French Connections

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  • About the book - More More France Please

    This is the book I wish I could have read before I moved to France. I hardly knew the country at all, and knew nothing of how to live there. I was carried away by the whole adventure of it. Going to a new place, a strange language, a different culture.

  • French Chic for Less

    Restored french chairI’ve moved on from phase one of our renovation now and am taking a little ‘building’ sabbatical pending phase 2.

    Of course, that means engaging in the more enjoyable pastime of ‘dressing’, or finishing, our home.

    It’s only the very lucky who get a clean sweep at this, buying everything new for their second, third or, in our case, umpteenth home. Actually most people have to make do with existing furniture and we’re no exception.

    Our last two houses were new-builds so a far cry from the stone house we have now. Luckily my taste has always been a tad eclectic so I’m comfortable with mixing new and old to get the result I’m after.

    In fact, the French are traditionally expert at this sort of styling. They pass furniture down through generations, rarely throw things away and nonchalantly re-purpose, re-cycle and up-cycle.

    So, taking a leaf from their book (incentivized by a severe lack of funds) I set about a little of the same. I’m sharing a few of my projects in the hope of inspiring more of the same.

    Re-cycling - my best bargain

    Renovated BathroomI’ve been amazed at the prices in the brocantes these days, no longer the bargain hunters dream as canny owners have realised the demand for French antique finds. However, a bargain is still to be had and my pretty little shelf was forlornly shoved at the back of the shop, broken, dusty and ready for the dechetterie. Monsieur was a little incredulous to find some interest in it and gladly offloaded it for 10 euros when I bought a rather cute wall lamp. Some wood glue, a good clean and a lick of Annie Sloan and it was ready for the bathroom wall.

    Re-cycling a well-loved item

    An old favourite, a little decorative mirror, has been with me for many years. It started off gold, was transformed in white, had a spell in shocking pink, back to white and now black to go with that cute shelf. I’m rather proud of this given it was £20 in a sale nearly 20 years ago. I think I’ve had my money’s worth don’t you?

    Re-purposing – a bit of a luxury but what the hell

    Spotted on a friends website, a gorgeous chinoiserie umbrella stand was a must have. The colours and design were spot on for my ensuite but, as strange as I am, even I know there is no need for an umbrella stand in the bathroom – after all it would make a shower seem a little unnecessary. But it does make a stunning bin.

    Upcycling – two items in to one

    One pretty chair with the wrong coloured material and one rug which I love but can’t leave on the floor as the dogs think I’ve given them the very best bed. Bingo, a shaggy chair that gives a wonderful texture against the stone and adds a bit of rock-chic alongside a feather lampshade.

    French wine box turned bread binRe-purposing – am I repeating myself, it may be the wine!

    20 minutes down the road from Buzet, we bought 6 bottles when we first got here and were given them in this box. The wine didn’t last long but the box did. What do you think of my new bread-bin?


    New purchase (ok sometimes we have to succumb!)

    Rustic picture frameOf course, there are times when you simply can’t find what you are looking for but, don’t forget, there is a world of re-cycled products out there so hunt around for something original and unique. This frame from www.sujiivana.co.uk is made from recycled wood collected by the homeless of Capetown so scores well for providing income to those less fortunate, cleaning the streets of Capetown and re-cycling a waste product.

    The secret to this method of furnishing your home…do as the French do. Buy only items you love for their shape, texture or design and remember that colours, material and even its purpose can be changed. That way they’ll be with you for a very long time!

    Well, I hope I’ve inspired you to give Ikea a miss when attempting to furnish your home cheaply – there is so much more satisfaction in saving stuff destined for the dechetterie and getting yourself a unique item to boot.

    Happy re-cycling!

  • Our Very Own French Ornamental Garden - Designing a Potager

    French Potager GardenGardens have always been a bit of a mystery to me really. Don’t get me wrong, I love and admire them and, over the years, have come to enjoy the therapeutic nature of a little trimming, pruning and weeding and even planting a few carefully researched shrubs. But, as for garden design, well, I’ve always considered myself a bit herbaceously challenged.

    So, that left me with a problem. I want to grow vegetables but, and don’t laugh, I want them to look nice…I’m a designer, ok!

    A visit to a friends house offered inspiration. Her neighbour has the most beautiful potager. Voilà, that is what I need, a potager – a French ornamental kitchen garden. Wikipedia’s explanation sums it up perfectly – ‘The goal is to make the function of providing food aesthetically pleasing’. I can definitely go with that.

    Now I’ve put a name to it and have conducted much research (thank you Google and Pinterest!) I’m thinking that designing a potager is not so very different to interior design, it has some basic principles to follow, and I’m a little less daunted, even excited, about my new project. I’ll share what I have learned so far.

    1. Space planning – after considering it’s location in the garden (an accessible, sunny spot with access to water), you’ll need to consider what you want to achieve with the space you’ve got. Potager gardens rely on balance, symmetry and proportion – this counters the rather jumbled nature of the planting. Planting beds can be square, triangular or rectangular but remember to keep them to a manageable size to work on from the surrounding path without the need for an Osteopath afterwards. Paths should be wide enough to get your wheelbarrow down, come on – let’s not make it any more difficult for ourselves, and normally lead to a central feature, maybe an obelisk or a circular growing frame for strawberries or beans. If you have the space, the central point could be a fruit tree – perhaps even with a circular bench round it so you can take a well-earned rest after your labours – do you sense a theme emerging? I don’t approve of working too hard! Also worth considering is locating a compost heap close by.

    2potager produce. Style – formal, informal, traditional, contemporary. Your choice will affect the materials you use for paths, building the beds and, of course, the plants you select. A potager is a mix of the edible and non-edible, flowers, herbs, vegetables, trees and shrubs so really, the choices are endless. For me it’s traditional all the way and I’ll be looking out for all those glorious heirloom varieties, full of flavor and tasting as vegetables should but also looking like real vegetables and not the European definition of a vegetable.

    3. Planting – now, I’ve already told you I’m no expert so I wouldn’t presume to tell you what to plant where and when. But here is where to consider the interior design rules of colour, texture, height – keep the tall plants at the back and look for interesting varieties of vegetables with great leaves, and colours – kale, raddicchio and some of the red leafed lettuces etc. The good news here is that you can mix in some pretty flowers, edible and non edible, such as lavender, chives, marigolds and nasturstiums. Bees and other pollenators will love them and many attract pests away from your precious crops. In fact, I fully intend having a cut flower bed in my potager and can highly recommend higgledygarden.com for a really informative, and entertaining, website with wonderful flower seeds and great sewing tips. Benjamin has a passion for flowers and will happily impart his huge knowledge and he’ll post to France too so no worries there.

    With planting, as with interior design, go for what you love, there really is no right and wrong and the beauty is you need to rotate your crops each year so you’re not stuck with the same look for long anyway.

    I’m very lucky in that my potager will be high on a hill overlooking our beautiful valley and I just know that it will soon become my place to lose myself and I can’t wait to reap the rewards. 

    Happy planting!


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