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Picture Perfect French Country Afternoon

Martine asked, “Can you come to lunch on Monday at my home?”

Knowing that Martine di Matteo, our Interior Architect ‘Extraordinaire,’ lives near EuroDisney close to the end of the RER A (regional train), the immediate response was, “No, there’s no way to take so much time during a weekday.”

Then, I learned it was her birthday and many of our property consultation team had already agreed, including the owners of one of the newest rental offerings, “Le Déco.” So, how could any rational person say no? Besides, I truly wanted to.

I’d heard about Martine’s house in the country — a centuries-old farmhouse that she and her husband, Maurice, with their two kids and Dalmatian, Gwendoline, have
nurtured from its original shell-like state. It’s the house she claims is worth the drive into Paris or a trip on the RER (each, about 30 minutes on a good day), even when she has to battle the traffic, drive in circles looking for a parking space, or from time to time, retrieve the car from having been towed or pay the price when its ticketed.

So, at 12 noon, five of us boarded the RER A4 in the direction of “Marne-la-Vallée-Chessy, Parcs Disneyland” to exit at Val d’Europe, just one stop before the theme park. A tired sparrow tried desperately to find a way out of the railway car, landing on a passenger’s collar, without him even knowing it. With a little bit of a dance, some members of our group were able to set him free, all the while, the passenger on whom he had lit, totally unaware.

Maurice picked us up in his seven-passenger car and within a few minutes, we were parking in front of a gorgeous stone house with a shrubbery-laden wall and big gate in the dual village of “Quincy-Voisins.” The nearest ‘large town’ is “Brie de Meaux,” the start of the Champagne region, famous for its cheese that is evidenced in the chronicles of Charlemagne.

One always wonders what an interior designer’s personal habitat actually looks like. It was picture perfect, a far cry from the bustling streets of Paris, not so far away. We were not surprised to find it what everyone imagines is the ideal French country house — warm, cozy and very romantic from the tip of its tile toes to the top of its many pointed roof heads.

There is a stone on the house with the date 1703 carved into it, but a neighbor who knows much about construction says the cathedral roof, now with exposed beams towering over the two-level high master suite, is 12th-century. Every inch was reconstructed and augmented, bringing in old beams to fill in where there were none, paying attention to every detail so that what is old, is in effect, now new, but still carrying life within itself.

Maurice has a furnishings business appropriately named “Au Passé Recomposé” which takes antiques and ancient elements recreating them into contemporary furnishings using recycled stone, wood and metal, adding a patina to enhance the life of material. His handywork is everywhere in the home and finds its way into many of Martine’s projects. In “Le Déco,” a very old door, with what appears to be a carving of the head “Marianne” (a national emblem of the French Republic), was found in a closet with thick with many layers of paint that he stripped and refinished to a pale stone gray. It is now a focal point in the apartment adding character and charm to a contemporary kitchen corner.

A tour of the house took us to six bedrooms, three bathrooms, a powder room, a large country eat-in kitchen, living room, dining room, family room and I’ve lost track of the rest. Martine estimates it to be about 300 square meters (3300 square feet), but I’d swear it to be more. Every corner is eye candy. They have collected knick-knacks and art from many places over many years, that have ‘feathered the nest’ with fine taste. Yes, we all wanted to move right in!

For several hours we dined on assorted cold “mezze,” a middle eastern selection of appetizers, drank champagne and red wine, seated at a table in the garden. For dessert, we tasted goodies from the region lazing casually in a circle around a coffee table in the living room, set like a feast of cheeses and fruits, served with brown sugar and crème fraiche.

Gwendoline nuzzled our hands and joined us for dessert parking herself on the over-stuffed chair draped in a flowery fabric. Martine and Maurice’s 13-year-old son played piano for our amusement and by the end of the day (a ‘work-day’, no less), we were sated and happy to have taken the time to celebrate a friend’s birthday…in such beautiful French style.

Wish we could do that everyday…

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris
(pictured with Martine di Matteo on the left)

P.S. Stay tuned, we’re finalizing the plans for the Living and Investing in France Real Estate Conference in San Francisco, July 26-27, 2008. Watch /frenchproperty/conference for details or email [email protected] to reserve your place in advance or for more information.

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