In a town near us there is a house, much the same as the others in its street. Pretty shabby from the outside, peeling render, a mismatch of windows. Unprepossessing, it’s a tall narrow town house wedged in between the surrounding buildings. Viewed from a distance you wouldn’t give it a second glance but as you stroll on by, you might notice little details – a hand painted flower on the concrete wall. Splashes of colour from the trailing geraniums hung high framing the window. Three narrow contemporary, black framed windows. Your interest is piqued and you wonder who lives there.
Entering from the street through the heavy metal door painted a glossy carnelian red, you step into a Summer Narnia. A glimpse of tropical banana leaves, vibrant and oversized in the small rockery, hanging copper pots brimming over with tumbling petunias. An early 20thcentury statue of a young shepherdess and her beau that feels right at home next to a mossy coloured velvet stool and it's brightly embroidered cushion. Little frippery touches softening the utilitarian concrete passageway, creating intrigue and a teaser of what’s to come. A discoloured Perspex roof, certainly nothing fancy there, but enlivened by the overgrown wisteria pirouetting along the entrance way. The small delicate glass lamp lights your way and encourages you to explore.
Red accents are a repeating theme and are found inside and out
I know the house very well. It belongs to my sister Ali, and my beau-frère Aadil (sounds so pretty in French) They moved from Paris to the Cévennes in 2006 with their four boys looking for that slower pace we all crave and cleaner air to see the stars away from city lights. Over the years, the house has steadily filled with love and vintage treasures. Browsing the brocantes, the local puce market and auctions houses, seeking pre-loved items that deserve a new life. The thrill of discovering a singular crystal glass discarded as it has no matching friends or a carpet at a bargain price because it needs a clean and an airing, is something they both evidently enjoy.
Books are present in every room as well as lovely corners in which to enjoy them
The house is divided in two by a central staircase leading up three flights of steep time-worn stone stairs. The original sale documents dating back to 1901, with the impossibly floral cursive handwriting are evocative of a different era. High ceilings and original wooden windows and shutters, traditional patterned cement tiles bring character and provenance to the building. There are four bedrooms, square and spacious. They have slowly been adapted to the family’s requirements. Space has been borrowed from one bedroom to create an office area for Ali. One of the top rooms has been imaginatively redesigned as an Air bnb room since the boys have gradually left home.
The most beautiful teenage boy's bedroom I have ever seen
Wandering through the rooms much can be deduced about their inhabitants. It’s easy to guess that Aadil had once been a brocante owner, and a frequent visitor to the auction houses of Montpellier and Nîmes, with a keen eye for hidden beauties. His Moroccan roots are also apparent from the colourful collection of traditional plates decorating a kitchen wall, the oversized blue glass chandelier and the textiles and goat hide poufs scattered throughout.
Ali is a writer and a teacher, working with words, sculpting sentences, chipping away until the line reads right. Fortunately, the house is large enough to accommodate her ever-growing, book collection. Overflowing bookcases stuffed full with a million thoughts and characters, of imagination and creativity are very much at the heart of the house. There are flashes of lyricism and poetry throughout the interiors. The rooms have a fluidity to them, not studied or perfect but offering a real emotional connection. Echoes of red from the original tiles are the anaphora of the house, creating a wonderful cohesiveness. An alchemy of pieces coming together in an artless way.
A pair of squishy battered armchairs beneath the tall glass windows, decorated with Moroccan cushions invite you to bring your book, relax and read. Vintage paintings are enhanced by limed plaster coloured in a soft venetian pink contrastingly beautifully with the burnished honey window frames. These are not interiors that follow trends or fashion, or are too considered but feel simply a reflection of the aesthetic of their owners.
Stairs, steps and windows have carefully been restored and painted
Aadil is happiest when he has a house project underway. He is gradually restoring the house in his spare time; a labour of love. Chipping away mucky plaster to reveal original beautiful granite stones with a soft palette of greys and taupe’s. He cleans and buffs them until you can imagine them back on the riverbed, little sparkling marbles darting their way into the nude pointing. The windows and shutters are gradually being restored; stripped and sanded, carefully varnished revealing caramel hues, 5 windows done 5 to go, no mean feat when they are nearly two meters high.
'The Intervention of Sabine Women' an original from Pascale Margat, an old friend of Ali's. In pride of place in the kitchen/diner.
Christmas time was the perfect moment to create the Italian shower in their bedroom, a wonderful combination of tadelakt and tiles. The next intention is afoot; a breakfast terrace to enjoy coffee in the morning sun, leading from the sitting room onto the roof of his atelier. Sounds a perfect addition. A house that can record each holiday time by the list of jobs completed.
A wonderful colour palette and details in the bathroom
During the Summer time the shutters are kept closed, the cool dark rooms are a welcome respite from the heavy Mediterranean heat. But if Summer Living is your delight then the garden is a Petit Paradis kept secret behind those metal doors and tall wall of neighbouring buildings. Reminiscent of your favourite Moroccan riad. Flower beds bordered in walls painted a bright Majorelle blue, a huge Tilleul tree shades the top terrace. The top terrace opens into a grassy garden with lo and behold a small perfectly formed Aegean blue swimming pool built by Aadil with the help of a local builder and plumber. Not letting his lack of experience deter him he set about landscaping the pool and garden transforming into aqueous haven during the Summer months.
There is a Summer Salon with inbuilt daybeds and full sized mattresses and cushions, its perfumed ceiling of roses and jasmine it beckons you to sieste after a dip. As the sun sets, the fire is lit on the Canoune, the Moroccan traditional cooking stove. The air is soon studded with fragrant spices from the tagine in harmony with the floral notes. Summer nights here in this little oasis, shared with family and friends, are truly the best.
The house and the garden is a testament not just to slow living but slow interiors. Rooms created over time, with pieces that are truly loved and have been given a new home, not too set in their ways, or too perfect. But always welcoming and understated, creating a wonderful visual poetry that invites you in.
The guest room
If you were interested in booking the 'Air Bnb Room' - you can find the details here: https://www.airbnb.fr/rooms/41467081