21 June 2016

Transformation of the Guest Room

The guest room at Le Bijou really needed new beds, more than anything else. The beds that we inherited were fine for a kid's overnight camp and, well...enough said. The room also lacked any sense of personality.

On a trip to one of our favorite antique shops, we spotted this gorgeous set of hand carved walnut, upholstered beds. The headboards, footboards and side rails were in perfect condition. They just needed to be reupholstered. We took measurements, since antique beds are never the size of contemporary mattresses, and we debated alternatives for mattress solutions for about two weeks. Finally, we couldn't stand waiting anymore...we just went ahead and bought the beds!
Jack removed hundreds of these tacks - not easy prying them out of hardwood.

We had found this lovely striped toile at La Foire aux Tissues (Fabric Fair), a shop about 15 minutes from our house.
I was able to reupholster the head and footboards right over the original horsehair padding, which was still in great shape.
Even with an electric staple gun, it was a challenge working with such hard wood.
Gluing gimp over the staples. (I had brought two bottles of fabric glue from the US).
Our solution to the mattress problem?
We ended up buying two double size mattresses, cutting them open, cutting down the foam inside,
and resewing them closed. These beds are actually extra-large twins - almost double bed size.
Apparently beds back in the day were not standard sizes, the way they are now.
Jack hanging the ciel-de-lit (one of two antiques we had found at the beginning of our trip),
on a very off-kilter wall - while I stood back, trying to figure out what "looked centered".
For the ciel-de-lit, we first upholstered the top inside. 
Then I hung the drapes, which I had sewn out of a wonderful two-sided & double-width quilted fabric that Jack had
fallen in love with. The fabric was so heavy, Jack had to hold it up for me, while I worked.
One of the "odd, yet charming" features to this room is that the back wall, is not straight. It runs to the corner at an alarmingly distinct angle,
making it hard to center anything on it - especially the placement of the ciel-de-lit drapery. Our original calculations
ended up feeling wrong, so despite the fact that the whole thing was incredibly heavy, Jack nicely rehung the ensemble,
to make it look like it was on center. It's just darn lucky he knows how to do rigging and tie knots, from his youth spent on sailboats!
I used the original window drapes from the guest room as a lining for the new fabric.
When the sun shines through first thing in the morning, it bathes the room in a beautiful coral glow.
Hanging the window drapery.
We had brought with us lots of fabrics, including this rather worn French bedding we had
used in our old master bedroom. The quilt, having seen better days (and many times through the washing
machine) was no longer usable as a bed cover, so it became a tablecloth.
We finished the guest room by adding some antique lamps we found in nearby Pézenas,
and topping them with beautiful French toile shades, that I had actually been saving for years, for just the right spot.
It is traditional in French decorating, to mix fabric patterns, especially a variety of toiles in the
same color family. We combined new fabrics with old ones we had brought with us.
I found this darling pillow at Jolie Marché, on Etsy.
Finished for now...
The first thing I want to do when we go back to Montagnac in the Fall, is to find candlesticks
for the mantles, pictures for the walls and knick-knacks to make the bedrooms look and feel homey.
Next on the agenda after that - reupholster these two chairs.

21 May 2016

La Cuisine (the kitchen)

The kitchen of our house in Montagnac was what first drew us to the house. The picture, on the realty site, of the medieval stone vaulted ceiling and the four stone columns seeming to hold the ceiling up, was absolutely magical. It was that picture that led us to call and set up an appointment to see the house for the first time.

Funny though, once the house was ours and we actually lived here, the kitchen was the one room we really felt needed our help. It was dark! The first thing we did was to give the walls a coat of fresh white paint - quelle différence - what a difference!

While we were painting the room, we decided to remove the cinderblock bench that had been built against the far wall.
We also painted the dark stained wood shelving, which had been only recently installed where the fireplace had been (evidenced by the soot stains on the ceiling).

We also changed out most of the furniture, which we had inherited with the house. One chair was still in beautiful shape, but not our style, so we gave that to our friends, who have others like it. A few others we gave to an antique shop owner in Pézenas, who said he would donate them for us, to someone in need. The first thing we purchased for our house here were six vintage provençal chairs for the kitchen table - almost identical to the ones we have around our French farmhouse table in our Cape Cod kitchen.

The previous owners of our house had decorated the entire place as if they were still living in the Middle ages. Yikes!
Not cozy, to say the least. This heavy, dark tapestry-like curtain in the kitchen had to go, ASAP!
I snapped a quick picture of the curtain fabric just before gleefully tossing it into the dumpster at the décheterie (dump).
Even though the photo makes it look like a red background, believe me, it was black!

After finding the chairs for our kitchen table, the fabric store was our next stop, to replace the afore-mentioned offending curtain that closed the kitchen off from the front hall. A curtain here is necessary when it's cold outside, as the all-stone front hall retains a chill. (The temperature of the ground floor is apparently one of the nicest features of this house in summer months.)
We found the cheerful yellow gingham fabric and my friend, Muriel, gave me her sewing machine to use.

I trimmed the drapes with a Souleiado trim I had already owned and brought with me in my suitcase.
Still in in my PJ's, I couldn't wait to get to sewing, right after breakfast.
We also needed to add some curtains at the windows for privacy.
The old shades with time-worn holes, that had been there for many years, were the first things to go after the tapestry.
Sheer curtains like these grace kitchen windows all over France. Pre-made and ready to cut to size,
they are wonderful at letting in the light, while also providing a sense of privacy. 
Jack found this great fabric, which matched our ochre and green tiles perfectly...and it went with the provençal theme we had in mind for the kitchen.
Note the charming brass fleur-de-lys hook for the tie back - found at our local hardware store.
I made a curtain out of the same yellow gingham, to hide the electronics and wires on the shelves (wi-fi, etc.)
The beautiful provençal paisley fabric is another that I had been saving for just the right spot. I brought it with me to France,
and decided to hire a seamstress to make the needed cushions for me. She did a beautiful job! (above & below)
This fabulous antique bench from Arles, replaced the former built-in cinderblock bench that Jack had removed.
We found it at La Brocante du Siege in Pézenas, where a charming father & son team redo old chairs with rush (paillage) or cane (cannage) seats.
The poster is one we had bought many years ago at La Petite Provence du Paradou, near St. Rémy. It is so perfect for this room.
We knew immediately that we wanted to replace the existing boring cabinet doors (white fiberboard with cheap mismatched hardware).
We found the ideal pair from Benjamin Boularand, also in Pézenas. (We later ended up buying quite a few pieces from Benjamin,
whom we now consider a friend and who came to our house to deliver a bed - story for another time).
The doors are from an antique armoire and what is remarkable about them is that they still have their complete original hinges.
Usually only the top or bottom of each hinge is still intact.
The walnut doors are so heavy that we had to hire a carpenter to help install them.

Two pillows I bought on Etsy and brought to France.
I love this exquisite chair (also provençal), which features the traditional chair back motif of a wheat sheaf. Its original rush seat is woven of three colors of straw: natural, red and green.
These antique plates were another of my favorite finds. They have their original brass hangers - four of which are shaped like rooster claws!

We bought the charming green pot, for utensils, at the potter's shop in Anduze, an hour to the North of us.
We also painted the lower cabinet doors white and added fun new handles. (They had been stained a very dark brown.)
Our Anduze pot. We also got one for the terrace kitchen.
(I'll write about this pottery in another post.)
I couldn't resist hanging a garlic braid and herbs from la garrigue, the wild, hilly terrain that covers much of the Languedoc and Provence.
Herbs - thyme, rosemary, lavender, laurel - grow wild all over these hills, and the air is permeated with their aroma.
These herbs and garlic are staples of southern French cuisine.

Our "new" old chandelier replaced a small one that we eventually moved to the front hall. It reminds me of a Dutch still-life painting.
It's actually made of turned wood, although it's painted to look like metal.

Finally, we gave the door to the stairway a coat of green paint, an added a curtain to the back.

Our first purchase in Pézenas was the set of six vintage provençal chairs for the kitchen table.
And the last purchase - the night before we left - were the two faux bamboo chairs on either side of the door.
The two rooster giclée prints, below, are copies of paintings by Jack. We brought them with us, since
no kitchen should be without a rooster! They echo the antique rooster plates on the opposite wall.

The finished kitchen, for now...
I found one of the key items I had been searching for,the night before we left - a heavy old copper jam pot, to hang on the wall above the shelves.
We didn't have time to hang it, so that will be on our to-do list for the next visit.

20 May 2016

Antiquing in Pézenas

Even though we had purchased our house fully furnished, we knew we would have to replace most of the furniture items that came with the sale, as they were not good quality and definitely meant for the use of potentially raucous renters. A couple of chairs were downright dangerous; they were falling apart!

A small sample of what we inherited:
Bargain basement metal lamps and a basic bed on four screw-on feet 

Set of 4 kitchen chairs that were made of lightweight, composite wood.
We couldn't find an antique dealer who would take them as a trade-in,
so we left them with one who said he'd donate them somewhere.
A built-in, cinderblock bench in the kitchen - 14" high... so low you could barely
get down onto or up out of it, without assistance (and it's not just that we're getting old!!)
The rough, homemade table and chest of drawers (fiberboard) were removed from the kitchen,
and put in the hallway, until we can find something better.
Apparently, the guest room beds were made of sawed-off pieces of newell posts.
The mattresses were soft and saggy.

Before we came here, Jack had done a lot of research on where to find all the best antiques (antiquités) and vintage (brocante) shops. On our very first day in Montagnac, after café au lait and a delicious breakfast, we were off to the medieval town of Pézenas, 10 minutes from our house, to start looking for furnishings.

Pézenas is renowned for its many antique dealers, and we found an incredible selection.  Since we arrived in March, before the start of the annual tourist season, we have had our choice of some pretty amazing stock, and the prices have been ridiculous - as in ridiculously affordable! Still, I am amazed that we have been able to find so many of the pieces of furniture I had always dreamed of as THE quintessential French home furnishings! Since that first trip, we have been to Pézenas almost every day, and have become friendly with several of the antique dealers.
Jack with Jean-Louis Koenig, from whom we bought a number of items.
The two carved and upholstered chairs behind them are now in our master bedroom.

A collage sampling of what the antique shops in Pézenas have to offer:

If you love antiques (especially French ones) like we do, you can imagine what absolute heaven this was! We bought so many lovely pieces, some of which I had always dreamed of having, but had thought would be nearly impossible to find or unaffordable. Much to my joy, "impossible" and "unaffordable" did not seem to be in the vocabulary of these fabulous shops!! Stay tuned for before-and-after pictures, as we have replaced and redecorated. It has been such FUN!

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