Getting to the Heart of ‘Provence Style’

A new book from Vendome Press explores decades of laid-back, light-filled homes in the southern French region.

Provence, the French region known for its lavender fields, charming villages, and rugged Mediterranean coastline, has a distinctive energy all its own. A universe away from the glamour and grandiosity of Paris—which tends to dominate American imaginations when it comes to the definition of “French style”—Provence is all about sunlight, fresh air, and the sounds and scents of nature.

Shauna Varvel, an American who fell in love with the area, compares the difference between Parisian and Provençal style to that of delicate Limoges porcelain versus sturdier faience pottery, or of silk and cotton. “They’re both beautiful, but one is without pretense,” she says.

Varvel’s stunning home, an impeccably renovated 18th-century farmhouse near Avignon called Le Mas des Poiriers, is the centerpiece of a new book, Provence Style (Vendome Press) that explores a variety of colorful, nuanced takes on interior design from the region, from shabby chic barns to opulent manors and everything in between. It’s a book that will have you dreaming of your next European vacation while simultaneously filling you with the sudden urge to outfit your kitchen with linen dishcloths and wicker baskets overflowing with fresh herbs.

The first section of the book tells the story of how Varvel transformed a neglected 65-acre pear farm into an elegant retreat that honors the legacy of local design and craftsmanship; the rest is both encyclopedia and kaleidoscope: a deep dive into the essential elements of the region’s style. Sifting through the Vendome stacks and The Interior Archive for photos of hand-painted tile backsplashes and breeze-tickled canopy beds was “inspiring and a little bit dangerous” for someone who had just finished their own decorating project, Varvel says with a laugh, “Because then you say, ‘Oh, I want that. I need that. I need to copy that!’”

While certain elements of of the Provençal look and feel can’t be exported (the scent of rosemary in the air, the particular slant of afternoon light, or the rhythmic hum of cicadas) Varvel says anyone can channel a bit of that energy, no matter where they are. “It’s about finding simplicity and beauty in life, and not over-complicating things,” she adds.

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