Crumbling and chaotic, mayhem and madness, destruction and despair….these are only some of the words that sprang swiftly to mind when I drove past this Provencal wreck a few weeks ago.The French farmhouse, the stuff that dreams are made of…mine in particular…sitting there in the wilderness begging for someone to love her and resuscitate her back to life. But not me…I have done my bit, practised my ‘CPR’ and I know only too well that it took more than a few breaths and firm presses to bring our abandoned shell back to a home.
What is it about the French farmhouse that is so seductive?
I could not help but stop on a cold and windy day to take a closer look, I imagined the history of the farmhouse and wondered on her beginnings. It was clear that restoration work had started some years ago but that it had rudely stopped mid stream. The shutters were falling from their hinges, the doors had long disappeared and the Starlings were the only creatures in residence. I could see that repairs had started on the roof yet the massive crane in pride of place had rusted over and building materials were half buried in the over-grown weeds.
As I peered through the padlocked gates I remembered my own Provencal journey. I am happy that I am not contemplating restoration and I am even more than happy to know that my cosy farmhouse is waiting for me at the end of the day but I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit to a few sparks of interest and stomach turns when I saw this French farmhouse.
I love, love, love the process of building. I adore the musty smell of concrete and plaster, the sounds of the building site is sweet music to my ears, I am spellbound by the artisans and I thrive on the scent of progress….by progress I mean watching a building take shape and coming into its own new life.
It is not only the architectural style of the farmhouse that appeals to me but also the materials used to create these buildings. French farmhouses are almost contemporary in their simplicity. Usually converted barns or grain sheds, the proportions are generous and the rooms are connected by open corridors. Cornices and skirting boards don’t often appear and floor and wall surfaces are never intricate.
Stone bars, terracotta tiles and wooden boards or parquetry are the principal choices for flooring. The local terracotta tiles or tomettes are simple hexagonal shapes that lock together – their patina comes from years of waxing and polishing. I suspect that wooden floors were used in homes less humble than the farmhouse, although today wood is often the material used for bedroom floors.
Our farmhouse is traditional and that dictated my choices. Limestone floors in the reception room and terracotta tiles everywhere else. I searched and stockpiled for two years to ensure that all our floor surfaces were original. Walls, with their simple plaster finishes, are ideal canvases to hang as much or as little as taste dictates. Shuttered windows with or without curtain treatments provide protection from the harsh climate and the principal decoration for the exterior walls. French farmhouses are of solid construction – very straight forward and uncomplicated.
The walls are built of stone, sometimes covered with a render to create a smooth finish and the roof is layered with terracotta tiles, gutters are non-existent. French farmhouses are not fancy; they are solid and strong, built to last – they are the heart of the countryside.
Standing outside this long abandoned Mas, with the Mistral wind almost knocking me down, I could see how this farmhouse would look – lit up, loved and lived in – and I almost envied the person who will one day make this their journey.
I hope that they are ready, that their heart is strong and they are prepared to loose it….because that is what happens… the French farmhouse, it stole my heart, xv.