The Romans conquered the Provence region of France two thousand years ago, and the ruins of many of the structures they built are ubiquitous. Some of the sites have been rebuilt many times, to become country homes that survive today. Some have been thoroughly renovated and turned into vacation rentals.
I’ve always wanted to stay in one of these ancient, yet modern properties, and I finally got the chance. My friend held her annual family gathering at a beautifully restored villa near Aix-en-Provence. She graciously invited us to join her. We stayed for two days of sun and culture, and it was everything I imagined. The villa’s indoor kitchen is supplemented by a fully outfitted outdoor kitchen and dining area adjacent to the swimming pool, encompassed by weathered stonewalls and columns. A narrow canal leads to a Japanese style fishpond. The canal is home to dozens of frogs whose full-throated cries at times threatened to drown out dinner conversation. Day trips in this heavenly part of France include medieval monasteries and walled cites perched on cliffs.
Sun and culture; Provence provides this mix in spades.
We are strolling down the main street of the tiny French town of Lauris near Aix-en-Provence when my friend Beatrice notices a gentleman watering the hanging plants on one of the buildings fronting the street. He informs us that he is the owner, the home is for sale, and would we like a tour? Of course we would, and as we enter this extraordinary home time slows to a crawl. We step into a foyer with a 1940s tile panel, a dress display wearing a Renaissance gown, and a marble staircase leading to the bust of a woman in front of an antique mirror. The rest of the home follows this pattern: a blend of styles and eras that create a casual yet richly cultured patina.
In the lower level the owner found a hidden chapel behind a thick wall, possibly for secret masses held during the wars of religion in the 1600s. On the top level there’s a charming half covered verandah with a large glass and metal colored panel as divider. I can visualize intimate candlelit dinners discussing Voltaire and Rousseau.
The owner, a retired French diplomat, is ready to sell and, while his home is atmospheric in the extreme, it’s so personal, so idiosyncratic, that, while I loved to visit, I wouldn’t want to live there. Besides, when I buy my Provençal retreat, it simply must look out on a field of lavender.
My mother and I succumbing to entreaties of bistro owner in San Rafael.
Long, long lunch (the best kind in France) in the old city in Nice.
Food must be good in restaurant this authentic.
Precarious petit restaurant in medieval city of Gordes.
Another, more spacious Gordes eatery.
Fish and chips to die for at Thames-side pub. My daughter-in-law is reading about food.
Italian place in London with brilliant antipasti and, uh, complex decor.
Three future World Cup stars in London pub.
We’re not focused on food when we travel to Europe. Well, not exclusively. But as these pictures show, we did manage to spend quite a bit of time sampling the cuisine during our trip to Paris, Nice, Aix-en-Provence and London. There were plenty of long walks as well, and I’m pleased to report no significant weight gain. Must be the small portions.
We kept the white painted cabinets in my client’s kitchen remodel, choosing glass and charcoal slate for the backsplash, complemented by absolute honed granite countertops. The glass of the backsplash borders creates a waterfall effect, seen also in the butler’s pantry, on the left of the top photo. The breakfast nook in the bottom photo was redesigned, with new fabric on the banquette and granite tabletop. The silver and charcoal LED chandelier echoes the palette of the stainless steel hood, range, faucet, border glass, chair frames, and the pattern of the roman shades. I used a pear green accent color for the wall and chair cushions. The magnificent quartz slab atop the island is the central focus, as it should be, of this elegant and practical kitchen remodel.
Here are two views of my client’s recently finished living room. One view captures the room itself while the other shows how the room fits into the flow of the home. The design needs to accomplish two, seemingly contradictory goals: each room should have it’s own unique look, while fitting comfortably into the overall scheme.
The clean sophistication of the living room starts with a palette of cream tones, with dabs of eggplant. Window trim was lightened and ceiling color darkened, for a more intimate feel. The two barrel chairs in eggplant fabric with ebony frames really pop against the cream, in addition to providing blissful comfort for all shapes and sizes. The simple, custom panels on the windows feature lovely embroidered edges, with a hint of eggplant accents. The tone on tone Nepalese rug is understated and chic, while the Boone table with solid brass legs and polished wood top, adds a touch of glitz to the understated scheme. The style is contemporary—refreshing, cool and comfortable.
While the room has a strong feel of its own, the eye moves pleasantly and easily to the entryway on one side and the dining room on the other. The design works hand in glove with the well-executed architectural flow of this elegant home.
All the elements of this master bedroom are simple, clean-lined, without ornamentation. The large four-poster walnut bed with shagreen headboard fits the room’s generous dimensions, as does the oversize drum chandelier. The twin shades of the sconces complement those of the chandelier, while the contemporary chaise features the same angularity as the bed. The only touch of pattern is the embroidered Etamine fabric on the window treatments, which can be worked by a remote system for a complete blackout when needed. Accessories are kept to a minimum. The key is graceful simplicity, and the result is an aura of calmness. The room does all it can to help it’s inhabitants to a peaceful state of mind.
Family rooms are de-stressing rooms, places to relax, to get away from it all at home.
In the foreground of this family room are three bar chairs in a woven blue fabric, which face a wood paneled wet bar. To the left, just out of the picture, is a large flat screen TV. The black structure to the left of the fireplace is one of a pair of speakers that produce concert quality sound for my audiophile client. For the maximum benefit of the audio and video experience, you must sit in one of the supremely comfortable recliners, covered in tan, buttery leather. The floor lamp between the recliners in weathered copper has a sculptural, modern art look. In winter the gas fireplace provides a cozy atmosphere and in summer the French windows open to an idyllic landscape with a substantial pool. My husband would gravitate to one of the recliners, and his exercise would consist of exploring, tirelessly, the ideal angle of repose.
Spent a productive day at the D&D Building. Among the curiosities:
Instead of filling your coffee maker with water, this Thermador built-in will do it for you.
This showroom design caught my eye because of the fine mix of contemporary and traditional elements: sleek day bed, geometrically patterned rug, antiqued mirror.
Several woven fabrics I saw at Old Weavers have been around forever but are classics that have stood the test of time. Nice to see something this old look so good!
A little too much is going on in this room. I started to get dizzy the more I stared.
A very intriguing contemporary chandelier. Within the LED lit circle are metal strands that give a visual effect that reminds me of something you might see at MOMA.
And here I am, looking for the perfect fabric for my design scheme.
I almost bought an apartment in Montclair 12 years ago. The downtown area is unusual for it’s varied cultural activities, shops, and restaurants. It also features charming old apartment buildings, including my client’s, built in 1908, with a spectacular view of Manhattan. The high ceilings and large windows flood the space with light. I’ll cover the walls in cool grey tones and leave the windows free of coverings to showcase the luminosity. UV film over the glass will protect the furnishings from the sun. Multiple built-in cabinets will provide the storage most apartments lack. The design scheme will be transitional, giving this 100+ year-old apartment a stylish, urban feel. Appropriate for a space located in the heart of the cultural mecca that is downtown Montclair.
Soft comfy chairs, rich wood paneling, an oriental rug, an ottoman to put your feet up, it all suggests an environment conducive to reading. Or soft conversation over a snifter of brandy. Or perhaps a thoughtful game of chess. To achieve the relaxed, unhurried aura I refinished the existing wood panels to enhance the reddish brown hue and pattern of the oak wood. The rug and English paisley fabric covered windows reinforce the oak tones, while the velvet covered chairs and ottoman provide neutral counterpoint. The impressionistic painting above the antique console table offers a hint of contrasting color and visual interest. The trick is to let the innate ambiance of the room speak. This room speaks in hushed, contemplative, unhurried tones.