Britain's best-selling period homes magazine
Heather Depuis has restored a derelict farmhouse in France, creating a luxurious family home with colourful interiors. Winner of Best Restoration in the Period Living Readers' Awards 2012.
Location: Brittany, France
Heather Depuis’ association with Period Living goes back a long time – 21 years, in fact. Back then, as a young mother living in Dublin, it was while browsing a copy of the magazine that she spotted our recently launched Readers’ Awards competition and decided to enter it. ‘The magazine had only been going for a few months, but I was a fan of it from the beginning. I sat down and wrote a few lines about my then house, and along with some snapshots, sent it off , never expecting to hear a thing,’ she explains. Heather’s house won the Ireland and Scotland category for that year and as a result of her win, Heather went on to become an interior decorator of some repute. ‘The experience gave me the confidence to set up my own interiors business,’ she explains. ‘I’d trained as an artist but was always much more passionate about houses and how to decorate them. Since then I really haven’t looked back.’
Fast-forward a couple of decades and we find Heather once again a recipient of one of our Readers’ Awards, this time for her house in France. ‘I never imagined I would be as lucky all these years later, so I was completely thrilled when I got the call to say my house was in the running for one of the awards,’ she says.
Heather and her family relocated to Brittany in 1999, having spent many holidays there. ‘The children were seven, nine, 11 and 13 at the time and they jumped at the chance,’ she explains. ‘Everything happened incredibly quickly once we’d made the decision. Our house in Ireland was put on the market in June. It took just three weeks to sell and by the end of August we were living on the outskirts of a French village, just outside Dinan.’
Following a stint in property development, buying, doing up and selling French houses, Heather and her family eventually turned their focus to a home of their own. The property they found was a ramshackle longère (farmhouse) in need of complete restoration. What set it apart was the fact that it housed an original community bread oven, probably built in the 1700s. Heather explains that until the turn of the last century, few rural French communities could support a baker, so villagers banded together to build a single large bakehouse, or four banal, for community use. These compact structures of rough stone, with a large oven built into one narrow end, were inevitably placed in the centre of the village, where, after each baking, or fournée, the gentle heat that remained would serve to dry the season’s crop of apples, pears or walnuts. ‘Ours was a particularly magnificent example in a double height building that was eventually to become our kitchen,’ says Heather. ‘Sadly we had to remove the original oven, but we still have the opening and the chimney. We regularly light a fire in that and cook on it all through the winter.’
The new layout of the house revolved around the bread oven and its rather special, rustic-style kitchen. ‘We didn’t do a lot here, other that repoint the exposed brick walls with local sand and shells and lay some new floor tiles which I bought in Provence,’ says Heather. A bright orange Lacanche cooker adds a vibrantly modern splash of colour to the natural hues. ‘I’d seen a similar model in one of the tile showrooms and when I discovered it came in orange, of course, I just couldn’t resist. I’m not very good at being conservative when it comes to using colour.’
The main living room, known as ‘the big room’ is a 70 square metre space, the focal point of which is a Louis V fireplace, found at an architectural salvage yard. The double doors came from a chateau in the Loire, picked up by Heather at an auction in Tours. ‘They’re quite tatty, but that’s part of their unique charm,’ she says. When opened, the doors frame a view of the hallway and its unusual, banister-free staircase.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the house is the confident colour choices Heather has made, where lavender, green, yellow and pink shades have been used to stunning effect. ‘Having travelled extensively in France, I am particularly influenced by Provençal style,’ she explains. ‘I love the colours and fragrances of that particular area and have recreated my own interpretations of those here in Brittany.’
The ‘big room’ is testament to that ethic. With its cool lavender walls and diaphanous green window dressings, simply walking through the space is like imbibing a natural mood enhancer. ‘Colour is so important. In my experience, if you go too pale with your colour choices, the room feels like it has no boundaries. Depth of tone adds strength and personality to a room.’
Now that Heather’s children have flown the nest, she spends her time travelling, mostly between France and the UK, decorating other people’s houses as well as running creative day and residential courses from home. ‘There is such an appetite for interior design, art and photography classes, and the house is the perfect environment for them. Now I have the space, this has become a wonderful way to help maintain the property, which really is my pride and joy.’