Words: Jane Shortall
French women are known for their style. In fact, the whole French way of life has an illusion of being wonderfully finished. Be it a tiny cake in a box tied up with pretty coloured ribbons, magnificent chandeliers and sumptuous table settings of a Chateau, the produce display at the weekly market or a classic Chanel black quilted handbag, it’s there, that indefinable ‘je ne sais quoi’ about things, that defines all aspects of French living.
Add to that French chic the style and flair of an Irish woman and the result is a marvellous transformation of an old Provencal village dwelling into a little nugget of luxury. In the village of Aups, nestled among the olives trees and lavender fields of Provence, style guru Rosemary Roberts, a hands-on perfectionist who embraces old and new, has created a superb, sophisticated, comfortable house. Small it may be, but the place is top notch French living.
As I round the bend into the village and the vine covered terrace comes into view, I marvel again at what happens when style, exquisite taste and rigorous standards meets old-fashioned French craftsmanship. Under the vine leaves is an enchanting outdoor eating area. Alfresco dining it may be, but the large table is always smartly dressed, even for breakfast. Stylish doors lead into the living space, elegant, with an immensely cosy feeling. It’s a comfort zone with a big squashy sofa to sink into; a place to read, watch TV or listen to music.
The beautifully lit, tiled kitchen area is within a hand’s reach and with background colours muted, provides a great backdrop for paintings, plus of course, the essential Nespresso coffee maker. On the other side of the room, where the dazzling light of Provence pours in – shaded by antique lace on the windows – stands a magnificent specimen of that classic French item of furniture, a massive wooden Armoire. It is chock full of magnificent glassware, tableware and holds a vast selection of wine.
Rosemary’s furniture ‘finds’, and her expertise at turning them into treasures is obvious upstairs in the master bedroom. Here she has restored two antique chests of drawers entirely by hand, and has had authentic period chairs re-covered in specially sourced fabric appropriate to their great age. She then, with the confidence of an expert, mixed in sleek modern lamps, window shutters and ironwork painted gleaming white and added dazzling white blinds. This feeling of cool, even in the scorching heat of a Provence summer is something unexpected, wonderful.
Downstairs, guests enjoy their own suite. The huge, comfortable, well dressed bed is flanked by tables with books and flowers. Lighting is soft and soothing, and here again there is that perfect, glorious mix of old and new styles, textures and colours. A delight for the senses.
Everything blends perfectly, and while it may seem effortless, it has all been carefully planned, down to the tiniest detail. The placement of every item has been carried out with precision, from the exact positioning of the smallest lamp, to the coloured buttons on scatter cushions, the sumptuous tie backs on curtains.
Rosemary, possessing that superb combination of innate style, a keen eye, a love of luxury and fastidious attention to detail, never ventures into the world the French call ‘ordinaire’. Her approach marks the difference between someone who simply lives in a comfortable space, and someone who takes that space and transforms it into a haven of beauty, elegance and style. Her cool, glamorous, comfortable surroundings seduce us, makes the visitor want to stay; one longs to go back there again and again.