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Tranquil fountains, luscious gardens and preserved historical features make this 17th-century home in Luberon Valley, France, the go-to destination for a French country retreat. As the homeowners Sioned Rees-Thomas and her partner, Gavin, purchased the home in 2007 mainly for a holiday getaway, they’ve chosen to rent it out during the spring, summer and autumn.
To provide the perfect atmosphere for themselves and future renters, Sioned and Gavin hired Susannah Cameron, director of Chez Pluie Provence, to update the style of the home while maintaining its historic roots.
Sitting on almost nine acres of land, the home is surrounded by the beauty of the countryside, including fruit trees, cherry trees, olive groves, old farm homes and a view of the Luberon mountains, providing a relaxing atmosphere perfect for European vacationers. “It’s bucolic luxury. You’re very aware you’re in the countryside, but you haven’t been on the tractor all day,” says Susannah. “The smell of jasmine and the sounds of the birds are instantly relaxing.”
With six bedrooms, private courtyards and balconies, a music salon and two outdoor summer kitchens, the grounds offer ample space for guests to visit and explore, no matter the time of day. “You really do live outdoors in Provence, so you’d be following the shade,” says Susannah. “There are different outdoor dining areas for breakfast, lunch or dinner, depending on where the sun is located.”
The home had been renovated before the homeowners moved in, making only interior design changes necessary. “I helped them push the boundaries a bit with accents from the midcentury up to the 1980s,” says Susannah. Her company provides interior design services, but they’re also an online store that specializes in French antiques and vintage homeware, so she incorporated some pieces from her shop into the home. “I switched out some of their Asian influences and replaced them with something softer, such as the Karibou painting over the music salon piano,” says Susannah.
Though they updated the décor of the home, a lot of the original features remain untouched, such as the dining room ceiling beams, the staircase and the original summer kitchen. If something was added or changed, it was made to fit the centuries-old vibe, like the red terra cotta tiles in the dining room and the built-in shelves in the music salon. This practice allowed them to make functional updates without altering the overall feel of the historic home.
While outdoors there is plenty of color from bright flowers, the interiors stick to a neutral palette, letting the age and character of the décor speak to its style. Though beige and brown are the prominent colors in the home, Susannah introduced gold accents in dinnerware, light fixtures and vintage pieces. “Most things have an aged patina, so you’re engaged by the texture rather than the color,” she says. “The home is neutral, but the touches of gold are really nice and lush.”
Country in the City
Even if you live in the middle of a crowded city, this relaxed, country look can be emulated with a bit of creativity. “Start with some entry-level antiques,” says Susannah. “You don’t need a huge budget to enjoy something old and precious.” Try using things in a different context, such as garden pots indoors or a watering can as a vase. This will bring the feel of the country to your home whatever your location.
Nestled into the relaxed hillside of Los Feliz in Los Angeles, California, this colorful French style cottage fits perfectly within the neighborhood of established and aspiring creative types. Homeowner and designer Kaari Zabala took an innovative approach to the design of her home, combining old and new pieces, along with French and Native American-inspired décor.
“There are lots of primitive pieces used to soften the atmosphere,” she says. “We have a mix of old and new in our home—but mostly old!” Kaari is the owner of the popular craft-workshop store, French General. Her store promotes a French-inspired lifestyle and sells items like textiles, ephemera collections and household décor found only in France. Her affinity for French things are directly seen in her own home as well.
Kaari keeps the store and her inspiration thriving with her trips to the South of France every summer, utilizing the items from her store and inspiration from her trips in the design of her home. With a twist on traditional provincial style, she takes advantage of unique décor, combinations of old and new, rustic elements and a vibrant color palette to bring the essence of French style to her home.
Built in 1936, Kaari’s home is 1,500 square feet of cozy space that channels classic aspects of provincial style. Throughout the home, Kaari creates feelings of grace and comfort that are highly valued by the French.
In the main bedroom, pieces such as a hanging chandelier, bedside lamp and chair boast feminine curves and gilded accents that add fanciful flourishes to the space. A lovely French sliding glass door opens up to the exquisite backyard, bringing the outdoors into the elegant design of the bedroom.
The kitchen boasts a mix of fine antiques and rustic patinas. While kitchens used to simply be a place to cook, Kaari turned her kitchen space into a display for her favorite collectibles. A country-inspired armoire has open shelving to display her delicate chinaware and, inspired by French vintage, Kaari turned one of the walls into a display of old-fashioned scissors, framed butterflies and other household items.
The main table, on the other hand, speaks to the relaxing atmosphere of a French marketplace with bright sunflowers, croissants and fresh jam. The chandelier adds a touch of elegance to the space, while a gilded painting brings in a rural element. These décor items blend the rustic and the refined in the space, creating a comfortable and inviting atmosphere.
Color and Textiles
In the living room, Kaari combines her passion for textiles with a classic French theme. She loves to collect antique Navajo rugs and uses them to cover the floors of her home. Their colorful presence prompted her to use their color schemes as inspiration for her color palette, resulting in reds, creams and earthy browns. To help balance the boldness of the bright reds, she created a contrast with soft yellow accent walls and creamy linen décor.
Kaari takes advantage of her own collection of fabrics from French General to create lovely patterned pillows in plaid and striped designs, as well as for upholstering most of the homes daybeds, sofas and chairs. She uses Old World sensibility paired with cheerful colors and patterns to channel French provincial style throughout her home. To help others achieve the style, Kaari suggests repurposing old textiles. Try reinforcing old quilts with a layer of linen on the back or use old tablecloths to make pillow covers. Kaari says, “Every scrap of fabric can be used to add personality to your home.”
With earthy tones and gilded gold accents, all inspired by a great European excursion, a uniquely French inspired bedroom was born. “This space was designed for the oldest daughter of a large family, she fell in love with French style and loved the colors we chose for the room, the kind of butter and gold and light and the very, very soft lilac in the room, like almost a grayish lilac. So it was designed with her in mind, and her being inspired by a trip to Paris—so we did a lot of architectural details and large moldings, classical moldings, panel moldings, crown moldings, large base moldings and then added wall coverings.” says Tara Dudley of Tara Dudley Interiors.
She explains that the room, located in a Penthouse in Las Vegas, Nevada, was most transformed by the neutrally accented color scheme, flowing woven fabrics, and various moldings that they chose to install.
Instead of neutral toned colors, the designers went for more complimentary tones in the bedroom to create balance and appeal to a classic French style.
“The color scheme is more complimentary, that pale blue and the pale butter with the gold accents compliment one another. So I think it started with knowing she likes gold rather than silver, and being that she was inspired by Paris—we wanted to have French blue as our key color,” explained Tara.
Employing the beauty and traditional chinoiserie and faux bois elements throughout the room created a gorgeous natural and fresh feeling.“There are a lot of woven fabrics. The ottoman is a woven, textured velvet, with a leopard print design to it. The sofa is velvet, cotton velvet. the drapery fabric and the headboard fabric are woven linen chinoiserie. There’s a lot of texture on the quilts and on the pillows. On the area rug is a combination of silk and wool, so there’s a little bit of sheen,” said Tara.
“The furnishings have Louis lines to them. There are some faux bois that are gilded, the iron bed frame and the materials also have kind of a faux bois pattern on the pillow fabrics and the drapery fabrics.”
Ultimately, this bedroom and bathroom achieve a style all its own that is: “classic, European, and all natural.” Utilizing complementary pieces along with an earthy color palette, Tara Dudley created a warm and welcoming space that invites visitors and residents of the space in to stay a long while.
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.
The rustic charm of French country décor is a coveted look many homeowners who love the romantic style strive to create. For Sharon Santoni of My French Country Home, living in Normandy makes it all the simpler. Her house lies in a valley just an hour outside of Paris, nestled between farmland and a forest.
Her flowers, food and even the décor are all determined by the seasons. If you’ve ever wondered how you can have the French country look in your own home throughout every season, follow Sharon’s example.
Pops of Garden Colors
Flowers bring a liveliness to every room. Throughout Sharon’s home, fresh blooms pop with color against white walls and porcelain pitchers, and all of the flowers come from Sharon’s own garden.
“I see my garden as a palace of colors,” Sharon says. “The only time I buy flowers is in the winter, when I can use fresh greenery from my garden, but not flowers. From early spring through the end of September, I use my own flowers in all my decorating.”
Seasonal blooms stand out against her neutral backdrop of white and gray. On her dining room table, soft white linens and napkins emphasize her colorful blossoms all the more. “All of my linens are vintage or antique,” Sharon says. “I have cupboards and cupboards of linens. I love linens.” The vintage quality and embroidered hems make them simple, elegant tablecloths or napkins for any dinner party.
It’s impossible to accomplish the French country look without including food as part of the decor. Almost every table in Sharon’s home is decorated with seasonal fruits, vegetables and homemade treats.
Although Sharon grows some of her own produce, she also purchases food from the local farmers near her property. Plus she always eats what’s in season. “We like to eat food that is in the right season,” Sharon says. “We grow some fruits and vegetables in the garden. For example, right now we’re eating a lot of strawberries. I like eating food in season because you can look forward to it as the seasons come around.”
Aside from growing her own food, Sharon and her husband also enjoy cooking. She shares some of her favorite recipes in her book, My French Country Home, and decorates many of her tables with freshly baked tarts and scones.
“Entertaining is such a big part of everyday life here,” Sharon says. “My husband comes from a long line of great cooks, and these are my family’s personal recipes.” Adding croissants and seasonal fruits to your breakfast table next to a pitcher full of fresh blooms goes a long way toward creating the French country feel in your home.
The Precious and the Rustic
When it comes to maintaining the French country look throughout the seasons, Sharon offers a bit of advice. Aside from using seasonal blooms and decorating her tables with vintage linens, she always suggests keeping it real. “The French country look is a mix of old and new,” Sharon says. “It can’t be too rich or precious. It has to be real. We raised four children and two dogs in our house. A little bit of shabby does no harm at all.”
Also, don’t overthink it, she suggests. In the end, your home is just meant to make you feel at home. Change with the seasons, and let fresh blooms be your centerpiece for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Purchase fresh fruits and veggies from your local farmer’s market, and bake breakfast pastries or desserts to go with them.
Make the most of neutral colors such as white, off-white or gray in your napkins, tablecloths or runners to emphasize your floral centerpiece. This approach will brighten up your home and make it appear all the more welcoming. The French country lifestyle is carefree and spontaneous, and your home can be too.
Having a small space can actually be a benefit to your home’s style, according to the homeowner of a 400-square-foot apartment in Paris, France. “Small spaces are cozy and easier to style than larger homes,” says Adriana Anzola. “You just need the right things in the right place.” This apartment simply consists of a kitchen, a living room and a bedroom, but it comfortably fits Adriana’s everyday needs and vintage treasures.
Her style can be described as “Old English cottage meets French glamour,” with lots of florals for a cozy and relaxed feel. “I get a lot of inspiration from living in this beautiful city and from the vintage markets I visit regularly,” says Adriana.
Because she rents the apartment, all her changes are decorative. She painted the walls, but the ornate ceiling moldings are original to the structure and complement her vintage furniture. “Pretty much everything in my house comes from a vintage market,” says Adriana. “I like objects that have a soul and can tell a story. Unique finds create a unique place.”
One element she carries throughout her home is the distressed look. “I’m always in search of that piece with a perfectly aged patina,” she says. “It adds the right touch of rustic and country that I love so much.” Whether it’s a piece of wooden furniture or a faded rug, almost everything in her home has an aged look that adds history and romance to the space.
While small places have their benefits, they can be quite tricky to plan. “You have to be very organized if you want to keep [your home] tidy and looking pretty,” says Adriana. “Storage is the key. That way, you only display what you wish to display.” She demonstrates this idea by using her vintage finds for decorative storage.
A desk, trunk, armoire or even a small cabinet can make all the difference in how your space flows. Everything that you love can sit on top of the piece, while your everyday items can be hidden within it. “I say, if it’s not pretty don’t exhibit it!” she says.
Though Adriana makes it look easy, some preparation is required if you dream to fill your home with vintage finds. “Before going to a flea market, make sure you know your style, your color palette and your taste,” she says. “There are so many amazing objects at the markets that you risk coming home with things that are not going to have a place in your home.”
To make it easier for everything to blend well, start with a neutral wall base. “For me, a white space is the perfect canvas to start decorating and adding those special accents,” Adriana says. A soft color palette such as the whites, pinks, yellows and blues of her home will maintain a relaxing atmosphere, but you can also experiment with beige or light gray for a neutral background.
Like Adriana’s style? She has an Etsy shop, MyShabbyWhites, where she sells one-of-a-kind vintage french decor!