PROVENÇAL PER­FEC­TION

Newly-weds Annie and Thomas Jack­son brought an old shep­herd’s house in Var back to life with a new, shared iden­tity

Living France - - Contents - WORDS BY MAG­GIE COLVIN; PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY ROBERT SAN­DER­SON/NAR­RA­TIVES

Find out how one cou­ple trans­formed an old shep­herd’s house in Var into a stylish home

When friends visit Annie and Thomas Jack­son’s newly re­vi­talised house in Var, they in­evitably com­ment on its sim­i­lar­ity with the pre­vi­ous French manor house owned by Annie be­fore she met and mar­ried Thomas. “They are right,” Annie agrees. “It is in fact a diminu­tive scaled ver­sion, which is one of the rea­sons why I fell in love with it. I was also very taken by the or­chard full of ev­ery sort of fruit tree, and it is five min­utes’ walk from Vil­le­croze, so we can walk back home af­ter a glass of wine with­out hav­ing to drive.”

Their ad­ven­ture be­gan with the cou­ple’s de­ci­sion to find a new base in France for sum­mer hol­i­days, and find­ing the right vil­lage was all im­por­tant. With plane trees and striped awnings shad­ing di­lap­i­dated stone houses and cafés, Vil­le­croze is a charm­ing vil­lage. “It is pretty be­yond words,” says Annie, “and it is full of life. It has its own boulan­gerie, street mar­ket, church, an­tique shops, boules tour­na­ments and even a mu­sic fes­ti­val fea­tur­ing its own lo­cal orches­tra.”

SHEP­HERD’S DE­LIGHT

Orig­i­nally built as a hay barn in the 12th cen­tury and later con­verted in the 18th cen­tury into a berg­erie where shep­herds lived along­side their sheep, the house the Jack­sons found came with its own guest annex built in 1965. “What is great about a house of this age is its well in­su­lated walls, square rooms, pretty fa­cade, and this house also com­manded a stun­ning view over the val­ley,” smiles Annie.

At first it seemed that the in­te­ri­ors

would just need a lit­tle tweak­ing, but af­ter a few weeks, the ‘lit­tle’ grew to rather a long list. “Giv­ing most grief was the badly po­si­tioned round pool which we re­lo­cated and built a clas­sic pool to fit the new de­sign for the gar­dens,” says Annie.

The kitchen was a haz­ardous zone with low beams and a slop­ing ceil­ing, par­tic­u­larly for Thomas who is over six foot tall. The floors needed re­plac­ing, and the so­fas, which came from the manor pre­vi­ously owned by Annie, were too large to fit through the arched open­ing, di­vid­ing the sit­ting room and hall. The house needed re-plumb­ing, re-wiring, new bath­rooms, a new kitchen and new floors.

Never one to be fazed, Annie called on Nigel Brew­ster-Mum­ford, a de­signer and friend who had ad­vised her on her pre­vi­ous French prop­erty. Together they drew up plans and, as she says, worked things out by think­ing out­side the box. “Nigel has al­ways been my sec­ond pair of eyes. We ac­tu­ally opened up the arch to get the so­fas in place and then put the wall back. It was our only op­tion.”

The cramped, mud­dled kitchen was gut­ted and new base units were in­stalled to ex­tend work sur­faces. “Top cup­boards in a small space sim­ply make it feel claus­tro­pho­bic,” says Annie, ex­plain­ing why there aren’t any. To make up for lost stor­age, she de­signed a wide shelf to en­cir­cle the room, link­ing up with the shelf above the French farm­house-style cooker hood.

JOINT EF­FORT

Hav­ing stud­ied art and worked in fash­ion de­sign and man­u­fac­tur­ing in Italy and in the Far East, Annie is never hap­pier than when in­volved in the cre­ative process. “This is the sixth house I have done up,” she beams tri­umphantly. “It has been a lot more fun do­ing it with Thomas.”

Thomas took the de­ci­sion to block off the fire­place in the din­ing room while main­tain­ing it as a fea­ture. “The last owner had a wood-burn­ing stove here but for any­one sit­ting next to it, it was like be­ing

next to a fur­nace,” he ex­plains. “It was a shame be­cause an open fire in the din­ing room is ro­man­tic, but we com­pen­sated by in­stalling a large tra­di­tional fire­place in the draw­ing room.”

Fur­ni­ture from Annie’s last French house, such as the cream so­fas, sug­gested in­evitable choices for white walls and neu­tral colour schemes in sym­pa­thy with the style of the re­gion, but for Annie the link with neu­tral colours ends there. “I am not a taupe min­i­mal­ist,” she in­sists. “I love an eclec­tic mix of painted an­tique fur­ni­ture and con­tem­po­rary styles. I have a weak­ness for op­u­lent silk cur­tains and splashes of colour in cush­ions and throws, Aubus­son rugs, an­tique French mir­rors and wrought-iron chan­de­liers.”

Annie’s artis­tic tal­ents have ex­tended to re­design­ing the gar­den, which she clearly en­joyed as much as styling her in­te­ri­ors. “Liv­ing in this cli­mate, cre­at­ing a lovely gar­den has to be of paramount im­por­tance,” she says.

Sit­ting on the ter­race as the sun casts an orange glow over the newly planted flowerbeds, she and Thomas are now en­joy­ing the ben­e­fit of all their hard work. The mixed fra­grance of grapes ripen­ing on the vine, Provençal herbs and flow­ers, and the sound of crick­ets cre­ate that spe­cial French am­bi­ence that is hard to match and im­pos­si­ble to em­u­late any­where else.

Annie Jack­son en­joyed re­design­ing the gar­dens of her Var prop­erty as much as styling the in­te­ri­ors

This page, top: The light, bright draw­ing room over­looks the gar­dens. Annie en­joys mix­ing both an­tique fur­ni­ture and con­tem­po­rary styles

This page, bot­tom: Small win­dows at the top of the hay barn’s fa­cade date back to early days when shep­herds lived on the top floor with an­i­mals be­low. The arched French doors span the length of the draw­ing room

Fac­ing: The pale walls of the bed­room cre­ate a rest­ful room, which is lifted by colour­ful ac­ces­sories

Main photo: Lunch is usu­ally served on the vine-shaded ter­race, which Annie and Thomas in­her­ited. Annie chose tra­di­tional bam­boo fur­ni­ture bought lo­cally

Top: Tucked be­low the eaves, Annie’s bed­room is a rest­ful re­treat in cream and gold, with some ad­di­tional new cush­ions

Bot­tom: The fire­place, although no longer in use, adds char­ac­ter to the din­ing room at the cen­tre of which is a cherry wood din­ing ta­ble. Annie con­verted the wrought-iron chan­de­lier to elec­tric­ity

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