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