Just a quick walk down the road at the end of a June day in the South of France.
I am always amazed at the intention some artists put into their work. The knowing before had. The wanting to communicate an exact message. Because I’ve always felt like the message finds me, and maybe only after. The theory I’ve been holding to for years now is that there are artists who are controllers, who use the art as a medium for a message, and those who are conduits, those through whom the art has its own say, whose hands are just a vehicle. For better or worse, my experience has been much more the latter.
At the beginning of April, a 24-hour flurry of shocked realization and panicked travel ended in my being on a high speed train in the middle of France when my father passed away in my home town in Maine. It’s something I’m still grappling with. Some have assured me I may always and others that it well ease. Still a month and a half later, the one thing I know for sure is: I don’t understand. I traveled home with Élie and spent a month trying to manage for my mother what I could of the unimaginable to do list. But now I’m back in the south of France, in a home that’s still so new to the three of us.
I want to write about him, but I’m sure you’ll understand, I haven’t sorted those thoughts out yet. It seems so massive. And it also felt wrong to acknowledge other topics here before giving it the time it deserves. But I can hear Dad, I can hear him saying “That’s ridiculous.” I can hear him wanting me to keep doing. To be honest, it’s a conversation I have with myself daily. So I began to think maybe it didn’t matter what I started with, just share something small. Get back at it. Try not to worry so much about the perfect thing, perfectly done.
I’ve always followed Jamie Beck’s work but last weekend something struck me harder than usual in an image of hers that came up in my Instagram feed. I started pouring over her beautiful work and it has sparked a number of things including a fascination with working in black and white that I want to practice and explore. So I picked up the camera, hoping to get to that place where it becomes an extension of my hand and I feel a symphony starting to tune up, knowing that something good is being made.
It wasn’t until I was pressing the shutter button, but really and truly once I edited them to black and white on my screen, that I realized what was being said in these two images. But suddenly I realized that they weren’t accidental, that without my consciously knowing it, they were talking about where my heart is right now. A conversation about feeling the passage of time. About the layers that build up from time and experiences. A life lived. But even more, about the speed of a blink of an eye, the time we have here on Earth. Something I’ve always felt so keenly and struggled with greatly. Something thrown into sharp contrast when my father, as the French say, disappeared. Once again, I was the conduit to a greater something’s message.
So I am going to try to be braver. Make more. Think less about why and when. Because, I need to.
First, I’d like to apologize to email subscribers for the various ‘test’ posts yesterday. My fingers are crossed that we have definitively rectified the issue that was preventing me from publishing this post two days ago!
Hello Spring! Hello you!
What a whirlwind since my last post. Moving across the country is no easy task and while we didn’t have any horrible issues arise, it was hard, very stressful, and very physically taxing and I think we are just recovering now, a few weeks after the move.
Here we are, though, in the famous Occitane region of France and trying to re-find our footing. We haven’t changed countries but the culture is a bit different and, even more than that, we went from one of the most densely populated areas in Europe (with the transportation to match) to a small country village about 25 minutes from the city. A lot of changes come with that. We feel less harried and there is so much more sun. The people smile and say hello when you pass on the street and the expansive landscape is covered in the low, silvered flora of a hot region. The Roman Empire is still palpably here.
But the stores close earlier and we have access to just the basics in town, though of a very good quality. The bus only comes by a few times a day and I have no French driver’s license yet. We spend the weekends running around doing errands and trying to find our patterns, the ‘regulars’ that we had figured out ages ago in Paris. I can’t wait to get back to a point where Saturday isn’t only about shopping and errands and more about exploring! And that sunny 75°F in March is making me panic a bit about what that means for August!
On pictures and location alone we rented an old stone house in a the center of the village (that stone should help immensely in August!). We’re almost lost in it as we went from a two bedroom, compact apartment to a four bedroom two story house with a deck. I’m not complaining, though. We’ll adjust!
It’s a huge change for all three of us apartment dwellers but I think that now that most of the boxes have been unpacked, and a modicum of organization has made the space functional, we’re starting to settle in a bit. So today I wanted to share what the space looks like now because I have big plans over time (got to let the bank account recover after the move 😉 ).
Come on in? (And while I ran around straightening a bit before snapping these, this is real life so please excuse the clutter/mess/laundry!)
The first floor is an open plan dining and living room with whatever original finishes it had now renovated over. Everything is tiled here in the south and that has been one of the biggest adjustments for me honestly, not only because it’s really not my favorite look or color but also because it is so hard on the joints walking on the cold hard tiles all day. My knees and feet were in so much pain that first week and a half with so much walking to work on the boxes! So I’m not sure how we’ll approach that aspect yet but I think we need a billion rugs.
The kitchen is off the dining area and it’s huge! The layout is an odd inverted L because of a powder room off the dining area but it’s roughly 6 times larger than what we had before so all thumbs up! The beige tile follows us in here with sand colored cabinets, strangely purple laminate counters, and an orangey beige tile backsplash all pulled together with my least favorite paint color: peach. But not a sweet, airy peach, this is kind of muddy as a color and the symphony of all those beige/sand family hues is just not inspiring anyone around here. But we are only renters so I have some creative plans up my sleeve!! The wall sticker on the back wall drove me nuts when we first got here (pepper & salt). The color, the kerning, the reasoning (?), and the order (SALT & pepper!) made me crazy. But when I started to pull off the letters, beginning with ‘T’, I stopped because Pepper & Sal sounded like some crazy friends of Mitch and Cameron on the Modern Family and now I’m thinking of it as their kitchen. 😉 Also, our stove is currently just a countertop as we have a new oven under the counter where the stove is.
Off the kitchen is a small garage (the door by the stove) and a second full bath that is a bit ‘vintage’ but will mostly serve as a laundry/utility room for us. (A disaster right now!)
Back in the living room area is a door to another small garage (!) and the stairs to the second floor. More tile! Cat on a suitcase!
At the top of the stairs a door on the right goes out to the deck over the second garage and a loooong hallway goes off to the left leading to the bedrooms and bathroom.
Here starts what is left of the original stone floors which are beautiful and run through the closet, Élie’s room,
and our room.
Further down the hall the flooring changes back to beige tile in an open space in the hall and the bathroom and toilet.
The tile in these rooms is the strangest greeny-beige color with an accent stripe. While the space (our previous bathroom was less than a yard wide) and that gloriously big tub/shower are making us so happy, I have plans to soften the effect of all that tile!
Around the corner and at the end of the hall are two stairs up to the third and fourth bedrooms and our third and fourth types of flooring.
Confusing, right? This space is really big actually but we think it was added on from the neighboring property or at least vastly changed because it is on three levels (partially to accommodate the garage below) and, since you have to go through the third bedroom to access the fourth and there are no doors, I suppose it isn’t technically two rooms but the amount of space sure is! That first room is my new office and studio and I am so thrilled to have that space!! Now it just needs to be made functional.
The mezzanine of the fourth bedroom (finally some wood flooring!) will be R’s office and the lower level (currently É’s “new home” as he calls it) will be a guest room. Again, we’ll be needing a lot of rugs, and furniture!
(That DIY runner is from the old apartment and doesn’t even make it halfway down the length of this hall!)
So you’ve had the tour! So much potential, right? I’ve got a lot of ideas brewing and I’m looking forward to finally getting them sorted out and start planning these spaces to fit our family now that we’re mostly out of the boxes. Here’s to spring and new beginnings!
P.S. These are all iPhone pics but I’ll have more and better shots of the region to share soon!
The weekend before last we went to the Louvre. If you’ve stuck with me this long, you might remember that we went all the time before parenthood changed our schedules. We had the amazing annual membership for those up to 30 years old (if you live in Paris and that description fits you, get it!) and we would meet after work for the Friday late night openings and just wander.
The year I was pregnant with Élie was the same year they held the campaign to raise funds for the restoration of Winged Victory, my favorite sculpture, and, as you could donate in someone else’s name, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to donate in the new a baby’s name!” But É was due in January and we didn’t even know that he would be É since we were waiting to find out the baby’s sex.
I waited until that last minute anyway. Just in case. And what do you know, the baby was in a rush and made December 26th his birthday! So his first action on Earth (after stealing our hearts) was to help, in a small way, preserve that statue for many more years of visitors to one of our favorite places and I really, really love that. But we had never gotten to go see it with him and see the work that was done. We finally checked that off the list two Sundays past.
I’ve started to feel an intense necessity to do all those things we haven’t done yet here or try all those restaurants I follow on Instagram or go back to our favorite spots in the city for a visit because 2017 is taking us away from Paris and into the south. We are moving! Sooner than R expected, MUCH sooner than I expected. I could write quite a bit about how being an expat has been for me, my love/hate (sometimes really hate) relationship with this city that everyone else seems to have stars in their eyes about, and how wrenching it feels to finally be leaving it but I will save that for some other posts, because it does bear talking about.
The past month or so was been a blur of trying to wrap my head around this, a job interview for R, thinking, talking, thinking more, holidays, visiting our new city, Montpellier, scouting places to live, negotiations for a rental, prepping for and hosting visits of our current apartment, coordinating moving company quotes, and I don’t even remember what else. We’re sad to leave this little apartment that we love in a suburb we finally felt home in but come late February we will be starting a whole new adventure of living in a small village near Montpellier in the south and renting a whole and entire HOUSE! I haven’t lived in a single family house since I was two. Those are things we are pretty excited about! So while we try to soak up every second we can here, I’m also dreaming of spreading out in my own space for a studio/office in the new home. And I’m looking forward to sharing all those fun new things here on the blog come spring.
So cheers 2017, let’s make it a good one! I have so many thoughts and dreams to turn into plans but for now I’m wishing you all the best of years and hoping you’ll spend some of it following along here as we set off into new waters!
Last time I was at my favorite brocante, one of the last things I picked up, arms full of bags and a toddler, was a bamboo folding table. For me, the best way to go at the flew market is with your gut: do you love it? Go with it! Are you not sure? Walk away. This method has never led me astray in almost ten years of brocanting. Do not over think it! So when the price was great and I didn’t have much to lose, I grabbed this little table knowing I’d figure out what to do with it when the time was right.
In the mean time, I decided to give myself the challenge of styling the table for two different set-ups: one as a bedside table and the other as a little writing desk using only what I had access to already at the house.
I love this as a bedside table. If you have the space, it feels luxurious to have such a large surface to keep some of your favorite things nearby while still having space for the necessities.
For me, those necessities are a place to have a glass of water at the ready and a dish for taking off jewelry at the end of the day. For years now, my favorite type of dish for that has been these beautiful vintage salt and pepper dishes! While I don’t keep pinch bowls of salt and pepper for daily use, the little bowls of these dishes are perfect for rings and earrings.
Add books, a focal piece of artwork, maybe a favorite photograph (that one is my husband as a wee one!), and some green and you’ve a bedside table that is useful and inspiring!
I think we would all like to be better at finding the time to write notes and thank yous by hand. The time you spend thinking of someone while putting pen to paper creates something that feels so much more special than a digital note. I’m pretty sure if I had a pretty little writing spot like this, I’d be better at it, non?
Favorite books and some to pull inspiring quotes from, a box for stamps, envelopes, and writing tools, and some cards ready to be addressed. What else does a writing desk really need? Oh, that pretty little box will be in the shop Friday!
It was wonderful to sneak in the time to try these two set-ups and I’d love to try to find time (and space!) to do more. When I bought this table, I first pictured it for plants and artwork, but who knows how it will end up being used! What do you think?
A special note of thanks to my assistant, above. I could have done it without you. But it maybe wouldn’t have been as much of a challenge. 😉
I opened my first Etsy shop, Gloaming Designs, in 2007. Looking back at the date just now, that feels both a long time ago and like yesterday! I filled it with special pieces I hand-crafted from vintage and reused materials as well as fun vintage finds. Looking back through the sold listings is a bit like remembering old friends.
Behind the scenes I have been working hard on a new incarnation of that shop: a new space filled with the best of the treasures I love seeking out in the French brocantes (flea markets). So I’m very excited to announce: Brocante Moderne is open!
What you’ll find is a curated selection of vintage French pieces that I adore (seriously, it’s so hard to say goodbye to these!) and that mix perfectly into the modern home.
Functional, beautiful, and unique, I believe that every home needs some pieces that tell a story all their own, that have a soul.
And that’s my design philosophy: that the old, worn, and storied should live alongside the simple and clean-lined modern for a home that isn’t like any other. A home that is you. That is why the shop is named Brocante Moderne – a place to find the world of the brocante curated for your modern life.
There will be new additions regularly so check back often and sign up for the mailing list here to hear all the latest news and special offers. You can access the shop here or through Etsy (they share the same inventory so you won’t miss anything going to one versus the other). You can even click on any of this post’s pictures to go directly to their listing.
I hope you enjoy and let me know if there is anything you’d like me to keep my eyes open for on my next trip to the brocante!
The seasons are turning. But I guess I should start with Hello! How have you been? It always feels overwhelming how much there is to catch up on but let’s say that here we have been busy loving a bright baby boy turned toddler, spending time with loved ones and friends, and just generally working at the great balancing act of life. Ya know?
But the seasons are turning now, outside and at home. My little love has started his first year of preschool. He is a bit past 2 1/2 years old and that feels oh so very young to me but now, in the third (fourth? I’m forgetting already!) week I am finally picking up a smiling boy at lunchtime instead of a devastated one. It feels both amazing (chunks of free time to get things done!) and heart-wrenching (my baby-who-will-always-be-my-baby, isn’t a baby anymore).
But these new free mornings! Oh do I have big plans. I am nothing if not overambitious with my to-do lists. And I can’t wait to share more on those plans very soon. First, though, I wanted to share my dusk walk through my mother-in-law’s garden, one of the first of many more moments to come I hope of re-tending that creative spark.
Motherhood brings so many things into sharp focus (and others are thrown out of field), perhaps none of these being more evident to me now than my absolute need for the natural world. To see it, to study it, to be near it, to be inspired by it. I need nothing more than 5 minutes and my camera in the garden to let my mind go and my creative instinct out. So here’s to more inspiration, and passions, and adventures coming up! Enjoy a little peek into the potager.
Hello again! It seems I haven’t mastered the working/being a mama with baby at home/having a life balance yet. Has anyone? Ha! But that seems like a post for another day. I wanted to pop in with a couple glimpses of the beautiful Sancerre region of France I took this weekend because, well, how could I not share this?!
We went for what felt like a super short visit to R’s grandparents because usually we get to take advantage of a long weekend at this time of year as November 1st (All Soul’s Day) is still a work holiday for a lot of French people but this year both Halloween and All Soul’s fell on the weekend. Dart! But we had two frankly balmy (near 70°F!) days and we tried to soak up those views as much as possible.
We also climbed to the attic and investigated some of R’s old toys for É which was so sweet – like opening a time capsule that, I’m sure, feels like it was just yesterday for both of us. This little guy was quickly adopted and I love his glowing red wheels with the pumpkins in this shot.
Despite it being only two days, we managed to squeeze in a bit of adventuring an visiting new-to-me places and seeing them in another light for R. The country roads – I don’t even know how to resist wanting to see what is just around every bend!
Sunday afternoon ended on the hillside among the vineyards looking back at the town of Sancerre as the evening’s shadow swept over it. It changes so fast at that time of day but for a few brief minutes, the fields turned an almost iridescent violet that I would have loved to drink in for a while. I only caught the tail end of it here.
There are even more images over on instagram because of course I couldn’t help from overgramming.
Here’s to November! I can’t believe it is here. But I’m trying to get myself into the holiday season gear because here it comes!!
It’s been too hot to think, and by extension, to blog. Several days hovering around 100°F and I hope the end is in sight for next week. In any case, it has been great for my cooking creativity and I’ve came up with a few make-ahead, serve cold meals that have refreshed and consoled us after scorching days. I’m planning on sharing one of my favorites on Monday!
The heat has also been great for the windowsill garden which I shade everyday with a kind of homemade plant tent. The biggest problem I’ve had over these past years living on the 6th and, now, 3rd floors is that the sun and wind currents just turn the soil to dust in no time. This year I decided to shade my plant babies on the hottest days and it’s been working wonderfully! Everything is growing in leaps by the day and I’m afraid they’ll just go right to bolting if we can’t eat them fast enough. It’s so amazing how much you can get out of such a small surface area.
I hope you’re staying cool where ever you are and happy Friday!
This is the last in a series to take you on a tour of our home in progress.
One of the best features of our apartment is the long hallway that connects all the rooms. It isn’t very wide, less than 3 feet actually, and has seven doors leading off of it (so. many. doors.) but it is such a great opportunity for storage!
Did I ever tell you about the move? About how we sent Albert away to kitty camp (chez R’s mother and her fantastic garden) so the move wouldn’t stress him and how we left for a three week summer vacation two days after moving in? We did. On the one had, it was fantastic to recover from the stress of the move without looking at boxes and it gave us time and distance to daydream about how we wanted to set things up. On the other hand, coming back to a strange space packed with boxes. Ugh. So here was the scene when we came back from vacation, Albert in tow.
He adapts quickly. Ha! But to start with, we only had our former dining table bench to toss our keys and mail on. It was a start but there was so much more that space could do! So we grabbed a shallow Besta unit from Ikea, knowing that we wanted something to maximize storage but also that would float on the wall, keeping the space from feeling too cramped and giving us a spot for shoes underneath. Here was the hall after the unit was installed, but before we bought doors, and we had gone on (yet another) Ikea trip.
You can catch a glimpse of another problem we had to tackle, the beautiful electrical board and electricity meter on the end wall. Here’s where this space is today:
Right next to the front door, the floating cabinet houses umbrellas, pocket tissues, mittens and hats in the winter, travel and guide books, things for venturing out like refillable water bottles and binoculars, but also extra lightbulbs, candles, shoe polishing supplies – a lot! Deceiving what you can fit in it despite its narrow width.
Above it, the gallery wall of frames has gone through quite a lot of changes and probably still will but for the moment I still love this collect of bits and pieces from our life, pictures from some of our favorite places, the Louvre and a vacation spot, a little Dürer owl that was my parents’, a sketch by my Uncle and found bits like the cork bark and pressed leaves. Even the key bowl is found – people throw out the best things sometimes! This mix of pieces on the wall helps disguise the lovely intercom phone which, believe me, I looked into changing. Farther down the hall, you can see in the first picture a basket that hides the recycling and yet another basket and collection of Élie’s toys. Having pretty baskets everywhere to toss those things into makes clean-up a breeze!
Under the cabinet we have space for a tray for shoes and I keep a big vintage glass container by the door for wet umbrellas and a basket keeps reusable shopping bags handy. Taking them all out of the basket is also an excellent baby game.
And from this angle you can see our solution to hide the electrical board: we built a simple custom cabinet with a door to mount directly on the wall around it. This gives us even more storage that I haven’t been able to outfit yet but will soon. It was a challenge because these old walls are far from straight but luckily you can only tell when nothing is on the hooks and you stand at a certain angle looking from Élie’s room.
We’ve accomplished most everything on our list in the hall but there are still just a couple tweaks on my list. I’m considering finding an old wooden door to replace the modern one we put on the electrical board cabinet, to add a bit more texture to the space. Originally I had wanted to make the whole thing disappear with an all-over wall treatment (that would wrap the cabinet too), in my dreams with the Nuvole paper from Cole & Sons, but I’m reconsidering that. I’d also like to find some runners for the length of the hallway to soften the sound (baby feet!) and insulate the floor in the cold months.
The last space to introduce you to is the bathroom, which, as is typical in French apartments, is two rooms: the actual bathroom and the ‘loo’ as we’ve taken to calling it. Like the hall, these spaces are less than three feet wide and require creative space planning for storage. The sight right before we moved in:
The gray tile is so clinical looking and a bit wonky and, while you can’t see it here, the enamel on the “tub” is completely gone and there is nothing to be done about the hard water stains and paint drips in there, Lord help us. We’re still hoping the landlord will agree to refinishing it.
The paint was fresh here but sloppily done: they simply painted around existing wall hooks leaving us with interesting paint outlines on the wall and door when we replaced the hooks and towel bar. In such a narrow space, we needed some better towel solutions.
(Albert for scale.)
For a while we transplanted a little wooden bedside table we inherited with the apartment to the bathroom for storage. Of course, the medicine cabinet had to go too: not only did it barely produce any light in this space with no natural light, I could only see my eyes and above in it, it was mounted so high! I pretty quickly pulled that as well as all the existing hooks and the shower caddy (again, so high!) off the walls and door and started from scratch. After a lot of tweaks, the bathroom looks like this now:
Little oak shelves on mat black brackets take the storage all the way up the wall with lots of baskets for texture and little spots for pretties. A vintage mirror has so much more personality then the old plastic box of a medicine cabinet. We replaced the lighting with a double scone giving us double the light without changing electrical. Of course, Albert’s little box has to live somewhere and that spot is here. Keepin’ it real! And for the shower, I used my favorite trick: hanging a real curtain with a plastic liner as high as I could. Such an easy way to make a simple space feel more luxurious!
On the opposite wall are a row of simple mat black hooks and two more are on the back of the door giving us space for all of our towels and those of guests if needed. I love the towel rod! It’s a simple piece of driftwood from our walks that I simply screwed two extra long screws through, passing them through long coupling nuts (all painted black) on the back side.
But the biggest improvement of all was the flooring. I found a 14€ remnant of seagrass flooring at the hardware store (I couldn’t believe my luck!) and simply cut it to fit the floor snuggly. The hardware store guy insisted it need to be glued down “in case there is a water leak” but I didn’t want to do that, and it seemed to me it would be easier to be able to pull it up quickly if needed. It has been down for more than a year and not only is it wonderful to walk on, we have had no problems in terms of it coming up or any mold since the seagrass naturally repels water. For such a small investment, it has gone a long way to making a basic, kind of sad space feel a bit luxurious, which all bathrooms should, I think.
Again, most things have been crossed off our list in here. I do want to build a simple solution to create a bench over the litter box to disguise it and, if we can figure it out, the scone needs to be moved up the wall as it is a bit low. Then just some finishing tweaks like oiling the wood shelves to protect them and re-hemming the curtains just a touch longer.
Just next to the bathroom is the “loo”. This is the least glamorous space and not much has been done to it.
As you can see, I continued the seagrass in here. It has the same chipped gray tile and, at the price I paid for the rug, I thought if putting the seagrass in there doesn’t end up working out, no big deal. But it has been great in there too – insulating the floor so it’s warmer as well as insulating sound. How do you like what I call our “dancing toilet”? I can’t for the life of me figure out why they installed it at that weird angle so far from the wall.
Other than hanging a Monrovian star light fixture and painting the ceiling Farrow & Ball’s Pavilion Blue for a fun little surprise, we haven’t done much in here. Yet. I have a plan for a cabinet to create storage for cleaning supplies and personal items as well as masking the tank. And I can’t wait to properly frame those two little abstract landscapes by Lauren Adams.
So now you’ve had the whole tour! I’m always hoping that we will finish up the spaces in the near, near future, but I’ll come back with updates when we manage them and some posts about my favorite small space strategies.