativity into their work.

“Pieces like that are treasures,” he said, pointing to a side table that is 160 years old. “Pieces that attract me to look again and again and again.”

The antiques are “high quality, but not out of the realm” of ownership, Cat said.

Large oak riddling racks from the mid-19th century once held bottles in Champagne wineries. Modern-day buyers use them in diverse ways, Cat said, such as adding hooks to hold copper pots and as a garden gate.

Bagatelle has a unique flow. From the Signature Room, one steps into the Warehouse Room, which carries the flair and flavor of a French flea market. Past this is the Vignette Room, which will always set up as an inviting room in the home. At the rear of the space is the atelier, Alain’s workshop, where he does bits of restoration.

The shop carries the name of a small castle in the Bois de Boulogne park in Paris, one of Alain’s favorite places.

As a play on words, the name translates to “a mere little thing,” Cat said.

It is obvious the shop is no little thing to the Budes, whose excitement for their business is palpable.

“We are almost arm wrestling about being here,” Cat said.

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Que magnifique!

Bagatelle is at 150 Madrone Lane. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and to the trade by appointment on Monday. Call 855-0879.

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