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