In our extract from Perfect French Country, we take a look inside antique dealer Fiona Atkins’s house in Orne
Every three to four weeks Fiona Atkins drives from her home in Islington through south London and across Kent to the Eurotunnel crossing at Folkestone. When she emerges in France she drives another four hours through Normandy, past Caen, until she comes to a small, quiet village with two streets of old houses built in stone the colour of set honey, and a sturdy church under a steep roof of dark brown clay tiles. Usually she is on her own. Her husband, Clifford, is a lawyer, and has limited time to spare. So, although the house fills up on high days and holidays, and their two grown-up daughters come when they can, Fiona is the most regular, consistent visitor.
The buildings of this former farm date from three periods; a 19th-century barn (not seen in this picture) that borders the village street, the 18th-century, double-fronted farmhouse, and a 17th-century single-storey building that once housed both the farmer and his animals.
Left: Beyond the kitchen is a room that was once the fromagerie where the farmer’s wife made cheese. A new opening from the kitchen leads to this room, which is now the living room. The fromagerie retained its beautifully worn floor of clay tiles but is unrecognisable as a former dairy thanks to the elegance of its furnishings, which include a marble-topped side table, and a gilded, 18th-century sofa, both French.
When Fiona and Clifford bought the house, the room that is now the kitchen had been divided to make a small downstairs bathroom and a corridor. They removed the partition walls and installed a new floor. At the centre of the room is a round table made from a painted metal clock face, perhaps from a town hall or a church.