One might not think living in Quebec would lend itself to a love for American country style, but it was true for Chantal Boulé, who grew up in the historic Eastern Townships (a cozy cluster of villages settled by American Loyalists during the Revolution). Though the American expats left the Townships for Ontario and elsewhere years ago, their influence remains in the architecture they left behind. “Give me white clapboard, checkered windows and black shutters and I’m happy,” says Chantal, who is the owner of Montreal’s Vie de Campagne, a country decor shop celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. And though Chantal is living her own ‘vie de campagne’ in the city, it’s clear her heart remains in the country. “My spirit and the spirit of my store is in the Townships where I grew up,” she says.
Her dreams may have started in the Townships but they didn’t always take the shape of a store. Wanting to be around the country homes she loved so much, Chantal started selling real estate in the mid-’80s. “I realized pretty quickly that it wasn’t for me,” she says. “But going into those houses—it was shocking. People weren’t decorating their country homes country!” So, during a time when country was misunderstood and when lacquered furniture, peach walls and ugly green upholstery reigned, Chantal left the real estate business and launched a lifestyle magazine in which she featured a country home done right in every issue. “I think it got people thinking about what they could do that was in harmony with the architecture,” she says.
When the magazine folded in 1989, Chantal decided to try her hand at running a decor shop and finally found her niche. Her shop reflects the cottage country aesthetic she grew up with. “I never tire of country style,” she says. “It’s in my soul, it’s my grandparents, it’s the old homes, the smells, the floors cracking—when I think about the time and effort it took to build those houses, it blows my mind.”
And with that spirit at the heart of Vie de Campagne, it’s no wonder people keep coming back. “Customers tell me they have a good feeling when they walk in,” says Chantal. “Actually, lots of people come in just to rest and get away from the noise and the city outside.” Which just goes to show: you can take the girl out of the Townships, but you can’t take the Townships out of the girl. “Either you like the city, or you like the city for a while, but after that you go back to your roots,” says Chantal. “For me that’s the Eastern Townships.”