Sunday, June 27, 2010

A man and his house...a French story

As I have mentioned before, I come from a small village in France where older women still sport moustaches and most men drive their tractors and the houses may have charm...from the outside. My parents befriended a young man who had lost his mother at a young age and whose father, as most men in the area was a farmer. His name is Eric. An incredibly smart young man who could fix anything, kind, generous quick as a whip. He came to visit me in Connecticut with my parents and he was my "fix it all angel"...from the crumbling stone wall, to leaking faucets, rotting roof ...his magical hands could fix almost anything...Having left school, he had taken an apprentiship as a brazier (ironsmith).
I left France at a young age, as this country and culture does not embrace nor promote entrepreneurship. Eric's story is a success story whereas a young man, despite all difficulties, he embraces risks, take chances and becomes one of the most successful entrepreneur I have met in the SouthWest of France. He now lives near Toulouse with his 2 young children. This man is filled with passion, cannot sleep at night as his head is filled with ideas, and succeeds at everything he touches.
But this story is about his house....or his castle I should say. Just outside the beautiful red city of Toulouse, he found this ruined chateaux whose back wall was supported by steel pillars. Eric did not go to architecture or design school, but he had a vision and took on the challenge of bringing back this splendid structure to its prior beauty and glory....entirely on his own!!!

He currently lives in the caretaker wing while working on the interior of the chateau

As we walked through the interiors, Eric was describing down the last detail how each room will look, he also excavated for what will be a beautiful indoor pool together with spa. The outdoor pool will be a 150ft foot lap pool....

Eric designed and fabricated the gate and the wrought iron fence himself in his iron shop

Eric lined the long entry driveway with 1000 year old olive tree that he found in Portugal and trucked back to Toulouse

The dog house...I don't think that even Martha Stewart does not have such fancy abode for her dogs

He built a play house for his two sons, as well as a huge vegetable garden, chicken coop where one could actually live in

a man has to have a few toys

my dad drooling over the bikes...assorted kids motorbikes as well, 4 wheelers, side cars, antique motorbikes... all make great week end fun with the boys

He purchase an old farm and transformed the main house into his office, produces his own wine from the vineyard and is restoring the  farm building to turn them into a restaurant, an event space with outdoor cafe

Future restaurant

By the way, did I mention he is single.....

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Backcountry France: My Cousin's House

Once in France, my very first stop is my cousin's house. Being an only child, I grew up surrounded by my aunt's five children, they are as close to me as a brother or sister would be. I have always love my cousin's house, it has a true soul that only a house well lived and loved can exude. My family just went through some tragedies and the feeling of a home brings comfort, endurance and continuity.
When my cousin first showed me this house, a tree was growing in lieu of a roof...but the view was beautiful, the structure simple... great bones for a young family to start a home.
Over the years, the house was restored to its original humble bones, a beautiful garden was designed, courtyard created, vegetable garden planted, fruits trees, pigeons coop,a yard for chicken, ducks and geese.
Being a designer in New York, I work on very large and sophisticated projects, but to me the true meaning of a house is when it is called "home". To me, this house  has always been a true home, not for show, not for investment purpose, not a  house to be lived in the occasional month out of a year, but a house that reflects the unrelenting love and work from its cousin who now takes of this property entirely by wonder why she looks so tan, fit and stunning every time I see her...

Courtyard entrance

The pool is well hidden from the house and surrounded by lavender bushes.

I drool over her vegetable garden

Her dog helps with garden work

The outdoor barbecue

The kitchen is so warm and inviting, she is also a fabulous cook

The interiors are designed with an open floorplan and filled with local antiques from South West of France

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Backcountry France: Eyrignac, the Gardens

Hidden in the hills of Perigord, lies a secret garden that epitomizes the art of French Gardens. I have always admired the French tradition of working by hand (my manicure - or rather lack of - would testify to the hours I spend digging and trimming by hand), the precision of pruning, the control over the trees and the plants.

This garden, which has been in the family for more than 500 years, was re-designed in the French manner by the 22nd generation owner, Gilles Sermadiras de Pouzols de Lile. Today his son and his family continue the tradition. The garden was elaborated on the basic elements of French style: lines, vistas and repetition. This gardens use clever tricks and optical illusions for which French gardens have been so famous since the 17th century. The discipline with which this garden is designed exudes a sense of perfection and simple beauty. The palette is restricted to fewer than ten basic species such as boxwood, hornbeams, yews, cypress, apple trees....which give the garden absolute harmony in all subtle gradation of green. 

I hope you enjoy the tour of these 10 acres of impeccable lawns and 9 miles of hedges. On a perfect June day, my parents and I lost ourselves in thoughts and spirit, in awe of the extraordinary creativity of man in arranging God's creations and gifts.

These outbuildings can be rented for a night, a week end, or one may wish to stay forever....

Hornbeam walk

Trimmed apple trees

At the center of this rotunda, an eight pointed star allows one to get one's bearing and each window offers vistas of the field

The owner's residence: Manoir d'Eyrignac

Cottage to rent

The white rose garden

The owner's idyllic pool


At the end of the path, an unexpected red chinese chippendale bench

Suggested Books:

Eyrignac: The Gardens  Buy Here

"The garden of the Manoir d'Erignac is the best known garden in the Perigord. Redesigned last century and maintained with rare precision, it represents the archetype of French formal gardens, but on human scale. At Eyrignac, they aim for simple shapes-and absolute perfection!"

French Garden Style - Georges Levecque  Buy Here

The French Garden - Jean Pierre Babelon Buy Here

Monday, June 7, 2010

Backcountry France: Lot et Garonne

I've just returned from visiting my parents who, as you may know from previous posts,  live in the "France profonde," "the deep France" or back-country France.

This is not the France  that one would read about or tend to visit. Away from the touristic itineraries, one can experience the true France as it was once. Rich in history, the first Paleolitic paintings dating 17000 years were discovered in ancient caves near Lascaux in Dordogne, the Hundred Years war ( 1336- 1453) ravaged through the Bastides (fortified villages) when the region was the frontier between France and England. Joan of Arc finally led France to victory, until she was captured and burned by the English.

This region is famous for being the playland of Henry IV who became king in 1589 and was the most popular French monarch of all times. In Lot at Garonne, he built his summer retreat in Nerac, as well as numerous castles and hunting lodges for his lovers for which he was so famous. The French do admire this quality in a leader.... this is the home of the famous Alexandre Dumas character, d'Artagnan of the novel "The Three Musketeers".

Lot et Garonne was described by the French writer Stendhal (The Red and the Black published in 1830) as the Tuscany of France for its red tiled houses, its golden sunlight, fields of sunflowers and its beautiful villages. Monet came to Lot et Garonne to buy water lilies for his gardens. Lot et Garonne is famous for its classic rich french food with Foie Gras, superb wines, Armagnac, Magret de Canard, fresh vegetables.....

If you are ready for a trip beyond time, where history awaits you at every turn,  where the country side is there still in its raw a flight to Toulouse or Bordeaux or Agen, rent a car with a map in hand and start your adventure. I'll be happy to answer questions about the area within my ability. Meanwhile, I hope that you will enjoy what will be a series of short posts of a few places I just re-visited and wanted to share.

The streets of Port Sainte Marie where I walk to in the mornings from my parent's house

Nearby villages...

Nerac: so peaceful to spend the afternoon on the river

Traditional house

 Henri IV's Summer Chateau

Small street in Old Nerac 

Barbaste: The river powered mill was one of Henry IV's fortified homes which almost became my mother-in-law's 2nd home. She came very close to buying it while visiting the region during our wedding celebrations.

The mill with its 4 towers

The mill is now a cultural center and the starting point for wonderful hikes along the river


This is a wonderful book that truly capture the essence of the SouthWest of France. The american  author Marcel Sanders spends a year in a small village in the Lot and befriends the owner of the local restaurant as well as other local in dividuals. A treat for anyone who wants to discover the small pleasures of French country life.

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