Bought a big house? Here’s how to make it feel homely without breaking the bank
It’s the fun part of making your French house a home – making it feel habité or lived in. If you can afford to adorn the walls and floors of your new property with antiquités and objets d’art that perfectly complement its age and character, then lucky you. But for most of us, it’s more of a challenge. Though living space in France comes at a much lower premium than in the UK, furniture and furnishings do not.
We bought a small château, or maison bourgeoise, in Burgundy last year. With 12 bedrooms spread over two upper floors, it’s quite a project. There is also a farmyard which includes a labourer’s cottage, stables and barns.
Decisions about neutral paint colours and inexpensive curtains were straightforward. We were lucky that the house had some furniture, and finding additional pieces in vide greniers (second-hand markets with stalls managed by both itinerant professionals and locals), charity shops and on the website leboncoin.fr (the French equivalent of Gumtree) was relatively easy.
The real difficulty was making the place seem lived in – or habité. Expenditure on the roofs and two new bathrooms came first. The furniture, although inexpensive, nevertheless set us back a bit. So when it came to the interior pieces – lamps, ornaments, cushions, small storage solutions, occasional tables and chairs, mirrors, lanterns, candles, hooks and so on, we had to be clever.
French Ikea was an obvious port of call. So were Maisons du Monde ( maisonsdumonde.com), Casa ( casashops.com), Auchan ( auchan. fr) and Leclerc ( e-leclerc.com). And, of course, with international parcel delivery charges free or reasonably priced, ordering from the UK often made sense too. With judicious selection we discovered attractive objets on the market in unlikely outlets including Wilkinson, Flying Tiger, Matalan, Dunelm Mill, Asda and dotcomgiftshop.com.
The trick is to look for natural materials – glass, woods, including bamboo, cork, leather and cottons and other natural fibres. Wire and metal objects, even of a more modern design can also look surprisingly French provincial or at least at home with the shabby vintage. The art is all in the combining and contrasting of elements of the interior spaces.
It’s also important to set up themes, whether it be pineapples or birds, hearts or shells, and to contrast textures. We’ve done some upcycling too but the cost of paints can even make this dodge more costly than buying new from the right suppliers.
Clocks, cushions and consoles Aside from the bedrooms, we have a dining room, winter sitting room, summer sitting room, and party dining room with a very large table. These last two rooms are joined by a spacious arch and we call it the ballroom as when the furniture is rearranged the spaces can be used as one. There are eight fireplaces in the main house with a further two in the farm. All need some decorative attention.
Sideboards and tables, whether occasional or dining, also need centrepieces of some sort. The hall needed hooks and storage for the croquet set, and the walls – square metre after square metre – needed pictures. Hallways, corridors, utility rooms, landings and lobbies – we have many of these. And they also need to look lived in and organised. Shelving and small baskets have been a godsend. Stylish clocks have enlivened corridors inexpensively. Console tables have also been invaluable to add interest here or there. And in the bedrooms occasional tables, cushions, lamps and lanterns have transformed what might otherwise feel too much like bijou hotel rather than home.
We were lucky that a number of bound books were left in the house too. Some are really very beautiful. Although needing industrial dusting, a few carefully chosen volumes, on a small table here and there add interest.
One person’s trash... One final piece of advice. In the UK houses in need of work are generally sold ‘with vacant possession’, and the expectation is that the house will be completely empty with the exception of some toilet roll and light bulbs although I know people who have arrived at their new home to discover that these too have
Belinda’s home in Burgundy Belinda’s partner Will surveys the snow