Monday, August 18, 2014

The Provençal Style

I just came back from a few weeks in the south of France for the lavender harvest and it was glorious. I was in Provence last winter on a truffle trip—learning about truffles, hunting them (no more pigs, they now use trained dogs who are so sweet as well as smart), cooking with chefs using truffles, eating truffles in everything—and I really wanted to go back in the summer for the lavender harvest. And just like truffles last winter, I learned all about the different species of lavender, saw a harvest and visited a distillery, cooked with chefs using the fresh buds and stalks, and ate lavender in everything!

Provence in the summer is a beautiful sight with seemingly endless fields of lavender or sunflowers, greenery, and the sun warming all the galets or stones protecting the grapevines in the vineyards. I returned to the same mas I stayed in last time, a gorgeous eighteenth century farmhouse. In the Provençal dialect, mas means a farmhouse, but not in the way we understand the word here in the States. In the south of France, a mas is more akin to a villa in Italy. But not a chateau which is a much more grand type of dwelling, a manor house.

And the Provençal style is quite distinct and different from any other French style. It is lightyears away from the Mansard roofs of Paris. Because of its history (Provence is so called because it was once a province of the Roman Empire and bears remnants and echoes of that culture), and proximity to Italy, Provence has much more in common with northern Italy than France.

The first thing one notices in Provence is how much like Tuscany it all seems (or Northern California, where I live) with rolling hills, gentle (and not-so-gentle) mountains, valleys, and plateaus, all perfect for vineyards and viniculture. There's not a lot of flat land for pastures and grass, hence cattle are not really prevalent. Provençal cuisine does not include much dairy. But goats prosper in the rocky terrain, so goat cheese is important. The other feature Provence shares with Italy is olive trees! Instead of dairy in cuisine, you will encounter a lot of huile d'olive. There is a heartiness in Provence, a feeling of being truly connected to the region, the land. Stone and plaster buildings with shutters of dusty blues, pale aquas, or deep warm tones dot the countryside or cluster in ancient villages.

Photo above by Jeff Fiorito/Fiorito Interior Design

Photo above by Jeff Fiorito/Fiorito Interior Design

Photo above by Jeff Fiorito/Fiorito Interior Design

A common feature of a mas is the gravel courtyard.

When we move inside, we see the classic Provençal hues of cream, taupe, linen, and putty with a few other light, bleached out tints. White washed ceiling beams become part of the design scheme. Conspicuously absent from most Provençal interiors I have seen are antiques of the precious or delicate variety (and no crystal chandeliers!). One might see a hearty old chest or a Louis XIV chair here or there, but they are more than likely "lived in." One sees carved wood or aged metal, and a unique painted wainscoting effect (see the green bedroom below). Casual slip-covered furniture seems to be the norm.

Kitchens are generally places that did not used to be kitchens since the concept of a "kitchen" as we know it today did not really exist in the 1600s or 1700s when most of these farmhouses were built. Storage rooms or attached stables have been turned into gourmet spots. Consequently, the contrast between the rustic stone walls with terracotta-tiled floors and the sleek, new European appliances and hardware is delightful. You might even see a few tagines which speak to the influence of nearby North Africa!

This type of color and design scheme naturally makes bedrooms and bathrooms areas of ease and tranquility.

If you yearn for a bit of Provence in your life, call me... I'd love to recreate here in the States what I have come to know and love in the south of France!

Happy designing!

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