We recently stayed in the most beautiful holiday place we’ve ever booked and it’s inspired me to change my home.
The DH and I are back from Brittany, where we just spent a holiday in a gîte on the dunes.
Our destination was far Finisterre, up on the coast between the lovely old port of Le Conquet and Roscoff, in a duney place called Treompan. And in booking our gîte this year, I had a cunning plan.
For some years now, I’ve been trying to persuade the DH to move house. I love our old and rambling house but it’s far too big for us, murderous to clean with its gaps and beams, and impossible to heat. I now fancy an easier life with less cleaning and maintenance (and a garden that isn’t a hectare on a steep slope, too). My ideal is to buy a plot of land and build a wooden house on it, to what the French call BBC standard – highly energy efficient – or even to Passivhaus level. Smooth wooden floors, huge windows, double glazing, insulation a foot thick – that’s my wishlist.
The gîte I chose was right on the dunes and appeared to be a wooden building, though when I talked to the owners, it turned out to be a former concrete clubhouse for a local campsite, which the owners had insulated both inside and out and then clad in wood siding.
The layout was wonderful. You entered through big double doors into a single-storey windowed porch that ran the full length of the long, low building, and which was furnished with a daybed and a picnic set – an ideal place to store coats and boots and wood, and to allow visitors to sit and wait if you yourself were out. Our side was neat whereas their side was full of drying clothes and saddles, the lady of the house being a horsewoman.
Then came the front door proper, with a punchkey lock as well as a ‘proper’ lock, which led to the living room/dining room/kitchen, all open plan. Cream ceramic floors with a step down to the living room with its matching black leather sofas, and a step up to the kitchen, with its wood-topped breakfast bar. A roaring Godin woodburner welcomed us on arrival, along with the fantastic views from the living room’s full-length glass panels and French windows, of the dunes and the sea. Off to one side were a ground-floor bedroom whose walls were mainly glass, and a walk-in shower-room, and there were also rooms upstairs, though we had little need for those.
I just loved the way the place was decorated and set about analysing it so I could pinch the ideas when I got home. Although the building was modern and the walls and floors were basically white, it was not at all stark, due to the comprehensive use of natural materials. There was rattan and wicker, bleached wood and hardwoods such as walnut and oak. Some wood was painted white and there was liberal use of coir and seashells. The trays were driftwood-coloured wood and the glass coasters sported images of pebbles. The curtains were white cotton sheets and the headboards were simply padded grey fabric panels hung from pewter-coloured curtain poles on the wall. All of the paintings and photos were of the natural world – patterns in the sand, sprouting bamboo, granite boulders, etc – and the fabrics were either plain or stripes in subdued colours such as beige and grey-blue.
The owner had kept the colour scheme very tonal – white, cream, sand, grey, black, beige, and natural woods, echoing the colours of the landscape outside with its silvery-white sand and bleached marram grass leading to the green-grey sea. There was a giant glass bottle on the landing filled with seashells, the walk-in shower was tiled in non-slip pebble tiles, the vinyl bathroom floors had a fake coir pattern and the bathroom units were wooden with fabric-lined wicker baskets on the shelves. The atmosphere was almost spa-like in its tranquility.
It made my chintzy home suddenly seem very busy and annoying. So when we came back, I set about creating a calmer atmosphere.
Our bedroom has white walls, a yellow ceiling and black beams (both soon to be painted white) and magenta bedding, which I love because I find the colour welcoming and boudoirish. Lately I’ve introduced the same magenta, along with violet and crimson, into the kitchen. It works well here, although the colour is unexpected, because it’s an ‘energy’ room, but in the living room I knew I wanted a more tranquil atmosphere.
When we bought the house 18 years ago, the plan was to do it all white and blue, with stripes, but the sofa we ordered came with turquoise jacquard covers. It proved a difficult colour to match, but I prided myself over the years in finding turquoise velvet curtains and turquoise-painted log boxes, turquoise throws and whatnot to go with it. The terracotta floor is something we’re stuck with, but most of the dark grey exposed granite has now been painted white, along with the wooden furniture, while the other soft furnishings are black and brown leather.
There is also a lot of other colour. Three years ago, when I realised I needed to see flowers during winter, I bought lots of 1980s chintzes with white and yellow grounds – English Rose by Jonelle and Avening by Sanderson being particular favourites. So our curtains, which we only hang in winter, are in shades of white, cream, primrose, pink, soft green, blue and dry brown. This has produced a very pretty and quite colourful shabby chic effect that I really enjoy but had lately begun to find too stimulating.
Coincidentally, I am once again going through a phase of stripping the colour out of my wardrobe and returning to a palette of grey, laced with taupe, black, beige and white, so it’s interesting to realise I’m doing the same thing in the house.
Inspired by our gite, I quickly set to work to remove the colour in the living room, and it took surprisingly little doing. I chucked a textured cream throw over the turquoise sofa and a taupe cover over its large seat cushion, then topped the whole lot with some plushy grey fleece throws I’d bought for the dogs. I took the emerald and orange obis off the walls and exchanged them for creams and taupes. I removed all the colourful pictures and photographs, and hung a single silver-framed mirror instead. And I exchanged the magenta tiebacks for soft grey-green ones.
The effect was instantly soothing and it feels, in my present frame of mind, a lot easier to live with. Who knows? I may find in the depths of winter that I have a sudden longing for crimson velvet or loads of pattern, but I have now decided that I would rather do this with a throw or a cushion rather than anything bigger, and will keep the really bright colours for small accessories such as my turquoise poubelle de table.