Some stories begin where others end. Today, The Socialite Family has decided to share with you the story of Pauline Chardin and François Guillaume’s meeting with the Drôme Provençale. A blank page they began to fill just one year ago with the specific intention of changing their lives. Leaving Paris, getting off the “working a lot to travel a lot” treadmill. A necessity for the couple for whom the big city was no longer synonymous with freedom. This creative couple decided to head south to give substance to their desires for space, time and light. But not just anywhere. Towards the “promised land” evoked many times by the parents of the founder of thevoyageur.net, and loved by her as a sunny change of scenery just a short train ride from the capital. The Drôme, then. At the edge of the Baronnies Provençales Regional Natural Park. The ideal place to direct their combined creative energies into constructing their project. A magnificent home with a contemporary structure inspired by Californian “case study houses” and which, seen from above, blends into the natural landscape that surrounds it. The result of a long process of reflection around the concept – “dictated by the landscape and the geography of the terrain” – of the choice of colours – neutral – and materials – warm and natural. Eager to travel, Pauline and Guillaume also applied themselves to integrating their discoveries “from elsewhere” into their project. This was an opportunity to realise the influence that Asia has had on the way they design, organise and accessorise their interiors. A place of sensitivity, where wood, in its dark shades, bestows an aura upon the ambient modernism. “The impression of having lived here for ten years” concludes Pauline, savouring the feeling of fulfilment that this new anchorage gives her.
Pauline, François: Can you introduce yourselves, please?
I’m a freelance art director and photographer. Originally, my background was in fashion and clothing, but my sphere of activity has broadened over the years. What I am passionate about is making connections between different fields and developing storytelling!
After studying philosophy, I worked in French publishing for 15 years. As freelance work became scarce, and as I watched Pauline work, I gradually turned my attention to fashion photography.
Tell us about your education in “beauty”. How did your tastes develop?
I remember that my grandmother was very observant and cultivated a myriad of preferences for one thing or another. Each object was judged by qualities that were often invisible. I think that’s where it all started for me. By learning to look and to choose. The idea of beauty being subjective, I see it more as a personal journey, never finished. It may seem contradictory, but I think that it’s by being curious and adventurous that we really decide what suits us. You have to get out of your comfort zone to find it.
I remember spending afternoons in the library in the small town where I grew up turning the pages of beautiful books by the great masters of painting and making expensive colour photocopies that I pinned on my bedroom wall. They were windows onto other worlds. I also started watching lots of films at a very early age, a habit that’s never left me. And then there’s literature and poetry, which have been around me since I was very young indeed. I started to write regularly in secondary school.
And your obvious passion for photography?
Communicating through images has been a pleasure for me for a long time. Photography began as a way to gather and share all the things that inspired me in my travels. At least that’s the ambition behind thevoyageur.net, which I created in 2014. Nowadays, I’m going a little further by staging images nourished by all these fragments collected over the years.
My father left behind him a laboratory for developing films. When I was about 15, I taught myself how to develop my first films and produce my first prints. I did a bit of photography until I was 23, then I lost my equipment. It was stolen from a train. Stupidly, I didn’t touch a camera for seven years, and then I devoted myself to writing and editing.
Designers, artists: whose work has influenced you and your work?
It’s difficult to make a short but representative list. Perhaps Charlotte Perriand, Nicolas Bouvier, Constantin Brancusi, Man Ray, Richard Long, Federico Fellini, Amrita Sher-Gil, Moebius, Robert Altman, Georgia O’Keefe, George Nakashima and Wim Wenders …
Tristan Tzara, Rembrandt, Anders Petersen, John Cheever, Beth Gibbons, David Lynch, Julien Gracq, Efrim Manuel Menuck, Emmanuel Lubezki and John Lurie.
You travel a great deal. You have lived in Paris until now, so why did you choose Drôme to settle down?
After more than 15 years living and working in Paris, I needed a change of pace and to get away from the logic of “working a lot to travel a lot”. For me, the big city was no longer synonymous with freedom and possibilities, but more like a headlong rush that I couldn’t escape. I dreamed of space, time, light, and also of using my creative energy for a project of my own, of building something concrete. Drôme was the obvious choice for several reasons. I absolutely wanted to leave Paris for the sun, but without going too far from the capital by train. I was looking for proximity to nature and a region with few buildings. It was also a place where I had often gone on childhood holidays. My parents had been talking about it for decades as a “promised land”, it made sense to me that the next generation would settle there. I was also seduced by the abundance of producers and excellent products, and by the proximity to the mountains, the sea, Italy and Spain. So it’s a mixture of rationality and feelings.
I followed my partner, being rather a city dweller at heart.
Your house is not at all traditional and is a long way from the “old stone” we usually associate with the countryside. Why did you make this choice?
My husband and I both grew up in the country. We had to find a way to create this new life without it seeming like a step backwards. Not easy when we dreamed throughout childhood of living in big cities! The idea of living in the country as we had never lived it before, in a contemporary house, came to us very quickly.
What was your brief, what did you want in its construction? How did the work go on what appears to be a “simple” building?
The concept of the house was dictated by the landscape and the geography of the land we had chosen: a steeply sloping and rugged plot of land, covered with pine and holm oak trees, and with outcrops of the local rock, sandstone. It’s very much influenced by the structure of post-war California houses, the famous “case study houses”. I liked the idea of a house on stilts, with a metal frame, which “floats” above the landscape. In actual fact, it was a highly technical construction that required the intervention of companies specialising in industrial construction. Although this type of construction is more widespread in other countries, it’s still relatively marginal in France, which makes the process more complicated. As for the very simple silhouette – imagined hand in hand with the architect Caroline Barrès Coquet – it was consistent with the topography but also reflected a desire to have a house that was very Cartesian in its structure. For me, the enrichment had to come from the way in which the vegetation and the light would interact with the architecture. The ultimate ambition was that the house would disappear into the slope, hence the choice of colours and materials. The logic behind these was simple, the structure was contemporary, but the materials had to be warm and natural. I really like old modernist houses where innovation rubs shoulders with craftsmanship and where everything has acquired a patina over the years. So I didn’t look for the idea of perfection or “inalterability” in the materials, but rather for surfaces that will evolve over time. The palette also had to be simple enough to bring fluidity between spaces and give a feeling of serenity through unity. The polished concrete on the floor is the same outside and inside, the interior and exterior walls are in lime, and the wooden cladding is the same throughout the house.
Is its organisation inspired by what you may have discovered in other countries during your travels?
Yes, totally. In a way, it’s a collage of many things that we liked, while seeking visual coherence with the environment in which it is located. Throughout the process, I had in mind the climate and the colours of the surrounding landscape. There are multiple influences from elsewhere: as far back as I can remember I have always loved the porches we saw in American films, but it was experiencing them in Sri Lanka and Japan that really convinced me of their function. Ours protects us from the summer sun but lets in the winter sun and allows me to live the life I was looking for between indoors and outdoors. It was in these same two countries that I saw rain chains for the first time. It was also in Asia that I got a taste for darker woods. In Japan, I understood the beauty of the browns in an interior and the way that dual perspectives will always reveal new pictures. I began to love brass in India and Italy. And finally, it was visiting Alvar Aalto’s house and studio in Finland that convinced me that modernism could be sensitive and warm. These are a few obvious examples, following the whole thread could take quite some time!
There is wood everywhere in your home. How have you worked with it, to team it up with everything else?
Very early on in the process, I felt that the presence of wood would be essential to warm the space. After living in a Haussmann-style apartment where wood, especially parquet, features on the floor, it was interesting to imagine it occupying other surfaces, the walls, the ceiling and so on.
How did you furnish your interior?
Very early in the process of creating the house, I started to design the interiors to ensure that our choices were viable. The house was designed with many functional elements already “integrated” when we moved in (the kitchen, dressing room, bathroom, and the large cupboards in the living room). In the same spirit, we installed string system shelves on one whole wall in the office, and I designed two very long, low storage units, one in the office and one in the living room (this one is not yet installed), which my father agreed to make for us. All these elements are the basis of the interior design of the house, they make it coherent and practical. Initially, I thought I would need very few additional elements. I fantasised a lot about space and emptiness after living in a well-filled flat. However, I soon realised that I was less minimalist than I thought. Filling the space with objects, images, textiles and furniture that I found visually stimulating proved very satisfying. The priority is on vintage and craftsmanship because I find that gives structure to the house.
What does it say about you?
It’s hard to say from the inside! What is certain is that it gives concrete expression to the idea I had of a home. It’s a real haven, both open and protected, I feel freer and more serene at the same time.
This house is a conglomerate of rather diverse ideas that we’ve tried to order and refine, satisfying a desire for space, perspectives, light, nature. It was a major challenge, too.
This house is a conglomerate of rather diverse ideas that we've tried to order and refine, satisfying a desire for space, perspectives, light, nature. It was a major challenge, too (...)
Where do you go hunting for bargains?
We used to bring back quite a lot of things from our travels, from flea markets in France and abroad… this year we’ve borne our troubles patiently, and realised the value of all these treasures accumulated over the years. I’ve also spent more time on Etsy, eBay, Instagram and leboncoin creating extensive favourites lists!
You’ve been living here for a year already. How does it feel?
I feel as if I’ve been living here for 10 years! The process of moving took a long time, and I had planned it so much that it was almost familiar from the beginning. Being so close to nature does indeed have a surprisingly anchoring effect. People say that a lot, but it’s different when you experience it yourself! The feelings it generates are ultimately quite simple, but no less precious: freedom, independence, and calm. And how can we not talk about light? It is so abundant here, because of the architecture of the house and thanks to the climate, of course. It’s undoubtedly the greatest luxury of this new life and the first thing that delights me when I return home after spending time elsewhere.
There’s a balance to be found, and that can take time, but it definitely comes, far from the activity of the cities.
Where will we find you this year?
I hope to go to Japan as soon as possible, but after a year without travel, anywhere or almost anywhere seems exciting.
I imagine that Italy and Spain will also be on this shortlist since we’re only a few hours by car from these two countries.
Photography: Eve Campestrini – Text: Caroline Balvay @thesocialitefamily