October 28, 2020

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Home Improvement

A French Country Kitchen With Seasonal Decor

Kitchens have always been my favorite room in a home. I grew up in the US, but my oldest childhood memories take me back to summer vacations spent in our family’s mountain farmhouse tucked away in the Pyrenees. The house, especially at mealtime, was always filled with people—neighbors, friends from nearby villages, and lost hikers. There were often as many as 20 people gathered around the table, sharing locally-sourced ingredients that we’d cook over an open wood fire. Everyone took part in the meal, whether by suggesting a recipe, setting the table, or foraging wild flowers and branches to decorate the space.

Memories from those summer days have made me who I am today—they are also why our kitchen is the heart of our family life today.

Our home in Normandy was built in 1895. It is Anglo-Norman in style, which we celebrated by giving it what we thought was a very British name—Miss Maggie. When we bought the home in 2015, we knew the most important space to renovate was the kitchen, but in a way that would always respect the home’s age and history.

The kitchen, when we found it, had been divided into smaller spaces and clearly not been designed by someone who loved to cook. In contrast, so much happens in our kitchen—far more than simply cooking and sharing a meal. Our long wooden kitchen farm table, for instance, is the heart and soul of our home. It’s where we gather with friends and share our farmers’ market finds each weekend; where my husband and I settle down at the end of a long day for a quiet aperitif; and where my two boys, Gabin and Balthazar, love to draw and paint, do their homework, and play board games.

Once we opened up the space, the question of what color we should paint our cabinets was next. We fell in love with five different hues that fit in with the natural environment around us and the house itself. We all took turns testing paint samples on panels that we moved around the room to see how light would transform them through the day—and even as weather changed. Today, every meal is set against that backdrop of color, light, and shadow that we helped create as a family.

Photo by Miss Maggie’s Kitchen: Relaxed French Entertaining (Flammarion, 2020)

I may be a recipe developer, but to me the decor of the kitchen and the setting of the meal are just as important as the food on our plates—what’s on a plate counts, but the table and the room are just as important because they set the scene and mood.

Which is why I love surprising my family and friends with little seasonal tweaks to our home’s decor. And nowhere is this more crucial than in the kitchen, where we live most of our daily lives. It fills my heart with joy to watch Gabin and Balthazar’s eyes widen as they come home to discover a new setting, or when they volunteer to take part in dreaming up a new tablescape together.

The shifting of seasons is a big source of inspiration to me, and often signals the need for a change. Tweaking your decor doesn’t have to cost a fortune, either; you can do wonders with what you have on hand, what you find in nature, or at the farmers’ market. Using flowers and produce mixed in with repurposed objects is easy and affordable. Candlelight also always seems to find its way onto or around our table—I find that it softens the environment and creates an extra-cozy vibe to the meal.

“Shopping” for pieces in your own home is the best place to begin. I love moving things around: placing a mirror in the kitchen that was in a bedroom, finding a new spot to highlight a sculpture, a stack of books, or even a painting. Once you get into that groove, you’ll find it’s easy to improvise—my sons love bringing me treasures they find on the beach, and in the woods near us. For me, it’s these decor swaps in the kitchen that then set the tone for the rest of the house. So, once the kitchen has a new decorative theme, I add echoes of it throughout. It’s a simple way to give us the exciting sense that we are living in a brand new home, every few months.

Here are some ways I dress up my kitchen for the seasons:

This fall, I turned empty beer bottles into vases, and cut gingham ribbon and a bandana to dress them up, along with flowers from the garden. I combined these with mini white pumpkins, as well as candles that really set the tone for shorter and cozier days by the fire.

I went shopping in my own home for this early winter arrangement from last year, which would work anywhere in the house—and not just in the kitchen! Disparate items can work really well when grouped together, such as this drawing with a vintage disco ball, a mirror from a guest bedroom, and a silver champagne bucket used as a vase.

For spring, I love playing around with the flowers and branches I find in the garden, and add in a few light objects. Here, I used a vintage porcelain hen as the central piece. In the summer, I tend to go for a beachier feel, paired with seasonal produce, and bric-a-brac I have at home.

How do you like to decorate your kitchen for the seasons. Tell us in the comments below.

Heloise Brion is the author of Miss Maggie’s Kitchen: Relaxed French Entertaining (Flammarion, 2020). Credit for all photos: Christophe Roué.

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