A few months back, before the pandemic was part of our vocabulary, a lovely writer from Atlanta Magazine visited Les Murets, and proceeded to fall in love with the property and the surrounding area of Provence. Lisa Mowry had heard about our recent home renovation and thought it might be a good article for Atlanta Magazine Home. She visited the property, peppered me with lots of questions and found out that I love nothing more than to talk about Les Murets! I think she captured our love of the area and my personal happy place, and I’m so grateful to her and to the editors of Atlanta Magazine for sharing it with others.
So about that facelift ...
We bought Les Murets almost twenty years ago, following our own magical “Year in Provence,” when we decided to plant roots in that neck of the woods. At the time, the house was in terrible shape and so overgrown with trees that we didn’t even realize there was a view. We loved the property's potential, which was, for this renovation junkie, the perfect ugly duckling begging to be a swan.
Before: Warm, welcoming, comfortable and a little tired:
We accomplished the first renovation and lived in it very comfortably for many years, with minor changes along the way. Although in my mind the house started to get a little tired, our guests all loved it and felt that it was warm, comfortable and welcoming.
Pictures of the house "before":
... And then there was a little leak, and I had my chance!
From a little leak to a total facelift:
The leak started in one of the bathrooms next to the kitchen. Instead of just fixing it (my husband’s idea), “we” decided to rip out the entire bathroom (my idea). Of course, that affected the kitchen next door, as well as one of the bedrooms, which also meant redoing the living room since it adjoins the kitchen. While they were gutting the kitchen, I decided to replace a few of the old windows, which led us to replace the courtyard entrance, renovate the adjoining guest house and resurface the entire outside of the house with an organic and breathable sheath of stucco. And that led us to redoing the landscaping and adding a new watering system, which extended down to the pool area and the pool house, which, you guessed it, needed a facelift too!
The new kitchen was modeled after one that we rented years ago in France, where there were no cabinets; just a nice pantry and a large armoire for all the china.
Luckily our kitchen at Les Murets lends itself to this, with all the storage in under-counter drawers and a pretty bookshelf turned into “vaisseliere” for all the china. I love the simplicity of it and the fact that it opens the room up for art, mirrors and lighting.
The island is the central gathering place, seating eight comfortably to help prep for meals or just entertain the chefs.
The living room is now dominated by a fabulous crunchy old 17th C. workbench that we purchased in nearby Isle sur la Sorgue, anchoring a huge wooden mirror found at the Paris flea market. The scale works to reflect the massive stone fireplace across the room.
I love the crunch of this detail in the living room.
The dining table came from a 19th C. boy’s refectory and has 12 individual drawers at every place setting.
And the piece de resistance for me is the painting by Andrea Costa (from Huff Harrington Fine Art) that I rolled up and carried with me across the pond, and had stretched and mounted by my contractor, who was delighted to add framing to his long list of skills!
We changed a few other rooms in the house too, including adding two twin beds to the guest house; injecting a little sex appeal to the smallest bedroom in the house, and retiring the teddy bears in the loft!
The biggest challenge of all was redoing the tiny little bathroom that had kicked off this avalanche in the first place. Turns out people in Provence aren’t used to working in small spaces, so reconfiguring and tiling this diminutive space proved to be the most complex puzzle of all!
The “Why didn’t I do this sooner” moment:
I think every renovation comes with many lessons to be learned and one of the most obvious ones came from the pool house.
For twenty years I’ve avoided the pool house and ignored its existence. Although there was so much about it that was homely, the stone floor bothered me the most; and since I couldn’t come up with an easy way to replace it, I chose to ignore it. But spurred on by the rest of the renovation, and with my Huff’ington team's encouragement, I learned that sometimes the easiest tweaks can make the most dramatic differences. All we had to do was remove the tile surfaces, fill in the seating area, remove the ugly fireplace and paint everything white.
We added a couple of fun hanging lanterns, a bunch of pillows on the banquettes and all of a sudden, guess what didn’t look so bad? The stone floor! Actually with the color scheme of black, white and straw, the floors offer a beautiful contrast and an interesting texture. And it was all so easy! And after ... I now love the floor!
The overall change:
The house has always been about the outside view, from the terrace and overlooking the valley. But now, I’ve fallen back in love with the view inside, especially from the kitchen to the living room, or out towards the courtyard.
In the end, that's the lesson about renovations, even if it's just a minor tweak: It makes us feel good! If anything, this pandemic has strengthened our bond with our interiors and reinforced our need to "feel good" about our homes. And while the pandemic has also kept me from being in France this summer, I'm so grateful to Atlanta Magazine's Home for bringing it home to me! I think Mary Logan Bikoff, the editor of Atlanta Magazine's Home, put it well in her Editor's letter, "Keep Dreaming."
Ta ta -- and still dreaming,
P.S. Next year, we hope to safely return to France with our Huff Harrington Trips and can't wait to announce the dates. Stay tuned!
PPS: Oh, and did I mention there was another leak? Not actually true, but this year we tackled a few other projects. So there may be more facelift chatter when travel restrictions are lifted ... stay tuned for a little encore.