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La Vie En Rose
By Suzanne Lowry and Tim Clinch
Bulfinch PressCopyright © 2003 Suzanne Lowry
All right reserved.
IntroductionA dream of life in France, whether in a moated chateau, a simple stone farmhouse or a Parisian aerie, is shared by people of almost every nation. Many turn the dream into reality, coming to this vast, underpopulated country with its diverse climates, stunning landscapes and civilized quality of life apparently impervious to the worst erosion of modern development, to embrace la vie Fran�aise.
This is nothing new. From earliest times, invasion and population shifts have brought influences from elsewhere to marry with a natural Gallic flair, making France an eternal melting pot for architectural styles and decorative fashion. Cultural influences spread from the south and east across the Mediterranean, while Nordic and Germanic trends came from the cold north. It is impossible to travel through the modern country without being impressed by the extraordinary variety of traditions that have been absorbed and adapted. Prehistoric caves, medieval castles, great palaces, simple stone dwellings and half-timbered farmhouses, bourgeois apartments, Bohemian garrets and futuristic villas all go to make France a living museum of domestic habitat.
The Roman remains in the south are glimpses of classical antiquity, not just the great amphitheatres and arches but the mosaic floors of graceful villas or precious jewellery and domestic ornaments fished from the sea and dug up from vineyards. In a single medieval village, architectural layers can show how the defensive, military construction of the long age of war and chaos gave way to that of commercial prosperity and the hope of living a good life in peace. By the golden age of building in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, castles were no longer moated and fortified, but opened outwards to elegantly sculptured landscapes. The world was seen not through an arrow-slit in a bleak tower, but from lofty windows looking onto luscious gardens of water and green mazes, towards forests made for hunting, not fighting. Courances, home of the de Ganay family near Paris, is one of the most beautiful examples: here if anywhere La Vie en Rose-a sweet, idyllic life, in the usual English interpretation-must have seemed possible for the ruling few, walking between well-trimmed hedges while the happy paysans frolicked as they made hay, like characters from a wile toile de Jouy fabric.
By 1789 the noblesse may have been walking on "rose petals strewn over the abyss" but, in spite of the Revolution, its great castles-more than 40,000 of them-still dot the landscape. Many are in ruins or states of severe neglect, but in recent years efforts to preserve and restore grand old houses have markedly increased. In the southern city of Uz�s the young Duke is reviving, after generations of neglect, dispossession and profligacy, the magnificent Duch�, his ancestral home, part palace, part fortress. Patricia and Philip Hawkes, passionate English devotees of the vieilles pierres (ancient buildings) of France, live surrounded by the moat of the fairytale Ch�teau de Missery in Burgundy. Nearly a thousand kilometres away to the southwest, in the Landes, Michel and Christine Gu�rard have created a little universe of excellence in health, cuisine and decor at Les Pr�s d'Eug�nie.
Everywhere modest and disused agricultural buildings have been transformed into bucolic dream-houses by restoration that is, above all, "authentic", although at times authenticity may have a patina of fantasy. Parisian decorator Jacques Grange has created a perfect rustic haven in Van Gogh's Provence; artist Gilles Sacksick's small stone house in Quercy is recorded and reinvented in his paintings; Ingrid Hudson has conceived a neo-retro style for her tiny medieval house in the Languedoc. In these homes, as in myriad mazets (small stone cottages) and chaumi�res (thatched cottages) from Provence to Normandy, it is not a question of restoration in any academic sense, more of personal re-invention.
La Vie en Rose opens doors on an assortment of people who have imposed their ideas on traditional French forms, or have created original atmospheres in houses, apartments and chateaux. In his photographs Tim Clinch makes a superb and seductive use of natural light, showing the results not just as houses but catching some of the imaginative esprit of the owners. For this is not a book about decoration and design only, but aims to show how individuals express their personalities in the homes they make.
French adherence to calculated perfection and a fixed stylistic canon has, in recent years, been nibbled away at the edges by influential decorators-such as the minimalist Andr�e Putman and the eclectic, post-modernist Philippe Starck-and by the editors of magazines such as Marie Claire Maison and C�t� Sud propagating a looser, more expressive style of living. Distressed wood and peeling walls in original natural colours have been accepted, and authenticity and insouciance have replaced studious classicism. At the same time, the French, long neglectful of their rural heritage except where food was concerned, are now being inspired to repossess their crumbling manoirs and farms and to back the revival of old techniques and materials to restore country furniture and artifacts. At government level an active Ministry of Culture declares its commitment to the preservation and rescue of the patrimoine, but the task would be hopeless were it not for the devotion of private citizens to the refurbishment-and maintenance-of glorious houses and gardens.
France, at the centre of Europe, is still a magnet for artists, thinkers and designers. No one can live there and be impervious to French attitudes and flair; at the same time foreign input constantly enlivens a culture that can too easily become rigid and smug. This is why half the houses in this collection are foreign-owned.
Foreigners may take a rosier view of life in their adopted-or Borrowed-country than the French, who read implications of delusion and folly into the words of Edith Plat's famous song. But although falling in love with French houses and lifestyle may sometimes be foolish, it is also incorrigible. "Everyone has two homelands, their own and La France" Thomas Jefferson famously quipped. Two centuries later this is truer than ever.
Excerpted from La Vie En Rose by Suzanne Lowry and Tim Clinch Copyright ©2003 by Suzanne Lowry. Excerpted by permission.
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