Opening a cheerful, quirky general store helped Francophile Kaari Meng rally against illness and find her own Hollywood ending. "I've always been about the hunt," Kaari says. "I love rummaging around to find that one treasure." Ten years ago, it was that pursuit—along with a deeply felt Francophilia inspired by her French great-grandmother and a Parisian college roommate—that prompted Kaari to ditch her career as a jewelry designer and create French General, an offbeat collection of textiles, window treatments and linens, among other products.
The trek proved tougher than Kaari had anticipated: As she prepared to expand her business into its first full-fledged store, in New York's SoHo district, she was diagnosed with cancer. Her parents and four siblings pitched in to help pull off the December 1999 opening, even shaving their heads in a show of solidarity with Kaari, who was still bald from chemotherapy. "It was," she says with a laugh, "a very interesting store opening."
Ready for another change in 2003, Kaari moved her business to Los Angeles. "The Hollywood glamour from the 1940s and '50s was coming back to L.A.," she says, "and I wanted to be a part of that." French General is now stationed in a 1928 Spanish-style bungalow, where Kaari displays home goods of her own design on a French farm table, a coat rack, and even a washing machine. "We grew up in a house that was filled with a very eclectic collection of things my parents would find on their travels," she says. "I'm sure that inspired me."
Now fully recovered, Kaari, 42, bases her designs on colors and patterns she loves, such as rich shades of red and antique flower prints. "It's not about following trends," she says of her business, "because that will kill you at the end of the day. If I'm not making as much money as the guy next door, I'm okay with that because I'm doing something I enjoy."
The former jewelry designer also sells vintage jewelry and craft kits and teaches weekly jewelry-making classes in her store.
Kaari's pillows, priced from $65 to $250, are made with antique fabrics found during her annual month-long visit to the south of France.
For more information on French General, visit frenchgeneral.com.
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