After a year of limited travel, it’s enjoyable for me to reflect on an interior design project that brought me to Provence, France, for many inspiring visits. My client, Shauna Varvel, had a master plan to transform a historical Mas farmhouse into an elegant country retreat.
So many Americans have a fascination with everything French. Many friends have reached out to me about their obsession with following the project @ProvencePoiriers on social media. All you Francophiles will be thrilled to know Shauna Varvel has written a beautiful book called Provence Style, published by Vendome Press, discussing the renovation and decoration of Le Mas des Poiriers. Congratulations Shauna on this elegant book!
Working closely with Shauna and Alexandre Lafourcade, the acclaimed French renovation specialist, I felt pressure as an American interior designer to bring the right balance and authenticity to the spaces. I admire so many things about French interiors. For me, the Mas had to be elegant without being stuffy, romantic without being frilly, and comfortable without sacrificing style. Here’s how I chose to salute French Provençal decoration at Le Mas des Poiriers:
Gingham and Florals
The use of gingham, or “Vichy,” fabric dates back to the seventeenth century where it appeared in Provence interiors. I paired elegant florals and Toile patterns (which originated in France) with simple gingham in the interiors of the house. My favorite combination is in the Dining Room where I blended both fabrics on the South facade overlooking the gardens. I intentionally used blue and cream on this elevation to create a calming and cohesive elegance.
La Maison Pierre Frey, founded in 1935, was the predominant fabric house used on the project. Pierre Frey draws inspiration from both classic and traditional art and interprets it in a quintessentially French way.
I studied all the Pierre Frey florals in detail. I wanted to use this elegant tree of life pattern, Princess Palatine Bleu. Historically, it has been applied to wall panels and canopies. To give it an update, I designed a contrast coral edging and interior panels. I wanted a romantic, yet crisp presentation in Chambre Fontaine. Adding a tailored element was key to working with this fancy fabric.
Another place I chose to balance an ornate fabric was in the Master Bedroom. Both Shauna and I loved this embroidered L’empire du milieu fabric . With historical references, it was fresh and colorful. We used it as the main fabric for the Master Suite. I felt strongly that it be used carefully to make it special, and encourage a calming feeling. Pulling inspiration from Nicky Haslam, I designed the Master Bed with a graceful silhouette in cream silk. The intimate interior was adorned with the L’empire du milieu fabric. I used a large scaled aqua gingham to contrast the colorful embroidered fabric.
Faience is characterized as more Provençal in style than classic porcelain. It emerged in sixteenth century France for the elite and by the eighteenth century was used widely. Louis XIV used Faience elaborately at meals in Versailles as a display of wealth. I hung blue and white plates and placed Faience around Le Mas des Poiriers as an ode to this French history.
This footed planter is one of my favorites. It was the perfect piece for the Formal Entry table. Throughout the seasons, it holds lovely flower and branches.
Shauna and I found these beautiful Delft plates at the Paris flea market. I spent some time with the help of the shop owner laying out the patterns so we could ensure we had the right balance for the Dining Room wall. After a very patient contractor helped me install them, I was so happy with the result. Read more about the Dining Room install in one of my previous posts here.
New Furniture Pieces
Antiques were a must throughout the house. The property was purchased with a few existing pieces and I had fun re-imagining them. This armchair had tired tan upholstery, so I recovered it in a rich Pierre Frey green velvet with a contrast turquoise cording. It’s a fun mix alongside the classic florals in guest suite, Chambre Samantha.
Also, I needed to balance the many rich antiques we found on buying trips to the Paris Flea markets and Il Sur la Sorgue in Provence. I specified over-scaled upholstery pieces for modern comfort but also visual relief. In the Grand Salon, the three large cream sofas balance the rich drapery fabric and the dark antiques and oriental rug.
It was challenging to find a dining table and chairs to fit this very large dining space. We looked for over a year and happily found a table with many leaves from a trusted Provence vendor. The challenge was getting a set of chairs. We finally settled on generously sized new chairs. To give these oval caned back chairs a grounded appeal, I had them re-upholstered in a small gingham check.
Characteristically, Mas structures are simple interiors with plaster walls and stone floors. Working with Alexandre Lafourcade to choose materials was exciting. Keeping the architecture simple and elegant was important. However, I felt it was nice to add a few special paint details to coordinate with the vibrant fabrics and painted furniture throughout. Alexandre designed a series of double doors along the south side of the ground floor. I love this detail. The site lines between the rooms are dramatic. I decided to highlight these doors with paint and chose a client favorite, steely blue. The color ties to each of the room’s schemes and adds architectural interest.
Similarly, the upstairs architecture was plain. I added a simple hand-painted line detail around the baseboards and doors in the bedrooms. It creates an interesting dimension that ties to each room’s fabric scheme. I love interior designer David Hicks’ use of lines in his interiors. I interpreted it the Provence way!
I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to work with Shauna and all the amazing French craftsmen on this project. It was a great learning experience for me and one that I will always remember.