An old stone house renovation in France
The romantic Dordogne in south-west France proved the perfect backdrop for Jean Marc Durand’s renovation of an old stone house that is now just as charming as its dreamy locale. Photographs Elena Augier/CocoFeatures.com
When Jean Marc Durand bought a dilapidated stone house in rural France, it wasn’t just its age that made the prospect of restoration such a mammoth task; the house had been badly disfigured by clumsy renovations in the 1960s and was crying out for significant but sympathetic works to make it habitable again.
Jean Marc was undeterred by the challenge and his confidence proved well placed – after three years of exhaustive renovation, the house is now not just habitable, it is also the epitome of idyllic French country living, from the considerately wrought architectural detail to an interior filled with carefully curated accessories and artwork.
It hasn’t been an easy ride, however. With three levels to be redesigned, a host of structural changes were required and besides the upheaval of the works themselves, approval also had to be sought for many of the alterations. ‘We obtained authorisation from the Heritage Service for various parts of the work,’ says Jean Marc. ‘These included opening up small windows, installing a carved door on the first floor to the garden terrace, and also incorporating a large door in the dining room, overlooking the meadows and the village.’
Today this dining room is one of the most remarkable parts of the house, characterising the elegant but homely style that has been fostered throughout. The exuberant floral wallpaper is by Pierre Frey, a reproduction of a painted canvas from the Louis XVI period, and the perfect complement to a striking silhouette portrait on the wall, whose origins belie its romantic French style. ‘It’s by an English painter called Oliver Messel,’ explains Jean Marc. ‘It was originally a poster for the Glyndebourne music festival and was repurposed as a painting by a friend who is an artist.’
In the centre of the room, an antique wooden table decked with fresh foliage, vintage china and flickering candles is an inviting spot to while away the hours in languid conversation, with fine food and wine in old crystal glassware.
The cosy bedrooms are similarly brimming with character. Tucked on the top floor, they are equally pretty but worked in joyfully contrasting styles. The first is decorated in tranquil grey tones, with sisal flooring, Oriental rugs and a floral bedspread from a local shop to add to the romantic atmosphere. In the other, the eye is drawn to the toile de Jouy wallpaper depicting a forest scene in a deep purple shade.
The richness of this room is emphasised with a gold headboard and matching pillows, while the forest theme continues in an arresting artwork above the bed, framed in a tree bark frame made by a local artisan. The rooms on this floor are finished in Farrow & Ball paint, including the gentle tones of Pigeon and Brassica.
F&B colours feature throughout the wider house too, offering a soothing sense of continuity, with ceilings worked in muted hues of Charleston Gray and Elephant’s Breath, and woodwork in French Gray. Jean Marc’s soothing paint choices are punctuated by pops of colour here and there, such as the natural foliage festooned around the living room and the abundance of pink roses that dazzle in almost every corner.
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The flowers and foliage find homes in vintage baskets, ceramic bowls and antique vases. There are many such pieces scattered around the house – testament to Jean Marc’s penchant for brocante shopping. The house is filled with whimsical pieces that have been discovered on jaunts to local antiques shops, and they add to the charm and individuality of the place, from a bowl of stoneware champignons to a quirky ceramic cherub or ornate candlesticks that house stately candles. The glow from these (and the roaring fire) creates an especially snug effect on winter days.
The sensitive structural changes, carefully chosen palette and unique vintage pieces all contribute to the enchanting period feel of Jean Marc’s home and make it hard to believe that it hasn’t been sitting for centuries in its current elegant state. After years of neglect Jean Marc has ensured, with a little TLC and a lot of hard work, that this place has the happy ending it deserves.
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