Working in France in the late eighties created within me a life-long joy of France, its language, countryside and people, a link which will never be broken. To be able to put all that together, mix French with English furniture, from smart to extremely scruffy is such a pleasure I would like to share it.
As soon as my husband, David, retired we decided to share our time between France and London, and still do. Last year, having spent eight years in the SW of France, in the Tarn, we sadly sold our old farmhouse which we completely renovated – just because there was far too much garden for my husband to look after – told him so! And we are about to finish our second French project. Don’t be frightened to take on the renovation of a property – there are no building regulations, and the builders we have had have been a delight. They also give you a quote and keep to it!!
French builders, young and old, not from anywhere else but the local villages around, arrive at 8, leave at 12, return at 1 or 2 and work till 5 or 6 – without EVER having a tea-break. Now isn’t that a joy? No corners full of soggy teabags and old sugar and milk cartons!! We have had the occasional builders who stay for lunch – not lunch as we’d expect. Our delightful plasterer in the Tarn covered an old box with a beautifully laundered cloth, heated up his lunch on a primus stove, asked for a corkscrew to open his wine, totally oblivious to the chaos around him – a moment to treasure, and put me to shame!
The people in the Tarn were a delight, my French is reasonable and everyone helped David along too when he tried, and has slowly improved. Having moved away, we have French and Danish and Belgian friends there who insist on keeping in touch with us – don’t expect it, and it takes time, but there’s good and bad everywhere! The damp in the Tarn got too much for us, so moving to the sunshine of Provence was another adventure, and the joy of another house to renovate.
We are forever bringing old bits of ‘puces’ (fleamarket!) to England and back again, stripping things increasingly hard to find, increasingly expensive unfortunately, and turning them into really comfortable usable objects – a cupboard for 50 euros! Yes, it was my best bargain, but it didn’t stand up! David set it straight, added more shelves, I painted, and now no-one would know it hadn’t been in our house for ever!
Have a look at some of these things we’ve found and added to our collection. Having collected lots of old sheets and even very thick linen with stripes from elsewhere, they are wonderful for curtains and headboards and blinds and cushions and all manner of things, and I am forever being asked if I can make curtains etc. etc. for friends and colleagues in and around London. ‘Will you come make my house/flat feel like yours?’ ‘Could I sell my, or can I find a table just like that? ‘Why not! Do ask! It gives me a chance to find more – very early Sunday mornings, coffee and croissant the treat for getting up, and off to a market in some small town. I’m sending photos of the sort of things I’ve put together and hope you enjoy them as much as I like living with them around me.
Well now……… Our House!
Why is it I always seem to find some old ruin which needs some care and attention? I love more than anything giving an old building a new life, taking care of it so it will last a lot longer, give it all the things we need to be comfortable whatever the weather. A few trips to Provence in and around Eygalieres and St. Remy de Provence, south of Avignon, and one or two helpful estate agents (and DO persist, they are not like English ones, there is often not a concept of showing you lots of things – push hard for what you would like to see – they’ll definitely show you everything else!). If you are reading this, I feel sure you know all about buying and selling in France, so that would be boring for now. You’ll know what you want when you see it! I ALWAYS have a list of the sort of place I’m looking for -what way does it face – take a compass!, is it miles from anywhere/near a village/airport, all those important things and try to stick to the list.
This time it was definitely a house in a town – walk for the bread first thing in the morning in the cooler fresher air, walk to the market, for a coffee, an International Herald Tribune, a glass of wine at a pavement café, all those things you keep as joyous memories to store for later. As soon as we came across no.7 we knew this was the one! We couldn’t see the house from the gate, the garden was so overgrown, it was two small terrace houses, all the old wooden beams removed 30 years ago, changed into small rooms with lots of concrete and horrid terrazzo tiles – perfect!! Place to park, facing south, quiet but 200 yards from the centre of town, place for long, lazy suppers on the terrace, for a small pool, even a boules court, and 200 sq. metres of house to play with, as well as outbuildings to create a guest suite cum studio when David wants to paint.
David Carrington Craggs paints with ease and great flair using the landscape and images he sees in the French countryside.
We pulled the walls out, installed lots of metal beams to hold up three good-sized new bedrooms, all with shower or bath, covered the metal beams with old wooden beams, added more old ceiling beams, and ended up with a wonderful 45 foot long room, kitchen at one end, dining in the centre, sitting at the other, including a reclaimed old stone fire surround and a splendid wood burning stove all the way from Ludlow! Old floor tiles and wonderful metalwork to give us a staircase which looks like it’s been there for 150 years, add lots of French and English finds and it’s home! Everyone loves it, they tell me they feel comfortable and calm, so I hope you like it too. If there’s anything I can help with, then you must let me know – I’m so delighted to share this excitement with you – I can hardly bear to settle down and entertain friends through the summer, I’d FAR rather sell up and start all over again!! It’s definitely very hard work, but such a pleasure!
Happy summer and enjoy yourselves!
Some lovely extra images……
There will be more images to come over the next few months but in the meantime ,I hope you enjoy looking out for these intersting finds both in England and on trips to France.
I do commissioned interior design work from my London home and can be contacted through my email address.
Pauline Carrington-Craggs firstname.lastname@example.org