Leap of faith for historic home in France | Life and style

After graduating from architecture school, Marine Bonnefoy decided it was time to get her hands dirty. “My studies were very intellectually oriented and had no link to actual construction,” she recalls. “By the end of them, I hadn’t even been taught what holds a wall up.” To find out, she decided to spend a year working for a building firm. “I demolished facades with a pneumatic drill, learned plastering, electricity and plumbing, and made concrete. It was fantastic!” she says.

That kind of pragmatic approach has certainly stood her in good stead. She recently completed a 95 sq metre apartment in Paris’s elegant Palais-Royal and is currently building houses from the ground up in both Marseille and Bordeaux. With each project, her approach is the same. “I don’t do anything immediately,” she says. “I simply go about my daily business and it matures in my mind. It’s only after about three weeks that I start drawing.”

She inherited her love of construction from her father, Phillipe, a retired telecommunications technician who oversaw the three-year renovation of the Bonnefoy family home. “He did everything,” she says. “It was him who painted the stairwell balanced in precarious equilibrium on a ladder. And there was not just one coat, but several!” He also laid the floors, installed the kitchen and bathrooms, and even made the custom chandelier in the living room.

The dramatic staircase.



Step change: the dramatic staircase sealed the deal when buying the house. Photograph: Stephen Julliard

The house in question dates from 1867 and is located in a part of the Beaujolais wine region known as “Little Tuscany” for its rolling hills and golden light. It was originally constructed for a family of silk producers from nearby Lyon and has many of the same architectural attributes as the grand flats of that city – beamed ceilings, herringbone parquet floors, marble fireplaces and a monumental staircase. In 1919, it was sold to a family of wine producers who installed a large vat on the ground floor, with a hidden trapdoor through which they would surreptitiously add sugar – a practice forbidden at the time.

Marine recalls her first visit with her parents in the autumn of 2014. “As soon as we saw the stairwell, we immediately fell in love with it,” she says. “Then, we walked into the living room and saw the view of the surrounding vineyards. I turned to my parents and said, ‘You have to buy it!’” That said, the acquisition required a certain leap of faith. It had formerly been occupied by an elderly woman, who had lived in only part of the house. There was no sewage system, no running water and only a small coal-burning stove for the whole house. It stood in the corridor on the second floor, which was decorated with a floral wallpaper, next to an armchair upholstered in a pink leopard print.

For the interior, Marine struck a deal with her parents, who agreed to give her carte blanche for the decoration. She insisted that they keep absolutely nothing from their old home. The result is in tune with her own aesthetic. “I don’t like things that are too sophisticated or fashionable,” she explains. “I prefer sobriety, raw materials and an accessible look.” Here, her aim was to create a “gentle, dreamlike atmosphere”, with a palette inspired by the surroundings. The greyish-blue in the living room is drawn from a pine forest seen from its windows. The kitchen, meanwhile, references the local vineyards. Their orderly lines are mimicked on one wall by a geometric arrangement of bricks that Marine salvaged from a local factory.

A bedroom in earthy tones.



Colour shift: a bedroom in earthy tones. Photograph: Stephen Julliard

She decided to make only a few structural changes, the most significant of which was to transform a series of former maid’s rooms on the second floor into a master bedroom for her parents. Much of the furniture was sourced from eBay and other internet sites. Marine is particularly proud of having found the set of six Colette Guéden chairs in the kitchen for just €350 (£310). Other pieces were acquired because of their intriguingly unusual forms – the side table by the Rotterdam-based Odd Matter Studio and 1940s Hungarian chairs in the living room are perfect examples.

Marine also mixed in a few of her own creations, most notably the sinuously shaped Dialogue dining table. “Its wave-like contour creates a sense of proximity and allows you to talk easily with everyone who’s seated at it,” she declares. Among her favourite artworks, meanwhile, are three discs covered in tiny coloured shards of glass by Vincent Beaurin, whom she discovered via Instagram. “He’s a genius with colour,” enthuses Marine. “Their tones and intensity change constantly according to the daylight. You can stare at them for hours.”

Despite the fact that her parents had committed to giving her free rein, they were initially slightly disconcerted by her choices. “They would say, ‘Not that! It’s not to our taste!’” recalls Marine, with a certain sense of amusement. “But, they kept to their word in order to help me launch my career with this project. In the end, they saw how everything came together and they really love the result. All the credit for this house really goes to them.”

marinebonnefoy.com

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