Casual French Style
An informal dinner between friends in Burgundy showcases casual French style.
My visits to the town of Beaune, in the Burgundy region of France, have a traditional conclusion, which is dinner at the home of my friend Rachel Foulkes. We have coordinated an exchange over time, with Rachel preparing a simple yet beautiful meal for me and my guests on the eve of our departure. In return, I bring her a large basket full of eggs, cheese and other groceries, which remain from our house, as well as a fruit tart and wine.
Born in Toronto, Rachel found her home by chance about 15 years ago, when she and her husband were looking for a house in the area to restore. They became the owners of a stone house in the village of Bouilland, in the forested foothills of Beaune, which was for decades the “Saboterie” or woodenshoe workshop. The sabot was the traditional footwear of the vintners of Burgundy. To this day, the home has no numbered address, as it is known to all, including the postman, as “La Saboterie.”
The cobbler’s children had let the house fall into disrepair, with the roof eventually caving in and the floors in need of complete renovation. The series of buildings—which included a barn for the animals (now a bedroom), a workshop (now Rachel’s office) and a cellar—were uninhabitable, except for a small room on the ground floor where Rachel “camped” for the first year by candlelight. The series of rooms are still heated only by enormous fireplaces: one in the kitchen and one in the salon. Little by little, space was reclaimed, a stairway rebuilt, beams replaced and flooring extended. Found materials are used heavily, from the door that serves as dining table to the apple crate that became the coffee table in the salon. Charming details like the Dutch door to the terrace and French doors were also installed.
The kitchen was created in one corner of the petit salon, with a stove from a local manufacturer, plank countertops and open shelving. There are no drawers in the kitchen, with pots and pans hidden in several small nooks covered by vintage linen curtains. Given that Rachel loves to cook and entertain, the shelving and counter areas display an abundance of utensils, foods and storage canisters.
Rachel has decorated her home in eclectic yet casual French style, with pieces gathered from her extensive travels. She now uses La Saboterie as her home base for organizing high-end custom bike trips around France and Europe. Due to her heavy travel schedule six months of the year, her summer garden is given over to the whim of nature, with a little help from a neighbor’s son. Roses climb the walls, and herbs are found in abundance right outside the back door for preparing and cooking a traditional tisane, an herb infusion that finishes the meal and aids digestion.
In recent years, Rachel has completed extensive work on her terrace, extending the stone walls, building a playhouse for her son, Sebastian, and installing a potager. On a moment’s notice, pillows are brought from the house onto the stone terrace, creating an instantly cozy seating area for our appertif.
No matter whom I have in tow, guests are always smitten by Rachel’s effervescence and the charm of dinner at her home. In classic, casual French style, nothing is contrived, everything feels natural and we delight in the casual chaos of an impromptu dinner at La Saboterie.
Written and photographed by Andrea Drexelius