OLD SCHOOL STYLE
Liz Lamour Former teacher husband and her French a stone renovated Corentin Brittany, creating cottage in rary take on contempo a design ‘old school’ Naomi Jones; Words by Brent Darby hs by photograp
A former teacher reveals how she renovated a Breton property with ‘old school’ design
Former teacher Liz Lamour knew exactly what she wanted to achieve when she redesigned this 200-year-old stone building in Brittany. “I gave up teaching after our third child came along in 2006, so when we bought this place the following year, I wanted to create an interior that would remind me of my previous career.” Chalkboards and chalk have inspired the main colour scheme throughout, while the scarlet tone in the kitchen/diner is reminiscent of children’s artwork; and dotted around each room are vintage posters and books, zinc numbers and rows of hooks that will transport you back in time to your old school days.
Liz owns the cottage with husband Corentin, a French farmer she met in the mid-1990s as a student working in his family’s restaurant in Brittany, in order to improve her language skills. Born and bred in Ireland, in 1999 Liz moved to the farm her husband had inherited from his grandparents, and together they have renovated several properties in the hamlet, most of which are rented out as holiday cottages.
They themselves now live in what was the farm’s pigsty with their four children, Dara, Molly, Una and Róisín (11, 10, 8 and 6), who appear to have the idyllic setting for a storybook childhood: set well away from busy roads is a country lane where stone cottages, tumble-down barns, and fields of hay and prairies line either side; where crickets chirrup
“I wanted to create an interior that would remind me of my previous career in teaching”
harmoniously, and where traffic consists of the odd walker out for a hike, a cat on the prowl for a tasty snack and the occasional tractor humming along in the sunshine. “It’s so peaceful here,” says Liz, “and not unlike the country setting in Ireland where I myself grew up. So although I dearly miss my family back home, I feel very settled here and the children love it.”
She may miss her family, but Liz doesn’t miss her old job as she’s carved a new and much more physical role for herself. “With each project, we’re our own architects,” she explains, “so we have to work out what we want; and as we do all the work ourselves it has to be physically possible otherwise we need to come up with another way.
“This cottage,” she continues, “which we call Jeanne after Corentin’s mother, was very small but we wanted it to be family-friendly.” Using a spiral staircase instead of a standard flight meant they had enough space in the original ground floor for the grey and white utilitarian shower room and a dormitory-style twin bedroom so that the upstairs could be used purely as a master bedroom. The main
living area, which would include an open-plan kitchen/diner, would exist in a new addition with a high vaulted ceiling.
To create the old school cottage, both Liz and Corentin played their roles to perfection. Corentin was strictly in charge of the groundwork: preparing foundations, building the structure from chalk brick, a traditional material that has insulating properties, and plastering with lime and sand, as well as fitting all the power and water supplies and drainage. Then Liz stepped in to lay flooring, fit tiles, and her favourite part, decorate and furnish; this is where she got to use her old school colours and ideas. “I love old
Chalkboards and chalk have inspired the main colour scheme throughout
chalkboards and educational posters,” she says, “and luckily I found someone online who loved them too but needed to sell some because they had too many.”
In the kitchen, behind the main work area is a large chalkboard she found through a French website, leboncoin.fr, which is a cross between eBay and Freecycle. “The person I bought from even had an ‘ école’ sign which we’ve put on the front of the cottage,” says Liz. As well as tracking things down online, Liz has picked up suitable objects at brocantes and vide-greniers, which literally means ‘empty loft’ and is similar to an antiques market or car boot sale. The
small school chair used as a bedside table in the twin bedroom was one such find, as was an eye-catching desk lamp in the master bedroom, which sits beside a ticket board that would have been used at the horse races, proving that Liz’s school theme isn’t rigid, allowing her extra touches of playfulness.
Also in the master bedroom are a couple of examples of Corentin’s ability to use odd bits and pieces stored in one barn or another: he nailed several bits of wood together in a star shape around which Liz has twisted fairly lights to make a pretty feature over the headboard. And in front of the opposite wall is an impressive wardrobe, not dissimilar in looks to Dr Who’s Tardis, made from leftover timber.
With Liz’s careful direction and an ability to see the finished scheme in her mind, she and Corentin have worked day and night to create a cottage with its own character, but not one that is contrived or difficult to live with: the old school house has personality, but moreover a warmth that invites you in and asks you to stay.
Contact Liz via chambres-gites-bretagne.fr (00 33 (0) 6 70 03 57 32) to book your stay in this peaceful spot; travel via ferry from the UK to St-Malo (brittany-ferries.co.uk).
The Lamour family
Above left: The vaulted ceiling lends the space more light and a feeling of openness in this comfortable room. Corentin wood clad the ceiling and used underfloor heating Above: The bold splash of red in the dining area lifts the monochrome scheme Top right: The buildings in the hamlet are constructed of irregular-sized yellow stone Right: The twin bedroom hints at old boarding school lodgings with metal beds and striped linen (from Linum). Educational posters bedeck the walls and zinc numbers line the shelf (available at Etsy)