About vicawhite

Magazine person by day, French house renovator at all other times! A love of Breton tops links the two but not much else. I live in SE London for most of the year but spend holidays and happy days in Gensac - a tiny village in SW France in between the not-much-larger villages of Maubourguet and Vic en Bigorre. My day job is very glamorous. My holidays are not. And that's how I like it.

The way you make me feel…..texture, fabric and other touchy feely stuff around my French House

Bonjour! Je suis en France. And as per usual this means blogging takes a back seat to complete relaxation. Eating and relaxation in fact. As we speak I am feasting on cherry compote with fromage frais with one hand and writing this with the other. One of the great joys of being in France is eating – as much and as highly calorific food as I can. 

The other joy is wandering around, looking at all my finished projects. Taking a little mental walk down memory lane. And I thought I might take you on a stroll with me on this blog post using textures and fabric to tell the stories. Or at least to kick start them.

 

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lumpy and bumpy

This is our hallway. Smooth huh? The walls in La Maison Blanche are not smooth. They are in fact the exact opposite. Craggy, lumpy, bumpy, like wall cellulite in fact – everywhere. And although some were so bad we had to replaster them, most. like this have been painted over and left. Lumpy. Peter insists this adds to the house’s character. I’d truthfully like to plaster them all up a bit and at least make the edges a bit neater but as he’s the one doing the work I can’t really do much about it. This wall is half way up the first flight of stairs and I bought the light in one of the first Vide Greniers we ever went to. There is a door on this wall. I have never been beyond it. There are lots of these in our house – doors leading to attics – which sound like romantic, hidey holes for children to play in. If CS Lewis were writing this blog post we’d all be in there discovering secret lands and faraway adventures. But sadly – they are just dark, cobwebby attics probably full or rats or bats or both. 

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Who IS the fairest of them all?

Marble plus mirror in my bedroom. A very early purchase and for bigger pics of the bedroom cick here. This mirror came from my favourite shopping destination – ebay…..and I have always wanted one just like it. They are however very expensive – but this one wasn’t because it was broken. There were a couple of pieces of glass which had fallen off the mirror so the vender couldn’t charge much for it and no one else wanted it. And when it arrived, Peter simply glued the broken pieces back on and voila. My dream mirror. The marble fireplace in our bedroom is the original fireplace and very grand. But our only attempts to actually light a fire in it ended in us being smoked out of our bedroom, eyes streaming, gasping with smoke inhalation as opposed to sitting gazing into each other’s eye’s romantically in front of it. 

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Star Studded

These are our dining chairs. Which Peter upholstered himself. Each morning he likes to get up early. I am never sure if this is simply a way of getting time alone before everyone else gets up or wether his body clock is wired differently to everyone else in the world . If he’d been married to Margaret Thatcher they’d have been always bumping into each other at 4am – her deciding wether to  defend small island nations, him wielding an upholstery gun. Anyway, I love these chairs. I barely let people sit on them I love them so much. And they populate my dining room which is the best room in the house.

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Le Metro tile

And now my own personal homage to the Metro Tile. The budget conscious renovators best friend. Which is lucky because I love them. And if you can’t use a Metro tile in France then where can you (unless of course these tiles were so named because of the Newcastle Metro – whay aye) These ones came from Topps Tiles and we drove them over in the back of our estate with the back end dragging along the motorway! I think the real trick to make metro tiles more interesting is to get a coloured grout. In Jamie Olivers Italian near us they have orange grout in between which looks really cool. Though taking loo inspo from restaurants can be dodgy as before you know it you’ve ended up with your home looking like Nandos! 

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Charlton Hessian

These are my home made curtains. I am very proud of them as I’d never made curtains before. If you look really closely it turns out I’ve attached the linings to the wrong side so the hems are actually on the outside but by the time I’d done this, sewing three metres along both sides and a metre along the top and bottom, I couldn’t face redoing them. And who will look THAT closely anyway. The fabric I bought on ebay for next to nothing as well as the lining fabric. And the whole project took me about a week to complete. I’ve bought the fabric to do the same for the sitting room but can’t even face getting the sewing machine out of it’s box. It might be easier just to go to John Lewis like any normal person.

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yeeeeeee haaaaa!

My final fabric/wallpaper is this and features Seb as it IS his room. I have always loved this cowboy fabric from Cath Kidston. When we bought out first flat together in Balham, London, I bought some of this in the oilcloth fabric to cover some old chairs Peter had retrieved from a skip for our kitchen. I then painted the kitchen to match with green walls and cream cupboards but I had never managed to persuade Peter to use it any more liberally than that. Until now. Perfect for a boys bedroom although terrifyingly already feeling a little juvenile for my growing boys. Arthur has in fact moved out of this room now and into his own more minimalist designed den. And I can’t help but feel that in a year or two Sebastian won’t want cowboys on his walls anymore. And so it is with all children’s room decoration – it serves to remind you that they aren’t children forever. And those sheep cot mobiles, designers guild cat print curtains,  and toy wooden forts are but for a fleeting point in time. A time that YOU appreciate far more than they ever will which is no doubt why we spend so long decorating children’s rooms. Mine are happy if they get to put a Harry Potter posted on the wall (posters are strictly forbidden in our home, as are cartoon related duvet covers) which one day, when they leave home they can do. Until then its cowboys and farrow and ball paint colours. But from the look on Seb’s face he SEEMS happy enough with his wallpaper. Until he’s 13 and decides he wants to paint it all black anyway.  

Sitting room make over – shop the look!

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pink to make the boys wink

Of all my room makeovers – I love this one the most (for more pics of ‘le salon’ before and after click here). And that’s before it is even finished. It is now an enormous, grand room befitting the style and size of the house. A place to gather formally. If we were prone to American style family Christmas cards we could all sit around the fireplace while Peter leaned in a patriarchal way on the mantlepiece. But the downside of this is a seismic shift in my attitude. I’ve gone from family and friends being able to wade through the house in mud covered wellies to a situation where I am following kids/guests/Peter around with a dustpan and brush. And that’s NOT how this holiday home was supposed to be.

Is this what happens when you choose a pale pink and cream colourscheme for a high traffic room? I fear so… But as out home becomes more boutique and less shabby-not-at-all-chic I am starting to get un peu precious!

Take my Stockholm black and cream Ikea rug

STOCKHOLM Rug, flatwoven IKEA The durable, soil-resistant wool surface makes this rug perfect in your living room or under your dining table.

Black and white and really alright

I spent a large portion of this New Year’s Eve celebrations encouraging guests that this was a ‘no outdoor shoe’ zone. I cried as the New Year’s Eve canape selection got tipped onto it and I even stressed about champagne spills as the clock struck midnight (red wine was banned natch). What had I become?

And my wall sconces that I picked up at a vide grenier now house drip free candles in case we get wax on them or heaven forbid the new real wood floor. I’ve found very similar ones though here at RE in case of serious disaster!

Galvanised Wall Sconce

Candle on the wall

The chairs all came from various vide greniers and the plan is to upholster them all in cream vintage linen picked up from markets and vide greniers too. And I shall be insisting upon clean trousers before anyone even attempts to sit in them. Should you want to copy my half finished chair covering look. Check out ebay for vintage french linen.

And finally woe betide anyone who messes with my cushions. Regular blog readers will know that cushions will possibly be cited in divorce papers should Peter and I ever split up. He hates them. I love them. I tried making my own (click here for blog post on this very subject) But when I spotted these ones at Graham and Green I splashed out. Shhhh don’t tell Peter!

Cushion and on and on

And finally for those who have virtually admired my cowhide footstool (*waves to twitter followers who did so…) It came from Marks and Spencer but is sadly now discontinued. So I recommend trying something like this from MADE.COM which has loads of great footstools. I have one of their purple chesterfield ottomans in my London home too! Just don’t attempt to sit on it. Well not unless you’ve showered and changed first!

Too nice for putting your feet on!

Mum and Dad and Marciac and Jazz

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When Grandad and Gran came to stay…

My Dad loves jazz. But not in a ‘smokey, dingy basement bar with people in roll necks listening to students with a double bass’ jazz. What my Dad likes is big band stuff or ragtime or the kind of jazz that you’d imagine you’d hear on a New Orleans’ paddle steamer. And luckily for him (and it turns out for us as we’ve been every year since we bought our house in France) one of the world’s best jazz festivals takes place 15 minutes drive from La Maison Blanche.

The Marciac Jazz festival runs for a week (or it might be two don’t quote me) during the month of August in a sleepy, quaint French village. Only its not sleepy at all for those weeks – it comes alive like the Enchanted Wood at night. Some of the world’s best jazz musicians descend and although jazz is not really my thing and I’ve never really heard of any of them (I think Jamie thingy who is married to Sophie Dahl may have been there one year but I couldn’t swear on it) the atmosphere is amazing as our sleepy little Marciac is filled with music, wine and even stalls selling touristy tat.

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Ice cream is crucial when jazz listening!

Each of the restaurants in the village expand into tents in the market square and there is an ice cream seller with around 100 different flavours. And each year we book a table at Le Monde A L’Envers a great restaurant on the square and we eat fine food, drink fine wine and listen to the jazz bands playing in the square. And when the kids were smaller they would dance but are now far too cool for such things. But as it turned out they could hand that mantle over to someone else this year. As the square got dark and the jazz got louder everywhere around us people started to dance. And when we lost Mum and Dad for a little while we wondered what on earth could have become of them but it turned out they had found a corner of the square where a band were playing and people were dancing so they’d joined in. A proper dance that only parents seem to know how to do.

And my Dad declared it was his best night out for years.

You can rent our lovely house if you are thinking of visiting the Marciac Jazz Festival click here for details.

Kids, animals and the Fete de Maubourguet

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Thinks he’s made of candy…

So there we were. The summer lay ahead of us with the promise of lots of visitors, temperatures of up to 38 degrees and the only renovation projects we had were minor ones (finishing the Salon painting mainly). So like Cliff Richard and Una Stubbs we set off on our summer holiday.
We had almost a week before my parents arrived and there was a lot to do. First things first – the fete de maubourguet. Most French villages host a weekend fete at some point over the summer. These are two hedonistic days of wine drinking (or as I spotted in maubourguet a combo of beer and absinthe drinking!) game playing and dressing up as women. (Fetes bring out the Les Dawson in the burliest of French men!)
The tiny square in Maubourguet is transformed into a fun fair like Rydell High at the end of Grease. For a small village there are some big rides but the main attractions for my boys are the giant balls you can roll around in on three inches of water and the trampolines with harnesses so you can bounce and spin – referred to by our friends who have some near their holiday home in Cornwall as ‘bouncealines’.

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The most fun in the world

There are slot machines, coin slide machines (where Sebastian hit the jackpot and thought he was James Bond when presented with a watch as a prize) and there is food – loads of it. Candy floss as big as your head, crepes, popcorn and ice cream. And local children are allowed to stay up as late as they like and the adults get stuck into the wine. And at some point in the evening, burley men, dressed as women encourage the local children to join them in a giant tug of war competition. And for the first time ever this year, our children elected to join in. And as we watched them grab the rope on opposing sides with dozens of French children of different ages, laugh, fall over and speak the universal language of silliness, we remembered one of the reasons we took on this crazy project.

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Tug of war in maubourguet

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To try and give two, urban, London, relatively privileged kids, a slice of life that money can’t buy. To show them that sometimes pulling a rope with thirty, non English speaking village kids in rural France can be way more fun than an x box. And the sense of achievement when one brother came in on the winning team was Millibandesque for whichever one of them it was.

So we went and bought silly hats to celebrate.

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The wurzels

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Maubourguet in fete

Meanwhile, back at Summer 2013

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Sunshiney home

I’ve veered off on a tangent. Which is what happens when I actually get to our french house – I want to show you all pictures in real time but if that happens I’ll lose my train of thought and the narrative bits of our story. Yes its finally nice, we can sit in one room and be warm and dry while others sit in a different room and concurrently experience warmth and dryness. Fancy that?

Its the house we always dreamed of and in Summer 2013 we threw open the doors, shutters and all other apertures of La Maison Blanche to a host of fabulous guests. I spent the longest I ever have over there with my husband and sons (regular blog readers will have read tales of my separate summers but it not click here .) And despite my usual bouts of ‘oh god why can’t I be in some sort of organised resort with a kids club’ woes – this summer was the summer I saw the value of our french folly.

Iphoto is a wonderful tool – you can spend hours just flipping through a visual history of key moments of your life (daubed with a healthy selection of selfies/foodstagrams and comedy videos if you’re anything like me!) and, if you’re like me, you can sit back and say WOW my life looks bloody amazing! If looking at other’s facebook feeds can sometimes make you want to slash your wrists in terms of self underachievment (just this week I had people posting everything from first class flights to Barbados, to Billie Piper at their new year’s eve party!) Then my iPhoto feed serves to provide just the opposite.
A quick scroll through one year of photos makes you realise just how much we pack into our lives. And how many amazing people wander in and out of it along the way, family, friends and this summer some porcine friends too.

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Ride on time!

And so it is with summer 2013 – an iPhoto scan shows the White Family on our own having fun, the white family plus my parents having jazz fest fun, the white family and possibly one of our all time fave guests – baby Io having fun and finally us plus The joyous Murray Leslie family having fun with rope swings, camels and more. So really it’s several blog posts to come. But here’s the visual whistle stop.br />

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Gran and Grandad!

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When kids do daycare

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Kids, animals and other stuff

Oh and then there was the arrival of Dawn and Cora….. But that’s definitely another blog post!

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Two little pigs

New Sitting Room makeover pics

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Le Grand Salon!

I’m here! In my lovely French home – and you know what? It is really lovely. Could be warmer but with fires in all the rooms and extra blankets for the boys (and cashmere bed socks for me!) we can snuggle down.
And today when the pompiers came round for their annual donation (in return for which you get a calendar full of fire warden activities – recovery position anyone?) we were able to invite them in for the first time since we moved here. They decreed our salon ‘tres jolie’ and although it’s not finished yet I thought you might like to see some pics.
And if you don’t mind I’ll get back to playing Mastermind, listening to Plan B (and explaining to Sebastian why it’s Ok for HIM to use the F word?) and drinking red wine from our cubivin!! Oh and waiting for Uncle Richard and Stuey to arrive!!

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Fake Christmas tree (for emergencies such as these – you try finding a tree on December 27th)

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Drop down lights from graham and green, sofa ikea ektorp

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Chandelier for 1 euro (need a bigger one but this will do for now)

What’s French for Christmas?

Joyed Noël obvs. Today’s slightly – ate too many mince pies, drank too much mulled wine – blog post is a lazy one. I thought you might like lots of lovely festive pics of La Maison Blanche at Christmas. I’ve blogged about previous festive seasons in France here and here and here but for an easy peasy tour of Christmas Chez nous – I’ve rounded up my fave pics. They go from Christmas number one to our most recent. And this year we’re off to France on Boxing Day…. I’ll be adding more pics then. Bonne Fete xx

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A tree – dig it!

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Children refuse my protestations for a ‘minimal’ tree

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Yule fool!

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Nom nom

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Berry nice right?

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Giz a kiss

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Shabby…. But cosy

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He’s been!

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Finally get my minimal tree

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A dining room fit for xmas

Bargainous bedding!

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bargainous bedding website I love

I don’t normally do this but….. I had breakfast this morning with a lovely PR colleague who told me about a client who I should take a look at. Its a site that sells amazing bedding that is not that dissimilar to a well known bedding where things are all of a certain colour BUT it is much much cheaper.

The site is called duvet and pillow warehouse and I have already fallen in love with their grey cable knit throws, lace edged bedding and wool cushions.

Lambswool Cable Knit Throws

snuggly cushions

Lambswool Cable Knit Throws

cable guy

So that’s it – just wanted to share as until about four hours ago I’d never heard of it and now I will be bookmarking the site and visiting when a bedroom in one of my reno projects needs some finishing touches!

I Know What You Did This Summer

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Holiday Selfie!

Without a doubt, summer is when having a house in France is less folly and more jolly. The prospect of weeks with no school, constant sunshine, a pool to splash about in, ice cream and crazy golf means we pile into our knackered and dirty estate car like kids going on a school trip! And this is despite a 14 hour drive ahead of us. And once we’re through the Euro tunnel, we get Virgin Radio blaring (as Peter insists on Radio 4 when anywhere within reception – he did once manage to even get crackly, faint reception for Gardners Question Time somewhere around Calais, but once we hit the motorway, the boys and I take over). And after twelve hours of listening to Olly Murs, Icona Pop and Robbie Williams, we get to our house tired, excited and sick of the sight of each. It is, by now, sometime in the evening so we do what everyone does when they go on holiday to France – we head out for Pizza.

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Our usual table!

We have been eating Pizza at Restotop – a shabby on the outside, top pizzas on the inside – local restaurant since Sebastian was so little they used to bring him a booster seat just to reach the table. Serge the owner (another Serge – it’s confusing I know) greets us like long lost relatives on arrival, probably as, since buying our house we’ve racked up around 100 visits to Restotop bringing large groups of friends with us each time so in essence have possibly doubled his profits.

And a quick flick back through my photo stream shows dozens of photos of the White Family eating pizza and drinking diet coke or Pression or Rose (delete as appropriate) outside Restotop. And the children have gone from throwing tantrums in there (Seb aged three), to smashing glasses (Seb aged three and a half), to learning french for mint ice cream (Seb aged 5) to sauntering over to Serge at the end of our meal and asking, in French, for the bill (Arthur aged 10). They’ve also boldly expanded their pizza ordering from margarita with olives to Calzone with mushrooms and a runny egg. And there is something very reassuring about arriving at a restaurant when you are tired and emotional and having someone say ‘Bon soir’ and kissing you. And so the tradition sticks – first night equals Restotop night.

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And then we do it all again on the last night too. The Restotop bookends we call them. And its not a holiday if we haven’t done this. Even though its not french, its not quaint and its not very pretty. The pizzas are delicious and the kids love it and secretly we do too. In fact, the only sad bit about our final visit to Restotop is it means the holiday is over…..

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Sad Face Selfie!

Serge to the rescue…

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This is the longest I’ve ever been without visiting La Maison Blanche. In three years of owning it we have always visited at least every five or six weeks. At the moment its been nearer 15 since we packed up and shut that great big front door for the last time. We know its OK, because Serge has his beady eye on it. Serge is our neighbour who lives across the road in two rooms of his quite large house. Who brings us wood on his tractor and mows our lawns but refuses to take payment for any of it because we are his ‘les Amis’. And woe betide anyone who tries to mess with the house of ‘les Amis’. He once called us in a grand panic at 2am in the morning. Peter answered his mobile having seen ‘Serge’ flashing on the incoming screen with a large measure of trepidation – the only two times anyone else has called at that time of night it was Peter’s family with the news that his father and subsequently his mother had died. No good news ever comes at 2am in the morning.

It was though in this case simply an incident with ‘les jeunes’ or YOOF as we would say. It turned out that Serge’s panicked ramblings at 2am were simply to tell us that some young people had kicked our gate. And then….. We asked? Well, nothing it turned out, they’d just drukenly wandered on to the next gate to kick.
I’m telling you this to underline how lucky we are to have Serge and his beady eye. Without him we would worry all the time because our house is our pride and joy. And as we’ve now got so much sweat equity in it, the thought of anything going wrong is horrifying.
So we give Serge a lot of love, parcels of English cheese (like snow to Eskimos) and British royal paraphanalia. He has a Baby George commemorative biscuit tin coming his way this Christmas which he will love. And Peter promised we’d put an extra latch on that gate.

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