Saturday, 27 April 2019

A new love affair

Living in France a love affair was inevitable really, after all it happens all the time here. You feel you should tell Andrew? I wouldn't bother, I think he suspects, after all it's hard to hide these things isn't it? The far away look, the quick exit to a dark mobile phone screen. Quickly closing the iPad cover when he comes into the room. I spend time on Facebook stalking associates of my new found love, eager to find out more. I don't write their name in full, that would be too obvious, it's initials only.  It's lucky that this week I've been painting in La Grange, it leaves my mind free to wander about what could be...

Like all things it started small, in fact it started with this:

Yes it's a table, but not any table. An original late 1950's teak table designed by V.B Wilkins, with an extendable leaf. Sorry, it's not what you expected? You honestly didn't think it was someone tall, dark and handsome did you? No my new love is Mid Century Modern (MCM).

So how did this all start and what is MCM? Most of you know that I'm not keen on shabby château chic, genuine faded French interiors I do like but rooms like this one below leave me cold. Too fussy, cluttered and probably some really nice furniture being ruined with chalk paint and stencilled phrases. Painting furniture can be a great idea if the original finish is bad, or you are trying to get some unity in disparate pieces, I do it quite a lot but it should be done with some thought to the quality of the original item.

Our barn conversion has the bedrooms downstairs and the first floor is an open plan living, dining and cooking space. We've kept the high ceiling, light floods in and we wanted to create a contemporary space but with a vintage twist. The other reason for choosing this style is that the French gîte market is very competitive and we hope a more hip space will stand out.

Back to MCM - what is it? Authentic Mid Century Modern embraces architecture, furniture and art designed in the middle of the 20th century, loosely 1940's to early 1970's which are 'modern' in style. Aligned with the Modernism movement, the design aesthetic is characterised by clean, simple lines, the use of natural materials and is not usually overly decorated. My preference is for the furniture and art from the 1950's to early 1960's, I start to lose interest when plastic and psychedelia kick in.

When I had an antique shop we rarely bought much past Art Deco, maybe the odd piece of ceramic, so my knowledge of MCM is limited. I know that there was quite an influence from Scandinavia, particularly Denmark, and I know the big names - Arne Jacobsen, Ray & Charles Eames, Eero Saarinen, Florence Knoll and Le Corbusier. In the U.S architect and designer Frank Lloyd Wright produced amazing living spaces, now much coveted, one has just come on the market for $23 million. You can buy architect plans for MCM houses, I nearly suggested to Andrew that when we finish the renovations we sell up, buy a plot of land and build one!

Mid Century Modern style house
This I really covet!
In my quest for more knowledge I've joined a couple of Facebook groups and I'm amazed at the furniture and artworks that they're finding, I'm very envious. I don't know enough yet of the influence that the movement had in France to know if I will be able to find the furniture and decorative pieces that I want. I've only been at this a couple of weeks but, along with the dining table, I've found a pair of easy chairs (that I need to reupholster) and a pair of early 1960's chairs that Andrew refuses to sit on until I change the furry fabric! I think finding pieces here may be tricky and I'll have to blend in some contemporary pieces but that's fine, but after all I'm not after the space looking like a Mad Men set.

Two furry sixties chairs

Two MCM waiting for restoration

Left in the house was this West German vase (West German pottery was strong in the MCM)

West Germany pottery
and I have a friend in the U.K who has been tasked with finding me some decorative items. If anyone has something in their attic that they want to get rid of then let me know!

As the furnishing progresses I'll share photographs so you can see how we're getting on. Meanwhile if you want to see more examples of this style then have a look at my Pinterest page. If you want to know more about French barns you can find us here or the lovely Interior Design in France group. We would love you to follow us as we continue our renovation project in Corrèze.

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Happy thoughts

I've been thinking about my father a lot this week, in a gentle, happy way. He died nearly three years ago but I've been working on a furniture project this week which reminds me of him.

For a few years we had an antique business together, while we both did the buying he did most of the restoration (unless it involved fabric) and I ran the shop. It was the shop that really set me off on an interior design path. I'd always enjoyed design and styling, I'd even won a trip to the Caribbean through a window display competition many years previously, and the shop gave me the opportunity to hone my own style. Customers would often comment on the displays, sometimes buying complete room sets and asking advice. They would invite me into their homes and ask me to source pieces for them and suggest ideas - I loved it. I decided that if I was going to do this well I should train properly, which I did.

Mid century table project
After he died I inherited a lot of things from my father's workshop - tools, waxes & polishes and all manner of handles, knobs and hardware. This week we bought a mid century Danish teak table from the 1950's and although it was in good condition it needed a clean and oil so I headed to my father's kit. There were some weird and wonderful potions which fortunately I know enough about not to do any damage with! But it was just nice to know that I was using things that he had and carrying on his enjoyment of furniture restoration. With the barn to furnish I don't think that it will be my only furniture restoration project!

As always you can follow our new life in France on the blog or on Facebook

Two mid century modern chairs - waiting for restoration

Next projects

Sunday, 14 April 2019


Last time I did a full barn post there was snow on the ground and the woodburner was being lit after lunch. Now we have blossom, tiny wood violets and primroses everywhere.

Corrèze town from the garden
Progress has been on the three F's - floors, finishes and furniture. So floors first. When we bought the barn there were several (filthy) piles of chestnut parquet flooring left in the barn, precariously balanced on rotting joists. I've lost count of the times that we moved these but finally we got to use them. I spent days cleaning and sanding every tongue and groove, then made piles of the different widths and lengths for Andrew to lay. This wasn't an easy job, partly because we have a floor area of about 70 metres square but also this was old wood, not straight from the factory precision cut joints. It was difficult to work out exactly how much we had but as the piles got smaller we decided that it was touch and go that there would be quite enough so plan B kicked in - the kitchen area would be tiled.

Bottom left is how we found the wood! 
Can I say now, never volunteer to come shopping with us when we're choosing something for the house, you will never get that time back! Both trained designers we each have strong opinions, sometimes they're the same opinions but with the kitchen tiles it took six hours and several tile shops before the decision was made. Then there was the planning, we didn't want a square edge to the kitchen area but a random looking transition from the parquet.

Once the floor was laid I spent more hours on my knees sanding, and then oiling. But we're please with the result.

While I was upstairs finishing the floor Andrew had moved downstairs. We had chosen a slate effect tile for the bathrooms and hall floors, they work well with the dark shower trays and as they are external tiles they have a good grip. Once again Andrew's skill in planning shows and all three areas are looking good, and will be even better when I treat them so they have a slight sheen. He's now moved on to wall tiling (having finished the plumbing) and I'm on furniture duty.

Planning the tiles for bathroom 1 and kitchen, and a finished floor

We're very pleased with the new windows and I love the way that they open so flat and wide upstairs to take full advantage of the view. The pointed wall is too irregular for kitchen units so Andrew has built a faux wall - and it's perfect for hiding the cabling.

I still have the downstairs to decorate but there were a lot of dirty jobs happening, as well as tools and equipment about so I decided to turn my attention to furniture sourcing. Nearly all the furniture for La Grange still has to be purchased so I have been hitting Emmaus and Troc hard! I'm not a huge shabby chic fan but I do like to use paint to unite disparate items. This was a mirror I found, I really liked the shape and the fact that it was bevelled but it looked too new so it got painted and waxed. The knobs are from Maisons du Monde and as you can see from the one on the left, a bit glitzy. After some black wax they're looking much better (right).

Two 'befores' and a detail from an 'after'
So far I've painted two side tables for bedroom one, two bedside cabinets and a mirror for bedroom two. I've painted and nearly finished re-upholstering a bedroom chair, started stripping back an armchair, painted another large chair and bought a tub chair which needs a full restoration. But there is still a lot of furniture to source so I think the next few weeks will be busy. And did I say I have a mid-June deadline. Insert chewing nails icon!

Still to do!
So it looks like another busy week ahead. As always you can catch up with our progress as the barn progresses on the blog or feel free to follow us here on Facebook.

Tuesday, 9 April 2019


We've always tried to eat seasonally, not always successfully but we do find it easier in France. These last 10 days or so we've seen asparagus appear at the market. For me it's the first real vegetable of spring and our favourite way of eating is grilled - olive oil, sea salt and a shaving of parmesan.

And I'm talking about the fine green spears not the fat white ones that are popular over here.

Last night was our first real asparagus meal - risotto. As I said 'miam!'

If you want to know more about our daily life in Corrèze you can follow us on the blog or on Facebook. We'd love you to say bonjour!

Monday, 1 April 2019

Barn floor status report

I know that I'm overdue a barn update but here's an interim report because we've finished the upstairs floor in the barn.

The previous owners left us approximately 70 square metres of chestnut parquet flooring. We think it had been in the barn for around 30 years, so you can imagine the state it was in. Added to the dirt, it was different lengths and widths and it's has taken a lot of work by both of us. Being the unskilled half of the work force my job was to sand every piece, each tongue and groove, and sort into piles. Andrew then spent days on his knees fitting it and using some of the left over for skirting boards. Back to me for sanding and oiling but finally it's finished. And we both have calloused knees!

One of the three piles of flooring

Finally finished (the gap is for kitchen tiles)

You can follow our progress as we renovate our house and barn in Corrèze on the blog or on Facebook

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