How to decorate for Christmas the French way
Photography: Julien Fernandez | Styling: Amandine Berthon
How to decorate for Christmas the French way
How a young couple took a rundown barn outside Lille, France, and transformed it into a rustic modern showpiece that truly shines come Christmastime.
Step into this stunning converted barn in the French countryside and you’d be hard-pressed to picture what it was like when livestock lived inside. Original relics like exposed beams, a soaring ceiling and monumental doors are there as reminders of the home’s history, which feels like a distant memory. The place is now hospitable and homey, pretty and polished, modern and chic.
Would you ever guess that when the barn was bought, it was uninhabitable for humans? The beaten-earth floor was covered in straw, and the walls weren’t well insulated. But the owners, a young couple (she’s in marketing; he’s in finance), saw its potential.
They bought the barn one January and aimed to renovate it for the following Christmas. That’s already an ambitious goal for any overhaul, but this pair also vowed to do the majority of the work on their own (with a little help from family and friends). With a young daughter in tow, they sacrificed evenings and weekends to sanding, refinishing, painting and decorating – at times balancing precariously on scaffolding while wielding large power tools. “It was petrifying,” says one of them.
Furnishing the converted barn was no easy feat either, as the pair was determined to do so on a dime. Much of the decor was sourced from flea markets and antiques shops, plus the couple handcrafted a lot themselves. “I prefer to spend money on the bones of the house, like the kitchen and stairs, rather than the decor,” one explains.
But the couple’s mettle and determination paid off. They finished well before Christmas and had time to settle in, get comfy and consider their seasonal decor. Now comes the next challenge: hosting their first holiday dinner for their whole family...all 23 of them.
With its soaring 22-foot-high ceiling and weathered wood doors, this spacious old barn was made chic and cozy with a low-slung sectional and a modern fireplace. Masters of DIY, the homeowners created the coffee table out of a pallet and casters, and the pendant light shades out of wire fencing. “They only cost me three euros,” says one of the homeowners.
Here's what they used to get the look:
1. A feminine colour palette
Blush is not a tone commonly seen at Christmas time, but based on how it’s used here, it feels like it should be. Employed in diminutive doses to a similarly muted palette with metallic touches and lots of light, the feminine hue takes on an elegant warmth that glows.
2. Lots of candles
A tray full of pillar candles of varied sizes and heights makes for an easy festive coffee table display featuring every day items that everyone has on hand. The flames complement the tree’s twinkle lights, and small sprigs of greenery complete the look.
3. An efforless tablescape
Sometimes, simple makes the best statement. This minimal setting sans tablecloth and placemats lets the table itself shine. Made of old Indian railway ties, the surface’s unique patina – protected by a sheet of glass – tells a story and adds interest and texture to the dinner table.
4. Star decor
A rustic console in the dining room gets the star treatment. Celestial silhouettes, tree frames and casually strewn string lights come together in a pretty yet unassuming arrangement that can serve as a backdrop for a holiday drinks station near the dining table
5. Sprigs centrepiece
The elements of this stunning tablescape are simple: Fragrant eucalyptus boughs line the centre; white tapers stand tall in short black pinch bowls; and each place setting is minimally adorned with a rosy pink napkin and a sprig of greenery.
4. A sleek and stunning backdrop
In this ultra-rustic space, the streamlined kitchen feels extra modern. Sleek black everything – cabinetry, countertops, appliances and faucet – are striking against the dining area’s homey elements, from the rough-hewn wooden table to the woven pendant lights to the spotted faux cowhide.
5. Casual bits and bites for guests
On the kitchen counter, nuts and sweets sit on cake plates and cutting boards ready for snacking. Since the cooking area is open to the dining zone, this is the perfect staging space to set up munchies and refreshments prior to serving a big dinner.
6. Twinkling corners
It’s amazing what a strand of string lights can do. These homeowners don’t hesitate to set them out anywhere – hiding among presents, nestled in a centrepiece or hanging from a pedestal and statue. Perfect imperfection is key to making this look work.