Shabby White French Living Room
Several shades of white, with minimal layers of pink and gray, create a textured and romantic atmosphere in the sitting room.

The French countryside has a dreamy and charming appeal to all who visit. One woman, in particular, went above and beyond to make a French fairytale farmhouse in the small village of Tresses, France her own.

Shabby French Writing Desk
A set of vintage doors make a beautiful backdrop for this desk corner. Their patina adds character to the space and is still a viable surface for the oval portrait frame to be hung.
Shabby French Fireplace
High above the discontinued fireplace, the narrow space between the ceiling beams and wall moulding is cleverly utilized as a bookshelf for assorted antique volumes.

Of Swiss descent, born in Algiers and raised in Nice, Marie-Caroline is a cosmopolitan woman. In her travel journal there have been many destinations and Italy was among her favorites. Fifteen years ago, with the idea of finding a new piece of heaven, Marie-Caroline visited an old 18th-century farmhouse near Bordeaux. It was love at first sight.

 

Shabby French Dining Room
Traditional toile-patterned curtains add color to the room and give this farmhouse a classic French touch, while other items were added for casual comfort, such as the linen bedsheet-turned-tablecloth.

“Strangely, I said yes from the very first moment. I didn’t even take the time to sell my previous home, and I had no idea how I would do it. I did not even have time to warn my husband!” she says. “The interior decoration was in a style typical of the 1970s, an atmosphere that I did not appreciate at all, and it was soon clear that my daughters didn’t either. But this place offered me so many ideas. Everything is so dreamy in here!”

Shabby Vintage French Hutch
Due to its size, this hutch could easily dominate the dining room. However, the wash of pale, matte blue-gray paint gives it a subtle and aged appearance that suites the space without overwhelming.
Shabby Vintage French Dining Room
Surrounded by ornate vintage objects, a white-washed trunk sets a sentimental scene at the fireplace, filled with antique letters, black and white photographs and other mementoes.
A stone skink basin sits above carved cabinet doors with a white-washed and worn patina in this shabby vintage French kitchen.
A stone skink basin sits above carved cabinet doors with a white-washed and worn patina.

Stunning Transformation

Today, there’s very little left of that old, dusty house Marie-Caroline’s daughters disliked. White, chippy furniture; chandeliers and wood floors have replaced the old torn wallpaper and the orange floral carpet. “Everything is a game, and all I do is have fun,” she says. Her playground was ideal: the house, with its solid stones, has kept all its centuries-old charm.

An ornately carved sideboard painted in blue-gray provides extra storage for kitchen necessities.
An ornately carved sideboard painted in blue-gray provides extra storage for kitchen necessities without compromising on Marie-Caroline’s aesthetic.
Surrounded by so much stonework, the glass-toped kitchen table with mismatched chairs, two of wrought iron and two caned wood, adds an airy outdoor feel to the kitchen space.
Surrounded by so much stonework, the glass-toped kitchen table with mismatched chairs, two of wrought iron and two caned wood, adds an airy outdoor feel to the kitchen space that balances the overall look.

Since an object’s usefulness is not a necessity in the rules of the game, everything can become a pretext for her special displays. Objects are found in situations where they wouldn’t normally be, and the beauty justifies it: an old linen bed sheet turns into a tablecloth; a pile of ancient books transforms into a small side table next to the sofa.

Situated opposite the library wall, a cozy offers the perfect spot to read and reflect.
Situated opposite the library wall, a cozy offers the perfect spot to read and reflect.
French Library
Rows and rows of antique books line this wall of shelves, starting at the floor and reaching between the ceiling beams.

The 18th-century farmhouse is ideal for all of Marie-Caroline’s creative ideas. “I dreamed of an old house with stone walls and an upstairs floor. My needs pushed me to prefer charm over volume; this case wanted me to have both,” she says.

Vintage Shabby French Bedroom
“In some of the bedrooms, I covered the plastered walls with a lime-wash paint in a Mediterranean color palette to match the warm tones of the bare stone,” Marie-Caroline says.

Restore and Renovate

As the space already offered a predefined configuration, the charm offered great potential that the homeowner exploited. To achieve this goal, Marie-Caroline took advantage through various discoveries during the renovations. “We discovered, under several layers of plaster and wallpaper, a beautiful blonde stone typical of this region. My original idea was to paint all the walls white, but I immediately stopped the carpenters and asked them to leave the bare stone as it was.” This adds a natural and welcoming feeling, thanks to the warm colors that echo in the interior and on the exterior façade.

A pair of antique and weather-worn salvaged doors create a headboard behind the bed. Purple toile fabric was added to the insets as a fresh update. A swath of the same pattern hangs from the center of the dressing screen.
A pair of antique and weather-worn salvaged doors create a headboard behind the bed. Purple toile fabric was added to the insets as a fresh update. A swath of the same pattern hangs from the center of the dressing screen.

“In some of the bedrooms, I covered the plastered walls with lime-wash paint in a Mediterranean color palette to match the warm tones of the bare stone,” Marie-Caroline says. But the work did not alter the home. “There were no major renovations, only a meticulous restoration of the walls and floors,” she says. “We removed the carpets and exposed the original hardwood floors, and we freed the fireplaces from a faux-wood structure that covered them entirely. The floor of the living and dining rooms have been remade with a rectangular stone.”

Marie-Caroline chose a lacy fabric to surround the bathtub instead of the typical shower curtain. Behind the bathtub, a wall of cerused wood adds another level of texture to the space.
Marie-Caroline chose a lacy fabric to surround the bathtub instead of the typical shower curtain. Behind the bathtub, a wall of cerused wood adds another level of texture to the room.
Canopies are a motif throughout Marie-Caroline's home. The artfully draped fabric adds old-fashioned drama and a cozy, yet luxe, look to each space.
Canopies are a motif throughout the private rooms in Marie-Caroline’s home. The artfully draped fabric adds old-fashioned drama and a cozy, yet luxe, look to each space.

These renovations were enough to restore the ancient atmosphere of the house. “I think I felt the same joy of an archaeologist who digs up hidden treasures,” Marie-Caroline says. “It was so nice to see the house breathe again!”

White and Bright

Marie-Caroline wanted bright interiors and predominantly white tones, as she comes from very sunny cities. Her admiration for the arts of the 18th century have progressively oriented her taste toward a style that is at once simple and opulent.

A white ladder acts as makeshift shelving on the upper rungs, with the lower providing a convenient spot to hang blankets.
A white ladder acts as makeshift shelving on the upper rungs, with the lower providing a convenient spot to hang blankets.
A lamp stand assembled from antique books and a vintage suitcase
Marie-Caroline assembled a lamp stand by stacking antique books on top of a vintage suitcase with leather details.

Every detail is a pretext for a new mise en scène, a setting, which is connected to the general atmosphere of the house through one simple guideline. “In my opinion, the basic element of the shabby [décor] style is the white color: It can be [used] in many different shades and can be applied to any support, furniture or object, enriching it with magic,” Marie-Caroline says. This magic is the perfect base for the appearance of colors. “I like to introduce romantic pastel tones, sometimes a little ‘dusty,’ through details such as cushions, lampshades, ornaments or flowers,” she says. And thanks to these details, contrasts can be added to the décor.

A lush setting, lacy details and vintage accessories create a whimsical atmosphere in Marie-Caroline's backyard in the French Bordeaux region.
A lush setting, lacy details and vintage accessories create a whimsical atmosphere in Marie-Caroline’s backyard.

Perhaps what Marie-Caroline is displaying in her farmhouse is her love for times past; the time of history but also the time of childhood. “My passion for the romantic metamorphosis of things was not transmitted to me by a fairy godmother, but by a benevolent godfather who, as a child, gave me wonderful fairytale books with beautiful illustrations. I dreamed of reproducing their magical atmosphere in my life,” she says. Today, childhood memories and present events are but one: as in Proust, time has been regained.

The color enhances both the natural surroundings and the home's French fairy tale aesthetic.
The soft and feminine color palette present inside is carried to the outdoor accents as well. Marie-Caroline had the barn doors and shutters painted in a lovely shade of dusty lavender. The color enhances both the natural surroundings and the home’s French fairy tale aesthetic.

 

French Style Magazine Summer 2018

This story originally appeared in the Summer 2018 issue of French Style Magazine. Pick up your copy today for more elegant French country inspiration!