Francophile creates France in her home

The "salon" living room (above) of Jessica and David Zuckerman's house features French furniture, including an ivory silk sofa with a fleur de lis pattern.
The "salon" living room (above) of Jessica and David Zuckerman's house features French furniture, including an ivory silk sofa with a fleur de lis pattern. (ED HILLE / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 14, 2012

Tomorrow, on Bastille Day, Jessica Zuckerman will be singing "La Marseillaise," the French national anthem, to anyone who will listen.

"Everyone agrees that I can't carry a tune. However, that has no influence on the volume or enthusiasm with which I sing."

Zuckerman is not French. She is a loyal American-born citizen who lives in Cherry Hill and loves her country.

But the anniversary that memorializes the storming and fall of that French prison in 1789, marking the flash point of the French Revolution, does not go unnoticed by Zuckerman, a passionate Francophile.

It was a case of amour from the start.

When she first discovered the French language at Lower Merion High School, Zuckerman (then Jessica Granite) devoured it, relishing every conversational nuance her teacher, Barbara Kip, taught her. The sound of the language enchanted her.

And that might have been that.

French took a backseat to her major, psychology, at Cornell University. And after 1986, when she married David Zuckerman, a podiatrist, she basically forgot about French.

But on the couple's trip to Paris in 1998, Jessica fell madly in love again, this time with France itself, and was delighted that her French came rushing back to her.

The vacation might have come to an end, but Zuckerman decided France would come home with her.

Today, the Zuckermans' expansive home on the first tee of Woodcrest Country Club's golf course is so French that you might expect to meet Napoleon himself in the "salon," the home's formal living room. The phone's ring tone is Edith Piaf singing.

"I'm definitely not a minimalist," says Zuckerman, 54, who has a sense of humor about her French obsession. It's been useful in her part-time work as a French tutor, and as a part-time member of the ground crew when Air France had a terminal in Philadelphia. (There was only one flight a day; she really wanted to speak French.)

"The fact that I could greet passengers in French earned me a mighty additional 25 cents an hour over the standard compensation," she quips.

That love also led the Lower Merion native to join in 1999 the Alliance Francaise de Philadelphie, an organization that encourages the study of the French language, literature, and culture, so she could share that passion with other Francophiles. In 2001, she plunged into a one-month language immersion at the demanding Institut de Francais in Villefranche-sur-mer, where a lapse into a word of English cost students a fine. She was in the program when 9/11 shook the world, and will never forget the kindness of the French.

Her husband, who can spout only a few lines of French, gives her credit for their home's decor, which he loves.

"Living here is a bit like living in a fine French hotel. Jessica's taste is exquisite, and she's constantly adding and enhancing," says David, 58, who has retired from his practice but currently heads two companies developing ways to treat foot and orthopedic problems through sound waves.

Luckily, his wife has decorated a home office that besides being regal and sumptuous, is also practical and workable. The desk is one of the home's many showstoppers with its gilt trim and elegant lines. Behind it are bookcases, also with elaborate gilt trim, thoroughly French — and utilitarian, too.

That's the theme that runs through a house where formality meets congeniality. As formal as some rooms are, none is forbidding.

Case in point: a dining room that could host any of the series of Louis kings of France, but also can seat any family fest.

The walls glow with a burnished copper damask wallpaper, and bronze-tone curtains reach the floor. In one corner, fine French china is displayed on a fabric-layered stand, and over it all, a crystal chandelier casts its light over an oval dining table and European-style chairs.

It was from her beloved mother, the late Ruthe Granite, that Jessica Zuckerman inherited both her sense of style and her love for creating a beautiful home.

"She was a single parent and a woman who loved refined and non-contrived elegance," Zuckerman said. "Each of her possessions had special meaning to her and she had a wonderful sense of whimsy in her taste."

Where mother's taste leaned toward understatement, daughter's is far more elaborate.

The "salon" is probably the home's most dramatic room, with French period furniture, including an ivory silk sofa with a fleur de lis pattern, and two side chairs upholstered in red and gold tapestry.

Tables are showcases for more of the French china that the Zuckermans have collected on their more than two dozen trips to every region of France over the last 14 years. Gold moldings and a wallpapered ceiling add to the grandeur.

Where the salon is more French royalty, other rooms, such as the kitchen, reflect French country.

The couple transformed a kitchen dominated by 1970s dark woods into a space where the sun pours in.

White cabinets, and a table paired with country French high-back chairs upholstered in the pink crushed velvet fabric that Zuckerman spotted in Provence, create a blend of charm and informality.

Against one wall is a breakfront with glass doors, behind which rests part of the Zuckermans' extensive collection of Limoges and other French china. An adjacent piece holds more, much of it from shops in small French villages, but some from local auctions and estate sales.

It was at an estate sale in January where Zuckerman met Sheila Schwartz, another avid collector, mostly of antiques. Schwartz was admiring a frame Zuckerman already had purchased, and Zuckerman offered to give her the frame on the spot. Schwartz felt she couldn't accept — until Zuckerman persisted. Eventually Schwartz gave in and came to pick up the frame at the Zuckermans' home.

"When I stepped inside the house, I was amazed," Schwartz said. "It's an exquisite experience just to be in it. But it's not ‘Don't touch me' beautiful. It's warm and comfortable. ... Jessica herself helps to create the warmth, and that sunny country French kitchen is the room I loved most."

Her upstairs home office is done in the same classic country blues and yellows, and a guest room dressed in classic toile in rosy pinks is welcoming.

In the master bedroom, the couple have found a home for the furniture that once belonged to Jessica's grandparents, and a dramatic European-style bed is done up in red silk coordinating fabrics. Even the master bath has a French armoire, a handsome storage site.

Another inhabitant gets to live in this mini-Versailles — even though she isn't French. Josie, the Zuckermans' 4½-pound Yorkie, who travels to France with her owners as a matter of routine.

Besides, as Jessica explains, Josie is nothing if not loyal.

"When I empty a room by my singing of ‘La Marseillaise,' Josie stays. That says it all."

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