Rural minimalism ......
This unassuming house encapsulates exactly what I find appealing in interior ‘style’, unpretentious and at the same time an expression of the owners' taste and character.
We rented ‘Le Clapier’ during the summer having only seen a tiny image of the outside – we had no idea at all how the interior would be. It’s a 19th century stone farmhouse in a very rural area of the Aveyron, France, built on the side of a steep hillside overlooking its own exquisite hidden valley. The essence of the house is its unpretentious simplicity.
The traditional furniture – tables, chairs and armoires - is plain and functional; some pieces were actually built into the fabric of the building. The decoration is simple in the extreme – a colour for the wall, a strip of fabric for the window, a red ruffle for the mantelpiece, a jigsaw puzzle picture for ornament. It’s a house built for purpose – simple accommodation for generations of a family who lived close to and from the land around them.
Le Clapier is one of a number of buildings in this farm enclave and happily for the house, Mme Calmels whose family has owned the farm for more than a century, had no wish to change it when she decided to rent it out during the summers. So it still has its original and essential character and a rare and special charm which derives from the fact that this interior was never consciously ‘designed’ but rather evolved as the occupants chose and arranged the contents from available local sources to suit the function of their daily lives – embellished with a hint of ornament from time to time.
The description ‘minimal’ is often applied to sparse, urban interiors but I think the Le Clapier ‘style’ is another and better version of minimalism governed by the decision to only introduce to an interior exactly what is needed and to make sure every piece is functional and endurable. Nothing is extraneous or pointless and the small touches of decoration have more meaning and impact because they are so simple and so few. Anyway, the pictures will speak for themselves……………………
Main downstairs room:
I've rented a lot of houses in France - always through Gites de France - and it's extremeley rare to find a house which has just been left to its own devices. Usually this kind of furniture is chucked out and the floors are laid with beige ceramic tiles!
Hanging a ruffle along a mantlepiece or shelf to soften the rough bareness of a room is an age-old tradition in France. The latter-day versions are sometimes printed plastic.
The floor is the original mixture of stone flags and concrete. Concrete wears beautifully, developing a smooth almost polished patina.
The last thing I would ever have thought of doing in my own house would be to stick a jigsaw on a board and hang it on the wall ! I 've seen lots in French flea markets and have always rather sniggered at them but at Le Clapier I suddenly saw jigsaw pictures in a new light. I thought, you just have to get in tune with a house's personal style and when I did that I loved the simplicity of the idea and liked thinking about the person who'd spent hours doing the jigsaw and then enjoyed looking at it on the wall.
Mme Calmels left in the house some of the original essential rural apparatus from 'l'epoque' - like wine & apple presses and other ancient objects whose function I can only guess at but which seems to work just as pieces of interior sculpture. The timber in these objects has a beautiful mellow quality through decades of use.
This might sound a bit shocking but I decided that this was my ideal kitchen - ever! It was such a nice space to be in and work in - there's a narrow stone shelf all around (covered in oil cloth) by way of work surface and just a ceramic sink, wooden table, ancient built-in cupboard . So minimal, so simple, so elemental. Absolutely no espresso machines or corian work-tops!
This cupboard was built in to the thick stone wall when the house was constructed. This is the best type of cupboard to have in a kitched bar none!! And it's how I have designed my own kitchen cupboards, inspired by ones like this I've seen in old houses! You can see everything in it at a glance, you don't have to reach high above your head and on top of that you can make it look beautiful like Mme Calmels did by lining it with a crazy wallpaper. I love the look of the glassware and pans inside.
Two inter-connecting downstairs bedrooms:
All the wooden floors are beautiful - they have different sized planks and are polished to a deep gleam through years of walking.
Throughout the house the pictures are hung in this way - high up and hanging at an angle to the wall. Just another Le Clapier quirk.
The armoire is built into the wall and the bed and cupboard have been there since the house was first occupied.
This type of original matress is stuffed with wool - incredibly comfortable and beautifully made.
The contrast between ancient furniture and 50s accessories is one of the things which gives the house its particular character - and it would have been so easy to chuck out quirky remnants of another decade like this plastic lampshade.
This colour green is one I never would have chosen for a room - and it's a million miles away from Farrow and Ball and those 'heritage paints which are sold to us as the colours of choice for old houses - but somehow it's perfect, unpretentious and full-on!
The curtains are about as simple as you can get - a traditional French country print, just one strip of fabric with even the printed selvedge showing. They become a luminous emerald when the sun streams through.
Another jigsaw! How could they have chosen better than Van Gogh's 'Sunflowers'
Most of the decoration at 'Le Clapier' is very plain - til you open a cupboard door!
The quiet simplicity of this room gave it its unique atmosphere - such a serene space to sleep in.
And of course - the view.
Like the Green bedroom, the Blue room is a study in simplicity and restraint - just blue, white and old wood.
Old casement windows are beautiful in themselves and don't need elaborate dressing - this minimal curtain rail with a strip of printed cotton fabric is so less-is-more, swags and pelmets not required!
The jigsaw piece-de-resistance!
'Le Clapier' is the kind of house which stays in your head and in your soul - perfect and understated, a mixture of function, tradition and personality.