Thursday, October 8, 2020

Decorating With French Panetières and Pétrins

Simply put, a panetière is an ornate French Provincial bread box. But like all things French, you can count on more oh là là than that. The panetière is not your average bread box. Pronounced- pan uh tier, these french bread boxes originally were simple perforated wooden boxes containing bread that were placed directly on the table. However that soon changed in the 18th century when Provence led the way in making the panetière more elaborate. In this post we also take a look at their companion piece, the pétrin used for storing dough. Panetières and pétrins are hard to find today and quite expensive if you do. But many of you know my philosophy is that you never know what you might run into at any given time. Sooooo, if you happen to stumble over either one these great pieces at an estate sale or flea market, now you will know what they are. Enjoy!

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At the heart of the French Provincial kitchen sat two utilitarian but stunning necessities.

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 The baking of bread has always been associated with France and, as they usually do, the French elevated this mundane task of bread-making to an art form. And of course they used two lovely furniture pieces to get the job done properly.

The panetière.......

and the pétrin.

And when they were used together, even these two kitchen work horses became lovely pieces of furniture.  The French knew plenty about cooking with style even in the old days. 

Let's start with the panetière

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Let's start with the panetière. After the bread is baked in the fireplace it was then stored in the panetière, which was basically a very fancy breadbox. The panetière hung on the wall to keep rodents as well as hungry children away from it's contents until it could be served on the dinner table.

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 Panetières appeared in Provence in the Southern part of France during the 18th century and then made their way to other areas after World War I. 

The panetière, or breadbox, is considered a highly collectible French antique that represents an iconic symbol of French tradition ......the making of bread.

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Provence led the way in taking this simple wooden box to the next decorative level.

By the 18th century, turned wood spindles and more decorative aprons and cornices began to appear on panetières. But it was the 19th century that saw this formerly ordinary box develop into an elaborate work of art. Turned spindles were added all around to create the case and you began to see corner posts topped with finials in the shapes of acorns and many other forms. 

In the region around Avignon it was common to decorate your panetière by carving motifs designed to glorify the country life such as fruits, vegetables, local leaves and flowers. The image above is a late 18th century example with slated bottom and spindle sides, to allow air flow, and a plank back. Also during this time the addition of small doors and locks were added to help secure these perishable breads and pastries.

And of course the carved wheat motif was a very popular addition to the panetière.

The average size of a panetière can run 30 to 36 inches wide, 16 to 18 inches deep, and 26 to 39 inches high.

The more decorative panetière had a serpentine front and arched top.

You can find painted versions of the panetière......

but usually they are natural wood.

A beautifully carved panetière lends well to the popular French Country style of decorating.

An authentic French Provincial interior with panetière on display.

This French farmhouse interior features several antique provincial pieces including the panetière.

                 If you do not have a pétrin to rest your panetière on, a French chest or table will still give you a great French country look.

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                       1830's Louis Philippe walnut panetière. Today people are using them for wine racks.

Panetières are also being repurposed for use in religious displays which are currently so popular in the old world antiques markets.

Now we turn our attention to the pétrin

This heavily carved, antique dough box was created in France, circa 1790. 

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This French pétrin was a typical sight in the kitchens of France. Dough for bread and pastry was kept in the box for storage until ready for use.

Once ready, the dough would be taken out by lifting or lowering the lid, kneaded on top, and then placed back inside the pétrin to rise more. 

As part of the process of making breads and desserts several batches of dough would be kept inside the pétrin at any given time.

The lid was good for keeping in the warmth needed for rising. Plus unprotected dough was irresistible for mice and could be covered in ash from the fireplace. Some were heavily carved but others were more simple in design.

The pétrin can also be placed in the home for a variety of other uses. Pétrins are many times used as a table for display. You can use this type furniture also as a kitchen island or as a desk for your kitchen.

The pétrin and panetière were normally used together as a necessary unit for baking and storing bread.

A French farmhouse kitchen with a panetière over the pétrin.

Today, you can use the pétrin and the panetière alone or together wherever you need decorative storage.

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Since pétrins were utilitarian furnishings it is hard to find them in good condition.

Antique panetières and pétrins are becoming more scarce with each passing year. The overall condition of both wood and metal is always important,as is the degree of detail and carvings.Those with bombe fronts are particularly valuable, especially when well-preserved.

This blog post was published by Lisa Farmer

In the event that I have not credited the correct source of an image, please contact me at and I would be glad to correct it.

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